Tag Archives: coffee

If a Tweet Falls in the Forest, Does It Make a Sound?

waterfall in a forestThere’s a woman in the coffee shop, standing around waiting for her $4.50 espresso drink, and I’m guessing she’s impatient because she’s pacing in a wide 8 figure. She needs a cello accompaniment, something moody to go with her dark gray fleece jacket cinched tight at the waist, and her Ralph Lauren glasses (worth approximately 100 pricey espresso drinks). I’m betting she’s a little guilty that she’s such a Type A personality, because every so often she flashes me a smile and then it’s gone as she checks her gold watch again. I like her but I find myself mildly worried for her. I want to invent a whole back story for her but I can’t decide where to begin. I think it’s a funny story but nothing is coming to me.

Two years ago, three and four years ago I loved writing humor, loved making people laugh, especially if adversity was the target. It’s been such a long-used coping mechanism of mine that I figured it was part of my personality. Coping skills what they are, I see retroactively that it was in response to a 25-year long string of stressful episodes, and not me. I hate giving up pieces of myself when I think they’re real, because blah, change sucks and is hard and all of that. But it’s also the only lasting path to improvement that I’ve found.  Read More…

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Sucking the life out of a city

We’re just about at the two months to moving mark, as we’ll be heading back to beer brewing equipmentWalla Walla in January, a bit before classes start up again. This has propelled me into renewing my original intention to check out various eateries, classes, and people in Seattle while I still have time here. I suppose I could be beginning an affair with a sense of doom, but I’m appealing to what’s positive about this whole process—I’ve gotten to know a new city pretty well, I’m learning some new things, and I can look forward to spending time with friends I miss when we relocate early next year. Hey, I made saag paneer on my own last night and it was pretty good! I will note that I need to let the aromatics cook a bit longer when I put that dish together next time. Read More…

Guest Post: Seattle, toddlers, and voting, oh my!

This morning’s blog post comes courtesy of a friend of mine, Hafidha Sofia, a 30-something mother of one, who writes about her takes on Seattle after living here for a few months. Please give her a warm welcome.

Honeymoon Interrupted

I’ll just say it: I love Seattle. Maybe the love won’t last – maybe it’s all too new and its flaws are not so glaring to me yet – but for now it’s true, and I’m not ashamed to say it: I love Seattle.

What first attracted me to the city were its money and looks.  Hubster was offered a job here, and after three years of being un(der)employed and broke, the promise of not having to borrow money to pay the rent was a big draw.  We arrived in June to spend several weeks in corporate housing downtown. Our first day here we sat in patio chairs wearing short sleeves and drinking pink lemonade; we watched the ferries crisscross the Sound under a blue sky; and we felt like the luckiest people on the planet living in Paradise. Read More…

In a galaxy far, far away

There is nothing that fazes the Seattle barista. She is self-assured, extremely well trained, and fearless. Every possible additive, custom request, and black market good has probably been mixed into brewed coffee in this city. I bet I could even find a barista to take my order in Klingon. (Not that I know Klingon.)

There are as many kinds of coffee shops in Seattle as there are permutations of coffee drinks. The sit and work shop, with loads of sturdy tables and electrical outlets. The drive-through shacks that look ready to fall over. Fancy, plush shops with comfortable seating but few places to hook up a laptop. Evil shops that make patrons pay for the wifi. Well, we all know I don’t spend any time at those.

If coffee shops are the standard bearer for commercial space in Seattle, then there are a few set uniforms one wears within their confines. The options, it appears to me, at least in my first month here, include:

The Very Serious Not Happy Rather Intense Intellectual—Ninety percent of these folks are men, because women have difficulty becoming quite this pretentious. Black hooded sweatshirt, rumpled jeans that, if one were to venture close enough, would smell of the carpet from the wearer’s bedroom, and black sneakers. At the height of summer the footwear could be flip flops, but only because the sneakers couldn’t be found under yesterday’s jeans. Optionally this person may be wearing thick black glasses, retro styled. It is questionable whether his eyesight warrants correction, however. But be quiet around him, because he’s writing something very important, and he doesn’t want his craft interrupted.

