Coffee Spills

What I hear and see and think about at the coffee shops I patronize.
Brisk. Fresh. Well-balanced. Occasional nutty and bittersweet overtones.
If you got here from my profile, you probably need to visit my main blog, Collecting My Thoughts which is updated every day.

Friday, December 24, 2004


At the coffee shop this morning the street lights were backlighting the icicles on the trees and the snow was piled half way up the windows. The house across the street had a huge wreath with a red bow attached to the side of the house with a spotlight on it. It really looked like a fake Christmas card! But really beautiful. Then a man came in stomping the snow off his feet looking a bit "bah hum bug." Apparently on Wednesday he'd gone to the library and surfed the Internet for two hours, but had left his car lights on in the parking lot, so he had a dead battery. Figuring he let it sit overnight, he walked home. Well, central Ohio was hit by a huge storm and not only was his car covered top to bottom with ice, but the snow plows pretty much covered it up. He figured it might melt by Tuesday. Fortunately, he lived within walking distance of both the library and the coffee shop. I overheard the staff talking about how many pastries they'd sold yesterday when so many were without power.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Huge snow storm

Usually I don't see my doctor at the coffee shop, but today I didn't get there until about 3 p.m., and he said they'd cancelled all appointments at his office. It takes a level 2 to keep me from my 6 a.m. trek to the coffee shop, but we were socked in here with first rain, then 6" snow, then sleet, then rain, and then back to snow. Just south of us, it is a level 3, and you get a ticket if you're on the roads looking for a cup of coffee. But by 3 p.m., I was a bit stir crazy, and our roads locally were in good shape. By 5 p.m. about 400,000 people were without power and the temperature was dropping. We called a friend to see what was happening in Lakeside, Ohio, and he said they'd had 18 inches, but no ice. Streets were clear.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Snow spills

On the way to the coffee shop about 6 a.m. I was listening to the weather report. It was about 34 degrees and raining, but snow was predicted, maybe 4-8 inches depending on where you live in central Ohio. Schools were ALREADY closing! You in South Dakota, Boston, or even Cleveland must think this is a hoot. We don't even wait for the snow flakes.

In the coffee shop, Christmas parties were gearing up. One lady came in and got about 20 shopping bags full of bagels, rolls, and muffins. The staff helps to carry these huge orders to the customer's car, but I wonder what happens when they get to work? When the ground was white, I decided it was time to leave. Who knows? The roads might close with 2 inches.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Starbucks music sales boost Ray Charles to #2

According to Lorcan Dempsey's blog, "The Wall St Journal reports that Ray Charles' Genius loves company was strongly assisted to a No 2 chart spot by sales in Starbuck's (September 9, 2004; Page B3). In fact Starbuck's accounted for 30% of its sales. The story quoted a music executive as saying that this reached an older audience who felt disenfranchised by existing music channels."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Sliming my thighs

Coffee with CrankyBeach
is providing a rundown of the latest coffee scares. She notes (I'm quoting her quote of an article):

" “The textile industry is the latest to discover the benefits of caffeine for the production of nylons. The stimulant is woven into the fibers to create an uplifting, sliming [sic] effect on the upper thighs – a pick-me-up the majority of women certainly can appreciate as much as a good cup of joe."

I dunno. I don't think I want my pantyhose sliming my thighs. How about you?”

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Finding coffee in Indianapolis

On our way home today, we stopped at the Starbucks on Pendleton Pike on the far east side of Indianapolis. Finding a coffee shop in metropolitan Indianapolis has always been a challenge. You might as well give up and hope the Gas-cum-Groceries stop has a fresh pot. This one opened not too long ago, then was blind sided with road improvements making it accessible only to the most loyal coffee lovers or travelers (like us) with local guides. This one is sharing space with a small bank branch, and the tables sort of lean over into the banking area.

