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.
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Thursday, December 02, 2004

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.


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