Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 2

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

Now that I have a seat, I’m restless.

It’s March, and far from feeling like winter. I settle into my cushion bench seat and look around the room.  This is still the only place to sit.  I reach for my writing bag when my for-here mug of Columbian coffee is brought to my table restaurant style.  What unexpected service.  Coffee shops are usually more self-serve.  I already know I’ll be back.

Time to look busy.  First thing, set up the tablet.  While it boots, I’ll look even more productive with my Happy Planner calendar on the table.  It has my blog schedule in it.  Next, my yellow notepad, a few colored pens and voila!  I’m all set to do work.

I don’t feel productive.  I feel cluttered.  I’m restless.

I always carry a few distractions in my workbag.  The item I’m craving to use is my Café Bingo game.  It was a gift from my writerly friend, Kelly, who said, “I thought of you instantly when I saw it.”  Yep, she got me right.  The idea is to Bingo with coffee shop stereotypes.  There are 12 cards, but I can play by myself.  I wonder: can I cover the entire board, or at least get a bingo?  There’s 0nly one way to find out.

These cards are reusable.  Cool!  I wasn’t sure how that worked.  When I read “pushing back” the squares on the package, visions of pieces popping off onto the table, never to be replaced again filled my head.  With this, you fold the cardstock squares back while playing and then refold them when you’re done.  I’m set to play with only one rule: I can’t count myself in any of the squares.

— Barista

That’s the center square and a gimme.

— MP3 player

Who carries these anymore?  I amend that to seeing a cell phone with headphones.  I see a hipster guy plugged in over in the comfy chair corner.

— Tip Jar

There’s one at the register where I ordered.  I don’t recall the handwritten note on it, but I’m sure it’s something like “Fear change? Leave it here” or “Tipping isn’t just for cows.”

— Newspaper

Sure enough, there’s an older man in a comfy leather lounge chair in the corner.  He’s reading a real newspaper, buried beneath an umbrella of inky pages.

— Laptop

Uhhh…yeah.  Who doesn’t come to a coffee shop without a laptop?  You have to look hip and trendy and productive.  Okay, I’m two for three right now, but my Surface has a detachable keyboard, so it would count for that square, if I included myself, which I’m not.  I’m still hipster-ette.

— Briefcase

There’s a guy in business clothes–a suit, maybe–with a speckled tan bag next to him.  I can’t see it exactly because it’s sitting on the floor and I don’t have a clear shot.  I count it.  I wouldn’t expect to see one of those hardcover square boxes with a latch and handle, and I’m surprised I think that.

— Cell Phone

This is another gimme.  A more challenging square would be “No cell phone.”

— Reuse of Cup

Remember, I can’t count myself.  A lot of people have for-here mugs on their tables.  Some people don’t.  What a waste.  Unless it’s tea.  Tea almost always needs a disposable cup.

— Date

I’m not sure how to count this.  The square shows two stick figures holding hands with a heart between them.  It’s just past lunchtime, so there are no caffeine kisses here.  There are lots of people sitting together in twos, and I’m sure someone is on some kind of date.  Meeting a friend for lunch, I count that.

— Iced Drink

I don’t see ice cubes anywhere, nor a dome lid cup sitting on any table.  Straight ahead there’s a woman with what looks like an icy blended drink.  It’s a shade color different than the store’s cardboard cups, but that’s good enough for me.

— Bulletin Board

This is a local coffee shop. Of course, there’s one.  Heck, even Starbucks has them.  The Fine Grind has theirs on the back wall between the bathrooms.  I saw that the first time I was here, but I found it awkward to peruse while people pee nearby.

— Spilled Drink

I didn’t expect to see this, but within five minutes of pulling out this game, a patron sloshes something on the floor.  It looks like water, but I feel rude staring at him.

— Meeting

There are no poster-board graphs or carpet swatches anywhere in here.   There’s no table of suits. There’s no cluster of notepad papers.  I bet some of these couples are in some sort of business meeting.  I glance at Briefcase Guy and wonder, can I count him twice?

— Rushed Patron

There’s one person walking deliberately to the door, so I count him.  He’s walking with a purpose not trudging along.

Now even the game is making me restless and bored.  I don’t think I can find the rest of the squares right now.  I can’t see outside the door, so I’m not sure there’s a Dog Waiting, another game square. This coffee shop is smooshed in a strip mall, not stretched on a quaint, tree-lined street among boutique stores, so I doubt I’d ever find one.  The woman at the high-top table against the wall, she may be dressed in All-Black Attire, again another game square, but I can’t tell if those are black pants or dark blue dress pants.

