The Fine Grind, a coffee bar
Little Falls, NJ
It’s my second week in New Jersey, and I see a woman in a yellow University of Michigan sweatshirt.
I live in some vortex that I can’t escape my former home state. Are there more of them? I scan the room. The big windows behind me let in light, but at this hour, there’s more shadow than light. It’s one of those wood-floor hipster coffee places with tables scattered around the room to add a cohesive look with a funky vibe. The tables match way too much. It’s not like Plymouth Bean back home–I mean, back in Michigan. Speaking of, I don’t see any more Michigan folks, but I also don’t see a free table near an outlet.
Just as well. I can’t resist. I shuffle left and say, “I notice your sweatshirt. I just moved here from Michigan. Did you go there?”
“Oh, my daughter goes there,” she says with that proud momma smile. “She’s a freshman and loves it there. When we went to visit, it’s beautiful there.”
I have my own opinions of campus. There’s too much cement with wide walkways and sidewalks, making the campus look grey. I’m used to my campus with its lawn stretches of grass and tall, green trees lining thin sidewalks. There’s too little greenery for me to call Michigan’s main campus pretty, let alone, beautiful. I smile politely. I hope my eyes don’t betray me.
“What about you and Penn State?” she asks, nodding at me and my sweatshirt.
I heft my writing bag on my shoulder, adjusting it. The bag’s getting heavy and awkward. I spy a free table on my right. I want to snag it, but I can’t resist a Penn State question.
“My husband and I are alumni.” I pause. I never know people’s reaction to that: Love? Hate? Ambivalence? I have no idea what the atmosphere is in New Jersey these days, especially now that Rutgers, The State University joined the B1G Ten.
“My other daughter goes to Penn State,” she says her eyes bright. We’ve made two connections in about 30 seconds. I’m almost spin-dizzy. Really? What are the odds? Is there some practical joke camera hidden behind the dark paintings on the wall? I feel foolish flicking my eyes around, but still, I do.
“She loves it there,” Proud Momma continues. “She got so involved with THON last month.”
I swallow my tears. I danced in THON [https://www.thon.org/ –open link in new window] twice: as an undergrad and years later as an alum. THON is 100% student-run event that raises money for children with cancer. This year, they raised $10.1 million dollars. That’s the money raised this year. I am so intensely proud of that organization and my stamina to stay awake and stand on my feet for 46 hours. Simply saying the word THON makes me weepy.
Please don’t let me cry. What will this woman think of me?
“They raised a lot of money this year,” she continues. “She was so involved with it. She stayed awake the entire time.”
Thank you, dear woman, for giving me time to compose myself. Now I have the voice to ask, “As a freshman?” This event is intensely popular, and participation as a dancer or committee member is competitive and priority is earned by upperclassmen. I can’t think of a single freshman dancer. Ever.
“She didn’t dance. She didn’t have to be awake all 46 hours,” momma says, “but she was up for at least 24 hours or more. Still, I donated.”
Still? I would hope she didn’t need her daughter’s involvement to donate to this charity. Given her daughter’s status, she was probably part of some general stay-awake cheering section for an organization or special interest group. I wonder if she’s a pledge in my sorority.
I don’t the chance to ask because the man next to her shuffles his for-here plate and to-go cup. He slides down the cushioned bench and stands up. I feel his eyes rolling, so I look down at the wood floor. The man must be her husband because he gathers her coffee cup.
“Take care,” I say to her and nod to her man. They crumple napkins and brush crumbs on the floor. I adjust my bag on my right shoulder and shuffle towards the pastry case. I always check out the food in a new coffee shop. I want to see a shop’s dedication to local or defrost.
I glance back to see if the woman waves at me. She doesn’t, but she and her man step far enough away from the table that it won’t be rude for me to dash over and claim their seat. I plop my workbag on her seat and toss my coat on the bench seat behind the table. I look down and see outlet under the bench. Thank you for giving me this space.