Today's stop was complicated with fresh snow atop a thin sheet of ice. As we made our way down to 56th to pick up Mt. Comfort Road to get on the interstate, the snow was blowing furiously across the road in huge billowing clouds, then dancing across the corn stubble in the fields with the sun peeking through an exciting array of clouds. "Oh, this is so beautiful--looks like a Christmas card," I squealed while sipping my hot coffee. But there were only sighs and complaints from the cranky driver who was too busy getting us home safely to enjoy the winter wonderland.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Hockey talk

The men at the coffee shop today are discussing the hockey strike. We have a fairly new hockey team and arena here--The Blue Jackets. The strike is really hurting the arena district, which is just getting established. However, there's no energy in this discussion. It isn't enough to make me even raise my head from my book. It's obvious, they are not hockey fans. I know it is big in Canada and in some areas of the United States, but the apathy I'm overhearing should be a warning to the strikers.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Critical component--good service

Hello! How ARE you?" she cooed. I looked up from my paper at the familiar voice to see the former counter clerk greeting the Hispanic sandwich preparer. She had moved to another shop about two months ago to help it get established.

All stores, libraries, schools and offices need a Susie. She makes each customer and fellow worker feel special with her hard work, warm voice and personal attention.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

He should go to a coffee shop to get it right

Being interviewed for an article in the New York Times, (reg. req.) Martin Scorsese is caught in a little temper tantrum.

"But then, for Mr. Scorsese, nothing is easy, or at least uncomplicated, not even a cup of coffee. Interviewed on Friday in his Midtown office, he scolded an assistant for bringing his coffee too soon. "I want it when I sit down," he snapped. A few minutes later, sitting down, he looked for his coffee. "I wonder if they're going to microwave it now," he said. Then he asked, sheepishly, "When you drink two cups a day, the second cup's got to be right, don't you think?" "

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Coffee spills literally

Sometimes it just spills. While running errands in the car today, I reached for my hot coffee and it dribbled into my lap. Not hot enough to sue anyone, especially since it was my mistake. I'd been unable to separate the lids at the coffee shop, so two lids instead of one where attached. That meant a gathering spot for coffee waiting to drip when the cup was tipped. Coffee with cream on my freshly washed and pressed khaki pants. That's like trying to get out baby spit-up. Plus, each time I wash these pants they shrink just a teeny bit, and we're heading into the heaviest calorie weeks of the year. Sigh. Or, maybe they aren't shrinking. Double sigh.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Loud and Loyal

Everyone's talking about stolen elections. The Ukrainians, the Romanians, the Puerto Ricans. And the large, black man who arrives at the coffee shop via a bus for the handicapped. When the election was over, he was quiet for a few days, stopped wearing all his red, white, and blue buttons and pins, and just ate his usual huge breakfasts of large o.j., bowl of coffee, fruit cup, and two breakfast muffins.

But now that the bloggers, pundits and sore losers have descended on Ohio looking for the stolen 130,000 votes, he's back to his loud rants and analyses, disturbing the peace.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Guy Talk

A tall 30-something stranger wearing a blue ball cap with the white letter "D" walks into the coffee shop.

"Are you a Dukie?" one of the regulars asks.

"No, just a fan," he says as he picks up his latte.

They've never met. They immediately strike up a conversation about various sports teams, then exchange pleasantries and separate, never to meet again. Sports chatter. It's like insta-bond glue for men. They can be different generations, races, professions and religions, but they can always talk about the Browns, the Cubs, the Lakers, the Bears, the Buckeyes or the Illini.

Like women and babies.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Pass the Duct Tape

On Glenn Beck's radio show he does a routine of wrapping his head with duct tape (sound effects) so his head won't explode when he hears something outrageous. I found myself looking around for duct tape this morning at the coffee shop.

I was having a perfectly interesting conversation with a lovely lady to whom I'd just been introduced. After a few pleasantries about her fascinating job, she reached in her briefcase, pulled out something about the size of a small 3" battery pack and attached electrodes to her wrists. She explained to me that she was purifying her blood--that "blood electrification" cures memory loss (her problem), cancer, Parkinson's, etc., and that ambrotose (sp?) can reverse Down's Syndrome, Alzheimer's and asthma. Truly, I couldn't have been more shocked if she'd opened a box of leeches and attached them to her arm. That's the last "blood cleansing" cure I'd heard of that was so all encompassing.