The Hat-Wearer—Also mostly of the male persuasion. We’re not talking baseball caps, either, since those are so omnipresent as to be unremarkable in every way. We’re talking either the old man’s wool cap like the one here, or the plaid Fedora hat, like the kind popularized by Jason Mraz. They’re definite statement-makers. Nobody puts on either of these head toppers without giving a good stare at themselves in the mirror before leaving home. Should it be cocked a little to one side? Tilted back? Pulled down low? Hmm, so many options to consider for one item. They’re clearly just accessories, as neither does anything to say, keep one’s ears warm in the winter.

The tech geeks—They have walked so far from their office, maybe even three-quarters of a block. They shield themselves from the bright lamp in the sky the rest of us know as the sun. They keep their work badges clipped tightly to their clothing, lest some non-techie refuse them reentry into their natural environment. These are the folks from Yahoo! or Amazon or Microsoft who felt some need to get caffeine from some place other than the 14 Starbucks in their office building. Nevertheless, all they talk about out in the real world is work. Fortunately for the rest of us in the coffee house, they never stay long. Their badges may self-destruct if they’re too far away from their computers for long.

The Shoppers—Lest everyone think I’m sexist, I do admit that this species comes in male and female versions. Few coffee shops in Seattle are all that far from some other retail establishment, zoning being what it is. They’ll sit down with their bags from REI, or Anne Taylor Loft, Sur La Table, or Banana Republic, drink up some brew, and head back out for round 2. We should all thank them for keeping up their end of the economy-consuming bargain.

The Holders of the Blackberries—At first, they look like good friends. Old friends. People who are out in the world, enjoying each other’s company. But then, almost with no warning, the small electronic devices are drawn, like guns at high noon, and then there they are, cramping their thumb muscles, scanning for some tiny typed email that they’ll care about for the next 18 seconds, however long it takes to scroll through, whichever comes sooner. Unless whatever missive is of interest to both of them, they’ll fall silent, typing and scrolling, clicking and chewing on their lips, lost to all of us in their hyperspace environment. And just when one forgets about them, up they’ll pop, back in our shared universe, giggling and tittering, or guffawing about the stupid spam their friend just passed along to them. Oh, those LOLCats are funny!

Despite all of this, I cherish the coffee house as a place to write, because as the youngest of many, I need external stimulation to tune out just to get in my groove. There is nothing worse to me than being able to hear a pin drop. So it’s a wonder why I went with Sprint for my phone service, but that’s another story.

Several writer’s groups in town meet in coffee shops, presumably for their ample flat surfaces and their stimulant-laced beverages. I finally made it to one yesterday, having been flummoxed in my first attempt by evening commute traffic. It was great to meet other science fiction writers, even if there were only two of them, and even if they gave me, individually, conflicting advice. I’ve signed up for a few more meet ups, and overall, I’m sure I’ll have some strong comprehension about how to rewrite my novel in progress. And if I don’t get that, at least I’ll have met some fellow lit geeks along the way. As long as the blackberry people stay away.

Just to note, Everett Maroon owns a black hooded sweatshirt, black plastic glasses, an a Kangol hat. But not a Blackberry.
Note #2: Scott Perkins has decided to take some kind of offense to my blog post and make it all about him, but at least he had the courtesy to offer a defense of his hat-wearing, which, cleverly, is apparently for the protection of the people around him, and not his own laziness at styling the hair on his head. Well done, Scott!

Riding off into the sunset burns my retinas

To say I’m sick of driving would be to trivialize everything I’ve seen on my journey across the continent and back, would be to make too much light of the 8,600 miles of the trip, in which I’ve encountered everything from:

  • tiny baby bunnies
  • crystal blue boiling pools of adulterated water that are fueled by the unseen middle of the earth
  • exasperated parents who look like they’re questioning the entirety of their lives
  • all manner of coffeehouses and espresso shacks that dot the West like freckles
  • at least 50 species of birds—sparrows, swallows, hawks, eagles, kingfishers, vultures, quail, turkeys, hummingbirds, and more
  • barns and rural structures in all stages of their life cycles
  • blue-collar men who all looked dazed and stressed, no matter where I encountered them
  • lightning bugs outside a greasy spoon diner in Pennsylvania
  • long moments of coasting down from mountains just after fighting to get to the peaks
  • many, many anti-abortion and anti-Obama billboards
  • tired front desk hotel staff

All of these people, animals, and situations were notable enough that they left their impressions on me. I don’t know their stories, except in some rare instances in which we had time to converse. Like an unfinished painting, I’m left wondering about all of the open canvas and what could be drawn on to fill it in. Perhaps some of these things will get worked into a story or other over time, or my memory will do that thing I hate and blur different events together in its quest to find patterns and meaning. But that tendency is why I write things down—then I retain the edges of each experience.

