With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Posts tagged ‘coffee’

The Coffee of a Lifetime

This is an old piece of mine, written many years ago. I had it on Hubpages for awhile, where it won an award for Best Hub (article) of the Month!

One of my most memorable coffees has a flavor that gets more distinct and recognizable every year.  When I have this rare brew, it always an autumn day, and my father and I have spent the afternoon working outside, raking and burning leaves, or cleaning out the garden, or winterizing a car and then washing our hands in gasoline that always somehow feels much colder than the weather.  We sit on the concrete steps of the back porch, having that warm, brown coffee and resting before we go inside to clean up and cook dinner.  Relaxed by the day’s exercise, he’ll mumble something, and although in reflex I only glance at him, my eyes are magnetized and quickly return to his face.  He’s almost in profile, looking out into the yard, squinting a little into the setting sun that shines dull red on his skin.  He tilts his head down to sip his coffee, and I notice the gray stubble on his cheek and the thinning white hair that curls out from under the paint-spattered blue knit cap that sits, as it always has, precariously on the back of his head.  A dog barks behind the neighbor’s house, so expectantly my father and I look out into the next yard, not knowing what will come into view.  We sit together on the hard steps of the back porch, breathing deeply the cooling air and soaking in the last of the setting sun.

In my Navy years, the best coffee was on the 4-8 watch, especially when we were at sea in the tropics.  With the crew asleep and the six 12-cylinder diesels snoring steadily like a group of drunken giants, the ship was peaceful, and I’d push open the weatherdeck door to watch the rising sun melt the night sky.  I’d turn my back to all the alarms and gauges and lean against the doorway, listen to the black water sliding along our iron hull, and, waiting for enough light to distinguish the horizon, just look out into the fading darkness.  With each gentle roll of the ship the warm salt air would breathe in and out of my little iron cave, ruffling papers on the desk, and I’d be sipping not the day’s first but its best cup of “joe.”

In the autumn mornings of my junior year in college my girlfriend and I would walk hand in hand to the edge of Penn State’s main campus to The Ye Olde College Diner, open 24 hours a day for something like the past 47 years.  We’d get a cavernous wooden booth with dark Naugohyde seats and have a big blueberry pancake breakfast, and then, in no hurry to go anywhere, we would sit and talk and sip coffee and smoke menthol cigarettes, sometimes holding each other’s hand across the heavy wooden table.  On rainy, cold days The Diner was usually subdued and hushed, even cozy, but on bright, crisp, colorful October Saturdays The Diner serviced hundreds of fad-wearing students and their visiting families, all anticipating a day at the football game and tailgates, all talking at once.  We would catch bits of conversation, just a phrase or name or a laugh, but mostly the voices blended together into a hum above the scrape and scuffle of tables and chairs being moved and adjusted, the clink of heavy ceramic dishes and the tinkle of silverware, and the bangs and shouts and clatter from the kitchen.  And my girlfriend’s soft voice, quiet and pretty, separate from the noise . . . The coffee at The Diner never again tasted as good as it did during that autumn with Lori.

There were three winters that held the best Sunday morning coffee I’ve ever known.  Separately we’d stumble into the kitchen, my girlfriend, her son, her mother, and me, and with the appearance of each new face we’d contest who had the morning’s worst bed-head hair.  We’d have bacon and cheese and tomato on English muffins, eggs scrambled with scallions, and breakfast sweetcakes, and we’d lounge around in sweat pants and wool sweaters and thick socks, reading the Sunday paper and recounting the week’s adventures.  Her sister had taken to driving 45 minutes to be there for coffee, and almost every week her ex-neighbor and long-time friend joined us, once even driving over in her houserobe and slippers.  Occasionally her other son or some of the boys’ friends would show up, and they’d trade young men’s stories of wild Saturday nights, entertaining us all.  On those bleak winter mornings when no one wants to bother going anywhere, still people would come to Suzanne’s kitchen, and Sunday morning coffee often lasted way past noon.

