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Episode 131 Time for Indulgence - the Coffee Shop

In the spring of 1961 a friend and I drove east from Iowa to Colorado Springs. I visited my first coffee shop that summer. “The Black Cat” was a folk singing coffee shop in the downtown. The Chad Mitchell trio singers even sang there one night. Chad wasn’t with them. But I loved the banjo player and I loved the atmosphere: dark, friendly and quiet. I had never been a coffee drinker but it was there that the habit started to develop. I had never been inside a coffee shop. I had only heard of coffee shop in Greenwich Village or Berkeley. Things have changed.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery

For over twenty years a day hasn’t pass that we haven’t visited a coffee shop. We are part of the ‘coffee culture’. Every day we sit in a shop somewhere and enjoy the ambience as well as the caffeine. I suppose some days have passed when we were sick or something, but if it is at all possible we make time for coffee. I like to think of it as part of my civic duty.

A few years ago I kept track of little insignificant things that we do in our daily life. One of the items I decided to follow was our coffee expense for one year. It came to $3500.00. I’m sure it is more today. The price of coffee has gone up. The number seems outrageous. But when I think of how much joy these visits bring to our life, it seems like a most reasonable expense.

And what do we get from our daily coffee shop habit. We get an hour each day in the late afternoon in which to sit down and read the paper, do the crossword puzzle, have conversation with friends, or meet new people with whom we might strike up a conversation. We also enjoy the different styles and tastes in music and art that are creation of the various shop owners. These places tend to be where young people gather and it is good for us older retired people to remain in contact.

On our recent road trip across America we tried to discover the local interpretation of what a coffee shop should be. We avoided chains. We always sought out a locally owned establishment. We found some real beauties. “City Lights” just a few blocks south of the capitol building in Austin was a great find. The floor was concrete, the ceiling was high, the clientele was a mix of business folks, office workers, and bike messengers. That’s one hint of a good shop. If you find bike messengers lingering outside a coffee shop, that’s the one to try. The “Tour de Saint” in New Orleans was another outstanding shop. The owner, Jill Marshall, was so very friendly and talented. We were so surprised and delighted to find that she had lived for many years just a few blocks away from us in Bellingham, Washington; small world. The coffee and the food brought in a steady stream of locals who all seemed to be so very pleased to be there. Her shop was in the neighborhood of Algiers Point just a few blocks from where we were staying. We sometimes visited twice a day.

Part of the country is still shy of providing good coffee shops. However, we did manage to find one each day no matter the location. Sometimes we had to drive a bit out of our way. One time it was forty-five miles one way. It was a good coffee shop in Silver City, New Mexico. We loved it and decided to stay the night. Another shop that stays in my mind was one called “Coffee Kat” in Easton, Maryland. The sunlight coming in the windows, the yellow and green colors, and the delicious coffee combined to make it a memorable stop. The owner liked my enthusiasm for the shop so much that on our second stop in one day she gave me a coffee mug that they sold for ten dollars.  

But let’s just talk of good coffee. We find the very best right where we live; the Pacific Northwest. I am writing this in a shop that we consider having the very best coffee, “Coo Coo Coffee” Michael, the owner just showed me his new two thousand dollar Italian coffee grinder. “It makes a real difference in the taste”, he says. They use Terrelli coffee. It is comes from a local roaster in Vancouver, BC. He claims that the relationship between the owner and the roaster is very important to serving the customer just exactly what they want. Coo Coo’s has a La Marzocco espresso machine. It is all hand made and comes from Florence, Italy. Michael had it painted Ferrari yellow because he has always dreamed of have a Ferrari. He and his help take great pains to serve a perfectly prepared cup. Each cup of coffee is artistically created. They move ever so carefully in the preparation and the serving. There are five coffee shops within 50 yards of where I sit. You cannot get a bad cup in this part of town. This is the heart of the coffee culture in Vancouver.

When we are in Bellingham we patronize Tony’s Coffee shop in the Fairhaven neighborhood. It has been there since before we moved to town which was twenty some years past. It has a corner location and is in an old building that dates back more than a hundred years. The floor is old fir and the chairs and table are old and rickety. Robin, the owner also runs the adjoining the restaurant. The baristas are friendly and competent. We like this shop for the good coffee and the likelihood of running into friends and acquaintances with whom we can chat. The building boasts a woodstove and has windows that look out onto the main intersection and affords a good view the goings and coming in the neighborhood.

A person could do something else with an hour of their life each day that may be more productive. But I’m not sure they could do anything that would be more enjoyable. For our money, it is a great way to insure some sense of civility and a little pick-me-up in the late afternoon. Retirement should include some time for indulgence. Bertrand Russell the great British mathematician and philosopher once said; " The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time".