That said, I am loathe to sit behind the wheel of the car right now, even to go set up Internet in our apartment or buy bread. I’m sure that this hatred will fade, but hopefully I’ll remember that I don’t particularly enjoy driving 3 days in a row for 12 hours a day.

We rolled into Walla Walla on Friday evening, having come through the evergreen forests along the waistline of Idaho. Sister cities Lewiston and Clarkston, watching each other from across a river and state boundary line, seemed small and a bit bedraggled, the road infrastructure not seeming to lead to any important point in either place. We opted to get some drive thru food, knowing how close we were and not wanting to take any more time at a pit stop. Finally, at long last, the wheat fields, close to harvest, signaling that we were almost back. I’d gotten so used to driving into the sun that I didn’t need to put on my sunglasses anymore. Around this turn and that, we swirled around the low mountains, revealing the last inkling of daylight and then burrowing into dark indigo again, weaving through what must have been a tapestry of bold colors, if only we’d had a bird’s eye view.

A bird’s eye view, I realize, is precisely what I’ve been interested in finding this summer. Something to help me understand my time in Walla Walla and how to get through the next portion of it when it inevitably sneaks up on me this winter. I’ve asked a lot of questions about who, what, how I am and I’ve enjoyed the funny moments, for sure (the leaky tub dripping into the kitchen below, not so much), but I do still feel the need for some larger perspective.

Maybe it’s all a big joke, a set on Laugh In that I haven’t realized is still being performed on a sound stage in southern California. Maybe I just need more time to elapse before I’ll come to the punchline, or the Big Reveal. In the meantime, we’ve reached Seattle, and wow, is this town a hoot. All this bluster about saving the planet but everyone chain smokes. Aren’t our lungs part of the planet, people?

I think this is going to be interesting, this fall.

Blue light special, DC style

I was looking at the throngs of people who mashed into DC’s 69 square miles for the inauguration yesterday, getting wistful for a time, and then it hit me that they were in, in fact, the District of Columbia. Those long lines of portable restrooms were there because there aren’t a lot of places to use the bathroom; you wind up buying some diet peach Snapple product that expired in 2003 just so you can be called a “customer” and get a grimy key to a suspicious-looking toilet. I thought about the clusters of RVs that sell fake FBI shirts and crappy plaster Capitol buildings on far more average tourist days than this. They must have done some big time product procurement in advance of the millions of folks visiting. 

 

In reality, there is no such thing as clean coal banner

In reality, there is no such thing as clean coal banner

DC in general, though, tends toward the dodgy business practices. Consider the following:

1. A woman walking home from work one day is approached by two rough-looking men who have a deal for her: a brand-new Culligan water machine, complete with 6 or 7 10-gallon water jugs. One had been leaning up against a white, unmarked truck, while the other, just to add a little something special to the business exchange, looked nervously around the intersection, presumably to identify any other potential customers. The entire kit and kaboodle was rather undervalued at something like $40. The woman’s inquiry about how to continue water service was met with an “uh, you can just call the company, or something.” Or something indeed.

2. A friend of ours was offered free cable from some random cable guy if only she’d perform her own service on him. “Cable guy” in DC, just to clarify, amounts to a guy in a beat-up Toyota pickup truck with a “No Fear” sticker on the crooked back bumper. This particular cable guy did his very best to live up to the standard, even though the standard is about 2 inches off the ground.

3. Leaving a parking garage one evening, the cashier told us she didn’t have any change. This could have meant that A) she didn’t have any change, B) she didn’t care to give us the change she did have, C) she was saving up for a new iPod. Of course it wasn’t even in the realm of possibility that she round down our ticket cost until she could give us the next bill she did have. We just had to overpay. Okay, that’s not really an example of “discounted” services, but it does show that sometimes in the nation’s capitol, the lines get a little blurred.