Those three winters with her have also borne a new tradition: Christmas coffee.  Ethiopian Sidamo, New Guinea Peaberry, Sulawesi . . . Shopping for it, lingering among the bins of fresh gourmet beans, has become my duty and, for me, another sign that the holiday season is at its peak, just like the sight of nearly empty Christmas tree lots.  Christmas morning we’d know that we had special coffee, but still everyone tore off the wrapping to discover the flavors.  Three generations lounging together under the Christmas tree, losing our coffee mugs under discarded wrapping paper, admiring each others’ gifts and playing with ridiculous toys, pushing the overly affectionate and easily distracted dog toward any other family member, lying on the floor near the fireplace and wanting nothing ever to change: now that’s Christmas.

We do lazy mornings in the summertime, too.  There are those easy mornings out on the shaded deck, reading the newspaper and with a bare foot mindlessly rubbing the dog’s belly, glancing up at the blue sky and having just one more cup before going in to the office . . . And there are those mornings when I’m the first to awaken on family vacation at the beach house, especially that first morning there, that first morning I wake up free of my normal work routine: while I wait for everyone else I sit outside with a cup of coffee, just damn glad to be there and not in a hurry to do anything, the sun warm on my cheek, the ocean sparkling in my eyes, the cries of gulls and the smell of sand, all of it sifting memories into my morning’s slow thoughts . . .

You have to drink coffee for a couple of years before it wets that certain part of your tongue and warms that certain part of your belly, and then you start finding many cups that taste especially good.  There’s the coffee had after a truly exhausted and refreshing sleep, and there’s the cup poured for you as you return from driving barefoot and un-showered to fetch donuts on a hot Saturday morning.  There’s the precious mud had with a hangover, when you sit thoughtless and stare into your mug at the shiny reflections from the oil of the coffee beans.  There’s the coffee used to kill time between job interviews, and there are those endless cups in the middle of a day when you just don’t want to go home or do anything but let your life roll around in your head.  There is, of course, that wonderful cup lingered over after a good dinner when you want an excuse not to get up and leave your favorite restaurant.  There’s the roadie cup as you commute to work on a cold and oppressively gray morning, and there are those delicious cups – preciously limited in a lifetime – poured from a Thermos as you drive alone across several states straight through an empty winter night for the sake of young love.

The best coffee ever?  I don’t know . . . it might be the cup I’ll have as I watch the face of a friend as she reads what I’ve written here.  We’ll see; the best coffee can’t be brewed, only poured.

How a Little Self-Interest Can Blossom into Something for the Greater Good

Selfishness and self-centeredness will result in losing friends on a regular basis, but self-interest is necessary for every human’s life. It’s simply taking care of yourself, and yes, you can raise yourself without putting others down. Sometimes, you act to promote your interests, and some magic happens, and your work furthers someone else’s interests. That, my friends, is fun!

Here’s a recent example: Sail Away Girl Nightwatch Blend Coffee.


When cookbook writer Elizabeth Aristeguieta (a.k.a. Sail Away Girl) collaborated with Nashville Roast, she had Julie Kukreja of Pen and Mouse Design House create a graphic for the coffee line. The coffee is good, but the graphic itself is good in its own right. It is so good that several people asked her to put the design on a T-shirt. So, here we have (a) the coffee roasting business, (b) Sail Away Girl’s business, and (c) the graphic artist’s business, and all of them – beside any of their other personal motivations – were focused on earning a little money. And then the magic happened.

Someone asked to raise money for a charity through the popularity of the graphic-emblazoned T-shirt. Next thing you know, AlmostHomeKids is benefiting through TeeSpring.com!

Night Watch coffee T shirt

I heartily doubt that any of the people receiving help from AlmostHomeKids ever spent even one moment thinking, “Right now, in the midst of the emotional turmoil surrounding my family crisis, how can I help my family by . . . oh, I don’t know, say, connecting a cookbook writer, a coffee roaster, a graphic artist, and T-shirt maker? Oh, and maybe a blogger to pass the word . . . ”

That’s the magic: you create what you can, and sometimes it comes together in ways you couldn’t have possibly forseen.

