Coffee: Americano, Ovation; hotter, but just as aggressively bright
My morning moves in slow motion. Another cafe, drifting over rain-bleachedcourtyards, I’m in and out of abandoned bathrooms, overhearing background business deals dealing in global heave-hos and multi-lingual buzzwords. Now I’m in another place but still snug in the half-life of out-and-about people, a cold steel-toned cafe, a girl at the counter working ten hours, a lime fizzy drink, a view of the community center bedazzled by a turned autumn oak, none of this is mine, I love it for that, I’d forgotten how it feels to be a tourist.
You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.
Coffee: Americano, 42 & Lawrence; I got this from a cafe on the corner of Martin and Blount streets in Raleigh, NC, not 42 & Lawrence like the name might lead you to believe; it was a small shop with a crowded bar; the barista was pretty and had yellow paint on her fingernails; after she handed me the drink, I fumbled with the lids and had to have her help me find the right one; she said “That’s what I’m here for,” which was both sad and inspiring; the coffee was fantastic – cracking open a pecan and sucking out the meat on the first day of the season.
I went downtown to swear my oath to be a notary. It was a nice trip, a bit different than the average work day.
I’ve been avoiding Raleigh for a while now. The city’s gotten slung over with techies and start-ups and there’s new stores and it’s gentrified. You see poorer people on the street corners or (at best) hustling via ubers or cabs. Everyone else is in Italian leathers.
And today Raleigh was all of that – I walked out of the courthouse passing a bride and groom getting marriage licenses, his shirt immaculate and her dress in the thousands – but it was also a bunch of heavy-set men in loose JC Penny suits, determined women wading toward a difficult future, and some young baristas finding a niche in the corporate economy to help them get by.
I liked the tall old buildings. I almost took pictures, but I was too busy looking up at them to take my phone out. Raleigh is a mess of architecture, every block a different decade, but that mess still sticks together with a sweaty southern glue. It all comes back to brick – tobacco warehouses. There’s still a vision here of hard, sad, old, labor above the first floor cafes.
It felt good being outside today. I could still taste that old panic from the weekend – decades of social anxiety bubbling up – but Raleigh is my city, my home, so it was a little easier to shove it down. There’s a contemporary art museum downtown I’ve been wanting to go to but haven’t gotten the nerve. Today was a small step toward it’s front door.
Novel Update: I’m still writing, still working almost every day, but a lot of it is reworking and tweaking directions. I’ll post a new word count once I’ve gotten back in a groove.
Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
After noon I was feeling restless so I drove to the nearest coffee shop. Well, not the nearest exactly, but the closest place I could think of that had the atmosphere I was looking for – crowded, dark, a little too aware of itself.
The streets were drowning. Wet, cold rain. We’ve been under a deluge since last year. The rain shows no signs of stopping. I skidded my car through puddles and jockeyed with zig-zagging traffic. I don’t like to think too much when I’m driving – being locked behind the wheel is one of the few times my mind shuts off – but safety demanded it so I thought.
Of course I thought about the other cars and the slippery road, but I also thought about family and how many miles I am from home.
Pulling off the highway I saw a car on the side of the road. It’s lights were off and it was halfway in the lane. It didn’t look wrecked but it hadn’t ended up like that intentionally. Driving by, I peeked in the driver’s side. There was a young guy and I couldn’t tell if he was moving.
I drove to the cafe a couple blocks away and idled in the parking lot. The dead-still driver stuck with me. I played a few scenarios and none were convincing. He’s fine, he’s not fine. But what could I do about it?
I think a lot about my responsibility to my community. First off, I’m not sure what to consider my community. Cary, I guess, but I only live here. I don’t know this place. It doesn’t know me.
I got sick. My gut knew better than my head. So I turned the car around and drove back to the exit ramp. I parked in muddy grass along the roadside and walked to the guy’s car in light rain. When I waved, he opened the door. He looked real worried. He was about my age. He was smoking a cigar. He says:
“Your car break down too?”
I say: “No, just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
But he told me the engine had just overheated and everything was fine. I didn’t need to worry. We shook hands and I walked off. I got back in a dry driver’s seat and locked the doors. Smoke burned out his windows. Fleshy-red tip of a cigar.
When I finally made it to the coffee shop, I’d never felt so calm before.
Novel Count: 25,842
Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami
In a sense the car has become a prosthetic, and though prosthetics are usually for injured or missing limbs, the auto-prosthetic is for a conceptually impaired body or a body impaired by the creation of a world that is no longer human in scale.
Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; it’s become a tradition to buy Caribou when I run out of beans at home. There’s not much to it – five minutes in the drive-through – but I’ve done it a half-dozen times, guess it’s stuck. The Caribou is two blocks farther than I usually drive. There’s no easy way into the parking lot. I figure it’s a bum gig because I haven’t had the same barista twice. Today, it was a lean guy. Last time, it was a lean girl. Every barista I’ve known has ambitious eyes. Sometimes I miss making coffee for customers.
This time last year, I’d just come to Cary and settled into a job I don’t have anymore. I worked a bookstore, a head cashier, internally prestigious position but I got embarrassed giving myself away with that description. I’m glad I lost that job.
Now I’m a banker. A teller, really, though the title’s dressed up, one of those dogs you see in sweaters. America likes money, so I feel less shame saying I’m a banker than a bookseller, but retail’s retail, and my white collars still come no-suit-required.
Sometimes, if I wake up cocky, I’ll introduce myself as a ‘writer,’ pointing to my few publications and this blog as proof. Then there’s always the questions: “What books you got out?” “What genre do you write?” I’ve got answers, but like lice in your daughter’s kindergarten bowl-cut, the questions keep coming. Friendship and love are well-meant interrogations; justify yourself.
But I’ve got it good. I’ve got a job that sounds mostly respectable, a passion that (though far-fetched) is somewhat relatable; I’m no fast-food chef going home to gorgeous cases of pinned insects, hotel cleaners finding time for life in the margins. No wonder Caribou keeps rotating baristas – bad hours, bad pay, social scorn.
My coffee was good. Simple, but good. The lean guy said ‘bye’ brightly and got ready for the next customer. I want to live in such a way that no-one feels the need to justify themselves to me. To keep breathing – whatever letters are beside your name – is beautiful, full stop.
Well, except for the CEO’s. I wouldn’t mind making millionaires prove they’ve earned the puppet strings.
Coffee: Americano, Java Jive; it was simple. I liked it.
Before work, I went to Java Jive Cary. The cafe’s about half way between my apartment and the bank branch. I hadn’t made coffee the night before, needed a pick-up. I left with enough time to get there, get a drink, sit down, read. I did it all. Everyone else who came by was over 50 and a regular.
I sat outside. Before noon, the city hadn’t heated up. The morning had that crisp sun, that yellow sun, that blue sun. A few cars were switching lanes. The brick building held shade over me.
I thought about the value of relaxation. I have a decent amount of free time, at least compared to some, but I fill that time like decanters at a wine festival. If I’m not working on an objective, I’m entertaining myself. If I’m not doing either, I’m restlessly bored.
At lunch, I walked to the Publix and bought a Granny Smith apple. I ate it outside by the trashcans. I made myself keep my phone in a pocket. I watched people rushing around. The air had thickened. We were all in molasses. The apple was bad in many spots, mealy in others, I ate it all anyway. Just a core, I held it close to my eyes – there’s the spot I bit you; there’s your brown dead flesh, the sinews I tore open; one spot was slick scarlet; I’d cut a gum.
On the way back to work, I ran into a woman who had been a regular at the Barnes and Noble Cafe in Burlington. She ordered coffee usually, mocha’s on good days, her name was the same as my coworker and they laughed about it. The woman recognized me and we talked. Eventually, I recognized her. She has a strange way of talking, like she’s tripping down a flight of stairs. Now she works at a spa. She told me I had nice eyebrows. I thanked her.
When I’m done writing this, I’m going to put some shorts on and take a walk. I can see the heat rising off our gazebo. Comfort isn’t everything. Neither is excitement. Deep blue sky: let me know you like the hands of my grandfathers, desperately working clay.
Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich
Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN; It’s good and powerful that families are being reunited but until EVERY family is reunite we must keep fighting.
“It does good also to take walks out of doors, that our spirits may be raised and refreshed by the open air and fresh breeze: sometimes we gain strength by driving in a carriage, by travel, by change of air, or by social meals and a more generous allowance of wine.” – Seneca
Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand
My favorite cafe is in Sylva, NC. I don’t remember the name and Google doesn’t list it on the map. If you streetview, you can see it on the corner of downtown’s west end. It’s unassuming. The image is sunny. That’s not how I remember it.
Cold winter. We’d gone to see the Christmas lights in Dillsboro. A couple days later it snowed. We stopped for coffee on some gray morning. We were the only customers. The shop was two stories with no floor in the middle. You could see out the back windows. The mountains were gray, wet. The proprietor wore a gray vest, gray hair. He was very clean. He chatted us politely and served black coffee.
There are places you visit and feel transformed. That cafe was one of them – a moment I’m locked to. It was just a casual morning coffee, but when I’m stressed, busy, caught up, I have that safe space to go back to. That’s something.