4. A popular coffee shop, Murky Coffee, just off the Eastern Market Metro stop, was shut down by the city for not paying its sales tax. By the time officials shuttered the doors, the owner owed more than $400,000. For coffee sales. Didn’t exactly take overnight to rack up that much back tax debt. As one friend put it, “all those times I paid an extra $2 because I had to go to the ATM since they would only take cash? That really pisses me off.” So much for cheap coffee.

5. In response to the revelation, previously covered up by the city, that DC water was laden with lead, city officials started giving out free Brita filters to households. That they didn’t plan much in the way of redoing the plumbing infrastructure — well, let’s not pay attention to that. People got something for nothing. Lead poisoning! Fast forward about 8 years or so and the city stopped short of replacing all of the bad pipe — if you guessed that African-American dense area of Anacostia, you win a prize. The prize is a cheap Culligan water system.

I sure hope the tourists enjoyed DC!

Life in a littler town (than one is used to)

It’s actually a bigger town than you would at first notice, there being two big chunks of streets and neighborhoods here — one more up-down, and one caddy-corner and off to the side from the first chunk. But it is still quite small, at least in comparison to DC. I feel like most people in DC stick to their own neighborhood most of the time. Maybe they Metro everywhere and don’t get away from those more accessible zones. Maybe it took a while to figure out where everything was in proximity to their residence, so why spend time looking for a coffee house, a video rental place, a small restaurant, that’s not near where they live?

But there’s something interesting to me in sussing out the hole-in-a-wall and mom-and-pop places where they know your name when you walk in and sit down. There’s something fun about comparing your local experience to ones that are catering to someone else. Susanne and I clocked in many hours at Sidamo in DC, where the owner roasts the coffee on the premises every morning, and the whole street smells of carefully prepared espresso. And Mimi would see us and give us a great big hug, and I never thought twice about it until I realized I haven’t been hugged by anyone but Susanne since we moved. It’s an odd, nearly silent absence.

I have most of a pound of Sidamo coffee in the kitchen, and I may pick up some more when I head back to the east coast next month, but at some point, I’ll have to find a place out here — and it’s not like there are no good coffee joints in the Pacific Northwest! Far from it. But none of them shout my name when I enter, none of them feel like my own comfort zone, just yet anyway.

We live, unsuspectingly enough, next to the college’s recycling center. The front of the building, which apparently nobody notices, hosts a sign that says the plant is closed for remodeling. The side of the building, which apparently everyone knows and loves, has no such sign, and so keeps being visited by erstwhile recyclers with mountains of cardboard and aluminum. There is also a whole cast of characters who have some kind of — I can only come up with “addiction” — to coming over and visiting the empty building. One of them wanders around the city looking for discarded items that can be recycled, and one of them swears loudly every time he sees that more shit has been dropped off here, to the tune of how your grandfather swears in your distant memory: “Son of a BITCH!” “You goddamn mother of BITCHES!” I just feel like he picked up his sing-song cursing streams during a tour in the US Navy, since that’s where my grandfather learned them. You know, it’s like kind of an oral history of sorts.

 

Our neighbors

Our neighbors

 

 

The recycling center has a beat up pickup trunk from the 1970s that just started leaking gas yesterday. We had previously been annoyed that it was parked right up against our house, under our kitchen and dining room windows, but this now pales in comparison with the very combustible and dangerous fuel leak, which is currently being contained in a — you guessed it — 5-pound coffee tin. Utilitarian and recyclable, all at once! I gently explained, in my most West Coast, indirect manner possible (for a born and raised East Coast person) that this was maybe not the best nor safest way to deal with a toxic chemical known for its volatility. I found agreement, which is good. Now hopefully the whole matter gets resolved.

I guess I can’t say we had a local recycling center we used, but that was because we lived in a big city and had a place for recycling for our building. The most we had to contend with was the occasional angry raccoon we’d disturbed as we walked home. Here in Walla Walla, it’s more about the disturbing gas can or angry resident instead.

We plan on taking a drive tomorrow so I’ll be sure to post with pictures and comments of our trip!

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