So, all you readers, go out and do something in your self-interest (like buying one of these T-shirts!) and help other people in the process!

Morning Coffee Out Back

After a night of bad sleep, I woke up before the alarm and lay in bed, staring at the changing digital numbers. Deciding to have that first cup of coffee before I showered and shaved for work, I stumbled downstairs, took my favorite mug out back to the deck, and began my day.

My townhouse development is not too far from the highway, so from over the hill comes the incessant sticky swish of rolling rubber and the occasional whine of an anxious, fast truck. In the afternoon these same noises remind me of coming home tired from work and being stuck n commuter traffic, but in the morning they make me think of going places and seeing people and new things, camping and vacations and bad coffee on a misty sunrise at an unfamiliar gas station. In the mornings, somewhere in that soothing stream of traffic I can hear my future explorations.

The highway sound is just the background, the back beat rhythm of the morning song. There’s usually a car pulling out of the development with its radio leaking out a window, doors being shut hard and followed by footsteps on the sidewalk, a child calling her dog and the dog barking at some bark-able item, and the ugly birds in my backyard. Grackles, I think they’re called, and they make surprisingly horrible noises, like little alien machines possessed by something demonic. They’re balance, though, for the little Disney tweeties that visit my neighbor’s birdfeeder and the mourning doves that coo from their telephone wire perches. The calls of the birds, their fluttering to the feeder, the clicking of the squirrels and the scratch of their claws on the tree bark: all blend together with the slight snare drum brush of tree leaves stirring under an intermittent breeze. Mornings are far from silent, but thankfully they’re full of quiet sounds. I sipped my coffee and imagined a sappy cartoon where in some tiny clearing in a forest in view of a tall city a silly rabbit uses his ears to conduct an orchestra of plump birds and much too cute baby animals.

I exchanged g’mornings with my neighbor, also out on her deck, and then I watched her lose control of her newspaper when she tried to re-fold the comics page. Sheets fell, slid off her table, and dropped to the deck. She looked at them lying at her feet, but she reached for her coffee instead. I like her.

I was sitting on the top step at the end of my deck, surveying my realm, all 10 feet of it, when who saunters into my domain but Spike the Cat. He’s a big ol’ furball from across the street who likes to give me dirty looks on his way to lurk beneath the birdfeeder. I watched him carefully pick his way through the grass, in and out of loose shade from the trees overhead and patches of light. Low-angled sunlight is the best, morning or evening. My grandma used to point it out to me and say, “Butter light is better.”

With my elbows on my knees, I looked down at my bare feet and the wood grain of the deck steps. I was wearing my old heather-gray sweats, the hard-to-find old style with a drawstring instead of an elastic waistband and an old T-shirt, bought while on vacation years ago and now showing a few fingernail-size holes and frayed hems. I enjoy wearing my suits and ties, and I’m perfectly comfortable in them, but they’re clothes and a persona that I put on for whatever fine reason. My old sweats and T-shirts are what I wear when I’m at home, when I’m doing absolutely nothing but being me. I can’t remember the specifics of any particular good day or night had while wearing these old clothes, but whenever I put them on, I certainly do feel a hint of the mood of several years’ worth of relaxed times.

I sipped from my mug, remembering who gave it to me and when and why. That was years ago, and I still use the gift frequently. The second but higher function of all possessions is to hold memories.

From the next townhouse building came the aroma of grass cut the night before, and I thought of the two million lawns I mowed as a teenager. I pictured the old grass-stained brown leather boots I had then, and the swallows that flew crazy circles around me to hunt exposed insects as I worked that big yard on the hill, and my high school friends . . . my high school friends. Time flies.

Thinking of time made me think that I should probably get ready for work. As I stood up and stretched, I looked up at strong, dark gray tree trunks supporting living canopies of brightly lit green leaves that partially screened a clear and very blue sky, and I thought no, no, can’t go in to work yet: it was time to enjoy another cup of coffee.

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