Land of the roasted bean
In the morning hours before the day turns from rosy to rotisserie, you’ll find me on the front porch swing, agitating my keyboard in full view of our neighbors and whoever chances to stumble by. This has been my a.m. regimen for years and I’ve become something of a neighborhood fixture. As of late, my interaction with my fellow man has been downgraded to courtesy waves from parcel-jockeys and envious nods from every poor SOB driving off to punch a clock. I pray my Hemingway-like visage places me at least one level above that displaced husband you always see framed in his garage while perched on a stool waiting for God knows what — escape from what’s inside the house?
My former working life revolved around offices chock-full of people and everything people bring with them — friendship, drama and especially diversion from the assigned task at hand. These days, far from the madding crowd, my solitude can grow thick and dreary, where even the companionship of the sleeping dog at my side no longer cuts through the isolation. At times like these, I feel the need to pop the Mac into my tattered backpack and journey forth into the land of the roasted bean.
Working on a novel and other assorted writing the last ten years, I’ve spent a lot of time in coffee houses — sometimes even writing. I know, cliché as hell, but try spreading open your laptop in a sports bar and tell me how that works out for you. (Not to mention the sordid after effects of buffalo-wing sauce on your track pad).
A coffeehouse is a great environment for a writer, although it takes a little tweaking to get from near to perfect. The writing task at hand usually dictates how much I’m at peace with my surroundings. If I’m editing something, I’m happy and content — fully engaged with the coming and goings of a busy cafe. Nothing seems to stand in my way. But throw me in front of a blank computer screen where I’m forced to drip words across an empty page and those distractions suddenly become my enemy.
Music helps, but only as white noise. Anything with a note of singing gets the kibosh. Words need to pour through me, not some caterwauling songster. So in go my earplugs to buffer the piped-in music as well as the hubbub of the house. (This might be an opportune moment to acknowledge that I’m fully aware how ludicrous it is to separate oneself from the very place one wishes to be a part of — and pay good money to do so.)
I’ve experienced more than my fair share of establishments earning their keep by squeezing caffeine by the cup. For my part, I don’t ask for much — good hot coffee, assorted carbs — heavy on the gluten — and Wi-Fi that’s not a dial-up in disguise. Add some civil baristas (an entire column for another time) and an assortment of couches and tables and I’m yours forever. You’d think this would be easy. But it’s getting harder by the day.
When I’ve set roots down in a particular city, it usually takes me a month of rustling about to find a nest to drop my bony butt into. As of late, I’m on the hunt for yet another establishment, my last stop having been stripped of its ability to maintain financial viability because Starbucks decided to drop a million pound cluster-bomb smack in the middle of their parking lot. Twenty percent of their customer base spills out the door before the Big “S” has poured the first Grande from its new drive through. One of the cornerstones of free enterprise — if your business is hanging on for dear life, you can’t afford to lose two fingers.
The owner was nearly as perplexed as I was with the fickle nature of his once loyal clientele. He had done his best to create a neighborhood establishment, a comfortable place where his patrons could gather to ruminate upon the day’s events. Why anyone would choose to gulp in their car rather than spend some leisurely moments sipping God’s own nectar in a comfortable setting was beyond our collective understanding. So what has taken its place? An abandoned shop in a mini-mall that now sports a continual ten-car line, engines running forever, inching their way toward a mediocre cup of joe. Not only is it their loss, but our community is the poorer for it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dead set against the big coffee conglomerates. I just prefer a local concern in most cases. With the way things are shaking out in Roseville, I may have to swallow my preferences while holding a cup with that omnipresent green logo.
Selling coffee appears to be as manic a pursuit as the physiological effect of the product they are hawking. Cafés come and go like omelets in a hash house. Longevity is not their strong point. Too bad, because I dearly love the concept, the atmosphere of being close to total strangers all in the same pursuit — finding comfort in the company of others while sharing a communal cup of coffee.
A sample of coffee shops, lost, but not forgotten:
- Mocha Joes (Davis)
- Common Grounds (Davis, before it relocated)
- Starbucks (Woodland)
- Yolo Coffee Company (Woodland)
- Two Cafés in Washington State (though I can’t recall their names)
- It’s a Grind (Natomas)
- Extreme Java Jungle Café (Roseville)
- It’s a Grind (Roseville)
- Pipeline (Roseville)