I excused myself from the table and drove home with visions of 19th century snake oil salesmen laughing all the way to the bank, only these were on the internet charging $100 for a device that costs maybe $1.00 to put together. After checking the Internet, I see that the web is full of these things--both the bioelectrification gimmicks and the ambrotose (extract of cabbage and grapes, I think), all with assurances that the mean old medical establishment doesn't want us to know of these wonders, the pharmaceutical industry fears these "break throughs," and so forth. (Medical breakthroughs that are "secrets" should be the dead giveaway that you've stepped deep into doo-doo.)

I've checked Medline and the Alternative Medicine database, but can't turn up any entries, let alone rebuttals. Which means not even a clinical trial that failed has been published? Yet all these websites make references to "research" and "papers." Must be using these papers to train puppies (whose circulation system and kidneys are apparently performing the cleansing function without an electrical assist from a cheap battery), because they don't seem to be in any known medical journals.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Stuffed Microbes

You should always wash your hands carefully in any public place handling food, including coffee shops. Cold germs can live quite awhile on hard surfaces like table, counters and coffee urn handles. While waiting for Steve to return my laptop at Panera's this morning I read an article in Wired about plush toy microbes.

Common cold

Now, instead of giving someone your cold, you can give her a stuffed Rhinovirus or Bordetella pertusis. Have a friend who hasn't cleaned the house in awhile? Give her a dust mite, Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus. And for the book lover, the book worm, Anobium punctatum. At $6 or $7, they are cheaper than some OTC remedies.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Merry Christmas, say it loud and clear

There are no house papers at the coffee shop I visited this morning, except the local suburban paper. I was meeting a married man. Not my husband. But it's OK. We met so he could help me with a computer problem.

Before he arrived I looked through that newspaper and sipped my coffee. Big photo on the front page. "Holiday Tree Lighting" and the caption, [members of the ensemble] "sing songs of the season" before "the tree" is lit at the community "Holiday tree lighting." On to the next story. The Chamber of Commerce is having its "Annual Holiday Lunch." Another organization is sponsoring a "holiday toy drive." Even the United Methodists are having a "Holiday Cookie and Candy Sale." They are Christians and they don't bake Christmas cookies? We all know that yule logs and Christmas trees were originally pagan symbols. But we Christians baptized them and enfolded them into our own celebration. Now, for some reason, the secularists think even those pale symbols are so "Christian" they can't even be called "Christmas" traditions any more.

Our pastor writes in the December church magazine that Christmas literally means "Christ shows up." The God of the universe, the One who created everything and keeps it going, shows up as a crying, helpless infant two thousand years ago. That's Christmas.

Shout it. Announce it. Have your own parades, Christians. Don't let the merchants or the city fathers (and mothers) or the parade PC rules spoil Christmas for you. God plans to show up again.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Christmas Gifts at Coffee Shops

Most coffee shops have great Christmas gifts--I think they are good for the impulse buyer--a small package of candy or sweets, a little ballpoint pen, a decorated box of spices for cider--that sort of thing. But some are bigger ticket items, like this truck with the Caribou logo for about $30, with doors and hood that open.

Caribou truck

Chocolate Cafe had an interesting CD with music from around the world, from countries where the cocoa plant is grown and some nice salad dressings and mustard. Also, most coffee shops carry their own gift cards and mugs.

The cute truck did make me wonder if there is any tool and die business left in this country. The truck was made in China--perhaps it was designed and the mold cast here. We can dream. It is Christmas, after all.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

One less identity theft

She dropped her credit card at the coffee bar at Panera's--a tall brunette dressed in black. I saw one of the regulars pick it up, look at it, and take it to the cashier about a minute after she wisked out the door. He looked at it, looked around for the customer, then quickly walked out the door flagging her down in the dark and the rain in the parking lot.

When he came back in and I was getting a refill, I said, "One less identity theft." He smiled and replied, "Well, I probably couldn't pass for her anyway."

