The Ageless Joys In A Cup Of Joe
Wednesday - December 09, 2009
Snow fell on my old hometown last week. Weathermen were reporting snow flurries, overnight lows in the 20s and daytime highs in the mid-30s for the little town of Allegan, Mich.
Temperatures like that make me think of one thing: coffee.
Midwesterners drink lots of coffee. They drink it first thing in the morning, in mid-morning, with lunch, in mid-afternoon and after dinner with their rhubarb pie.
If a visitor calls, the Midwesterner’s first words are, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” When a waiter asks, “More coffee?” A Midwesterner replies, “As long as it’s hot.”
Particularly when the lows are in the 20s, highs in the mid-30s. Coffee isn’t a winter drink in the Midwest, it’s the flavored hot water of life, the caffeinated brew for winter survival.
I started drinking coffee in high school. I slept in an upstairs bedroom that received its only heat from the stairwell. On a winter morning up there, a young man risked frostbite just getting out of bed.
So I moved fast down the stairs and into the kitchen where my mother (who went by the name of Bid) had three cups laid out, each with a spoonful of Nescafe instant coffee resting on cup’s bottom. She poured the hot water the minute my father (who went by the name of Pete) or I walked into the kitchen.
Bid and Pete always drank Nescafe Instant Coffee, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners when Maxwell House was brewed in honor of the guests.
Nescafe Instant Coffee suited me fine through college and graduate school. As a young married man, however, my wife - the high-strung Filipina - began serving me brewed coffee every day - Yuban, I think it was (gotta be careful with too much caffeinated coffee around a high-strung Filipina).
When our incomes grew, she started buying those 10-percent Kona blends, differing brands of which Longs has on sale each week. We’re still drinking them.
But this is a confessional column. Every morning, after two cups of 10 percent Kona, I stop at the Pearl City Starbucks on my way to work. There I spend $2.06 for a cup of coffee.
That’s right: $2.06. Every time I plunk down my money, I can feel the earth move. It’s my Pappy rolling over in his grave so many miles away in the Great Midwest.
Now Pete loved his coffee, but I don’t think he ever spent more than a dime for a cup of it. And that his miscreant son would spend $2.06 for a cup would kill him - if he weren’t already dead. And that his miscreant son would do so in a coffee shop that sold cups of coffee for as much $3.95. Well ...
So why do I do it? Pete and Bid brought me up right. I listened to their counsel. I studied hard. I’m thrifty. So why am I spending $2.06 on a cup of coffee in a diner that’s made a fetish out of coffee-drinking?
It’s all about the name of the coffee and my age. Understand me here: I’m getting on. I’m older than that 20-year-old picture at the top of “Mostly Politics” makes me out to be. My beard’s all white; so are my sideburns. So are the dozen or so hairs left on the top of head.
The bags under my eyes sag to the level of my moustache. My teeth are more the product of my dentist than of nature. Two breaks and a drop-foot have made me shaky on my legs. My memory fades. I’m old and feeling it.
The name of the coffee? It’s the second one on the menu board: It’s called “the Bold Pick of the Day.” I don’t know what the pick is. I haven’t a clue. Costa Rican? Kona? Colombian? I don’t care. It’s the “bold” I’m after.
When I park my car outside the $4-acup coffee shop, I feel my chest begin to expand. I cross the parking lot on wobbly legs, but I find myself standing taller in anticipation. I open the shop door (thinking always, “If only these were swinging doors ... “) and step up to the register.
“What’ll you have today?” asks the cashier.
I hitch up my belt, look up at the menu board as though I’ve never looked at it before and say: “Give me a Grande Bold Pick of the Day” - said with an emphasis on “bold.”
None of those foo-foo caramel macchiatos for me. No, this dottering old man will have a manly man’s cup of java, a bold pick of the day.
Jenn Ferreira, the Pearl City Starbucks’ handsome young morning shift supervisor, doesn’t even ask any more. When she sees me walk in the door, she stops stirring whatever girly-girly drink she’s preparing and pours me my “Grande Bold Pick of the Day.”
She leaves no room for milk. Jenn can see through the decay to the soul of a man who takes his caffeine straight. I don’t dotter out the door.
Sorry, Pete. At my age, all that’s worth $2.06 a day.
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