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Reading by the fire with chocolate

Actually, I wasn't having any chocolates at the Chocolate Café this morning, unless you count chocolate raspberry flavored coffee. But it is a wonderfully cozy smell on a chilly morning by the fire. While there I was looking through the theater section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and thought the man in the ad for The Christmas Carol looked familiar. I looked at the credits. It was Andrew May, a local Cleveland actor who stars in "Christmas at Maxwell's" which premiered last night at Orchestra Hall, the movie theater in Lakeside, Ohio. We were among the 300 guests who attended after a wonderful dinner (28 turkeys plus pitch-in vegetables, salads and desserts by Lakesiders). After the movie the crowd went to the Fountain Inn to meet with the director/producer/actor William Laufer.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Decorating for Christmas

A number of years ago we were invited to a Christmas party at the home of a local building contractor. It was one of the most elaborate, seasonally-decorated homes I'd ever seen--beyond even a November/December consumer magazine layout. As I went from room to room tasting this and that, admiring how everything was coordinated and themed, and how their four trees didn't have any of the hodge-podge of ornaments collected over 30 years like our tree, I finally saw someone I knew.

She was the "Silk Flower" lady from the coffee shop. I knew some of the intimate details of her love life, but not her name. That's how these friendships go. We exchanged pleasantries--with not much to say when we weren't sitting on a stool, elbows on the counter, surrounded by our daily clutch of coffee buddies.

"How do you know [our host]?" I asked, in an effort to find a common ground (no pun) outside of coffee. "Oh, I am the decorator for the party," she said brightly.

Just then, the wreath over the buffet table went up in flames from the candles that someone had moved just a little to get that last dish of treats in place. We all just stood frozen staring at it--none of us knew where an exit was, except the front door, and we were standing cheek to jowl (filling them). The quick thinking caterer rushed in from the kitchen and threw punch on the fire and put it out.

I don't recall that I ever saw the Silk Flower Lady again.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Fashionista at the Coffee Shop

DKNY: Classic with clean edges and very business
like. You don't like to get outrageous or
overly boisterous. Keep It Simple is your
motto and you do it well.

What fashion designer fits you
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to Paula who is always finding these internet quizes.

The Starbucks Poem

In the mornings while visiting in California I went to the Starbucks close to our Ramada Inn. The first morning there, the music was doo-wop rock and roll from the 1950s. It seemed a bit incongruous looking at the bronzed and beautiful youthful customers, but each day the music changed (Starbucks sells music CDs). One day it was Caribbean, another 80s. So apparently there were different themes for each day of the week. I wrote a poem about the day I heard the 1950s doo-wop music while sipping coffee at a California Starbucks.

Starbucks in the 50s
August 27, 2003

Frappucino, latte decaf,
Speakers above blaring doo wop.

Ethiopia yergacheffe
Sleepy customers lining up.

Yukon blend, caffe Verona,
Rock ‘n roll from their Grandpa’s day.

Expresso roast, Tazo hot tea
Sounds of the 50’s, “that’s the way.”

Gold coast blend, decaf Sumatra,
“I’m so in luv wicha baby,”

Vanilla latte, mocha malt,
“and say you will always luv me.”

Putting out the coffee cup for regulars

I go out for coffee every morning about 6 a.m. It’s free, as near as I can figure. I hand the clerk $1.50 for an empty Styrofoam cup and pour my own from large urns. Before I finish about 8:00 a.m., I have had two refills. While there, I read the house copy of the Wall Street Journal ($1.00) and the Columbus Dispatch ($.50), and sometimes the USAToday as I drink my coffee. I read my scripture for the day, and take notes on things I see or read as grist for stories or poems to write later in the day, week or month. My present location plays classical music and has a roaring fire for chilly mornings. Actually, it may be the proverbial “free lunch,” since I take with me coffee to drink later in the day, to be reheated in the microwave (a good coffee shop will tell you NEVER to do that).

How it started

In high school, I worked at Zickuhr’s Drug Store behind the lunch counter. This is where the groundwork was laid for stepping out for a cup of coffee. In addition to arranging magazines, dusting shelves and sweeping floors, I made sandwiches, sundaes, milk-shakes, ran the cash register and poured hundreds of cups of coffee. The “regulars” were the local folk who took on the cares of the world and were the Monday morning (and evening) quarterbacks for the local high school teams. I would put out their cups as soon as they walked in the door. Coffee was ten cents and often the tip was a dime.

Some of the coffee drinkers were farmers from as far away as Polo and Oregon stopping by when the fields were too wet or too dry. There was Dave Dillehay, the local Irishman and town clerk. He gave $5 gift certificates to all the students who made the honor roll. When I got married a few years after high school he gave me a silverplate tea service (now gleaming in my daughter’s china cabinet). Rubber-faced Lew Behrens was the P.E. teacher in the local schools and talked with a low rumble and sweeping hand movements. Mr. Yoder was like a bantam rooster commenting with irony on everything, and Mrs. Finch dressed hair for shut-ins who were finicky and dead people who weren‘t.

Mrs. Zickuhr knew the whole town, and stopped at the counter to visit and gossip. Her son was in my high school class and had been a playmate in my early years. She called me “Peachy,” a childhood nickname, until she died. At lunch time we’d see many of the townspeople who worked at the Kable News, Watt Publishing, and local retail stores and bank. After school and on week-ends, some parents would bring in their children. I remember the two adorable Mueller children, blonde and blue-eyed, who’d shyly wait for their ice cream cones--both died in separate automobile accidents as adults.

Continued at college

In college I worked at the Green Street Pharmacy on the campus of the University of Illinois. The regular wait staff was of a little tougher breed than I knew back home--one waitress’s boyfriend was in jail for killing her daughter. But the regulars came and went and we’d get to know them and put out the cups as they came in. When I was married and living on White Street in Champaign in our first home, I’d walk a half a block to J.C.’s, sort of a black and white tiled 40s style diner with 10-12 stools and 3 or 4 booths. Always, the regulars were there, and usually a copy of the Champaign-Urbana Courier.

Coffee in Columbus

For 34 years we lived on Abington Road in Upper Arlington, and when my daughter was in pre-school I started going to the Chef-o-Nette in the Tremont Shopping Center with my 3 year old son, to take up some of the slack of the morning. I continued doing that after he started school for about 15 years and became one of the “regulars” of the back counter who developed strong friendships and met for birthday parties, funerals, weddings and float building for the Fourth of July.

In the 70s and early 80s I went out on Sundays by myself to Bob Evans or Friendly’s or Paul’s Pantry. While working a job in the early 80s that required some travel, I started drinking McDonald’s coffee, and even when I took a regular position at Ohio State, I remained faithful to various local McDonalds for about 10 years where I found that $.50 coffee, refills and morning papers (and at some locations the cable news channels reporting) was a good start to the day. At least one day a week I’d meet with friends either at the local French restaurant or Wendy’s for about 10 years. We were supposed to be spiritually monitoring our lives, but mostly we just talked and drank coffee.

In the late 90s I tried a bagel shop near home for awhile that always had a paper and a talkative staff person at 6 a.m. Then I discovered that coffee shop brew tasted better, and switched to the Caribou Coffee Shop on Lane Avenue, close to the mall where I walked before going to work at the Veterinary Medicine Library at Ohio State. The young college-age staff knew my van and had the coffee and paper waiting when I walked in the door shortly after 6 a.m. for my caffeine-reduced, half coffee, half decaf in a paper cup. I continued the routine after retiring in 2000. While in Florida and California visiting relatives in the last two years, I was humored with a trip to a coffee shop each a day.

In the summer when we’re at our home in Lakeside, I drive 5 miles to a coffee shop located in the shopping center, even though the local donut shop with weak coffee is within walking distance. I’ve become acquainted with some other locals who drive there, and a few fishermen and construction workers, and occasionally someone leaves a paper.

When the Lane Avenue Mall closed in October 2002, I had to find a new coffee shop and another place to walk. That’s how I found a local gym with a near-by Panera’s for coffee, a warm fire, classical music and house newspapers. I’m slowly getting to know and chat with the regulars and the staff puts out the cup as soon as I walk in the door.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Coffee Shop Delight

Squeals. Hugs. Laughter. "How ARE you?" I looked up from half way across the room where I sat by the fireplace reading the paper. The two middle-age women were hugging and squealing by the front door where one had been sitting with a group and the other had just appeared.

"And the kids?" "Are you happy. . .?" ". . .every Friday." "These are my friends. . ." "Well, we'll see. . ." "Oh, wonderful. . ." And so it continued with my wondering why they didn't get together more often to catch up, more quietly. More privately.