The other items I can’t find now are: Book; Menu Typo; Foreigners; Student; Latte Art; Goatee; Political Debate; Pastry Crumbs; and Artiste Glasses.

What I can’t wait to find is a friend to play this game with.

The Truth About Golf

I understand why some people give up on golf far too soon—before they develop a passion for the game. It challenges even the most seasoned players, requires lots of practice, and can be quite costly. For instance, Callaway’s Great Big Bertha Epic driver will set you back $500. If you want to put the club to use on a prestigious course, such as Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, you’ll have to pay another $500 for green fees. But there is ample opportunity to contain costs. You can purchase less expensive clubs; and you can play public courses in hometowns like mine for $15 a round. So considering that the financial outlay can be reasonable, I believe it’s basic intimidation that most often squashes love for the sport before a devotional spark has the slightest chance to ignite. Understanding the truth about golf may help you approach the sport with greater affection.

Golf Truth #1: It takes skill to get that little white ball flying in the air. Practice.

My first golf experience was with friends during high school. Mark was the only one of our foursome who knew how to play, and he was a patient teacher to the rest of us. Margie, Lisa, and I were athletic, so Mark probably thought we would easily learn this sport too. But taking three beginners out on a course is not the best way to introduce newbies to the game unless you’re looking to play the longest round of your life. Because Mark was dating Margie, I think he was okay whiling away the time.

The girls and I struggled to transform our softball swings into anything useful. Heck. We would have just liked to have gotten out of the Whac-A-Mole ground-pounding mode that was beating our confidence into oblivion. We were A-W-F-U-L. So bad that I’ve blotted out most other memories of that day.

But there was that one shot . . . when I struck the ball just right. It didn’t roll across the ground like it had every other time I hacked at it. This time it took flight, sailing skyward.

Personal triumphs, like lofting that little white ball for the very first time and sinking a pitch from seventy yards out, are what keep us golfers coming back. We hit the driving ranges and work on our long game. We find our putting strokes on the practice greens. And we test our fortitude by chipping out of six-foot bunkers. We want to emulate the pros, who make it all look so easy.

Golf Truth #2: It takes positive thinking (and an impressive outfit) to build a good game. Believe in your ability (and wear something that boosts your confidence).

The view of Lake Michigan from Arcadia Bluffs is as spectacular as the golf course.

Arcadia Bluffs is the number one ranked course in Michigan, where my husband booked a Memorial Day afternoon round for the two of us. That springtime day in The Great Lakes State was partially cloudy and projected to reach sixty degrees at best—chilly for me. If I had my way, all golf days would be eighty degrees and sunny, but northern Michigan isn’t known to bend to my will. So, I dressed in five layers of clothing to help me deal with the brisk air and fluctuating winds that would make the atmosphere feel ten degrees colder.

Trust me when I say that it wasn’t easy deciding on all those layers. My slacks and shirts were running a bit tight at the time, and I refused to invest in new pieces of clothing to accommodate my expanded waistline. I was counting on losing the ten pounds I kept complaining about.

I opted out of getting a propane heater for the golf cart even though I was shivering. “It will warm up,” I hoped. Standing beside our cart and waiting for our tee-time, Greg and I admired the seemingly endless and beautifully blue Lake Michigan, lying beyond the grassy bluffs and rolling terrain of the course. The view rivals that of Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, whose own gorgeous shoreline constrains the massive freshwater lake and prevents it from inching farther west.

There were several groups of men on the grounds but no women that I could see until a couple came in from their round. The model-gorgeous young lady loudly talked about how pleased she was with her 46. Whether that was her score on the front or back nine, I didn’t know. I was sizing her up and observing how attractive she was in her stretchy, black, Nike golf pants and matching jacket. Black is a great choice when you want to look slimmer, but she didn’t need the help. I wondered how she could possibly have been warm with so little to wear.

The only other woman on the course, besides me, looked like an expert—as if she could appear on the cover of Michigan Links Magazine. I compared myself to her and realized my silhouette resembled that of the Pillsbury Doughboy, plump and round. I wore a black sleeveless golf shirt just in case the temperature rose; a long-sleeved pullover because I was pretty sure it would not; and three jackets of varying thicknesses for extra protection.

So, there I was: at a mental disadvantage for golf because I didn’t feel comfortable with my weight, let alone with what I was wearing, and I had never golfed a 46 in my life.

Whether blessing or curse, the sky released a downpour. It wasn’t supposed to rain. Greg and I rushed into the clubhouse to see the storm cell on radar and ask the pro-shop attendant if we could delay our start because of the wet and cold conditions. Ideally, the rain provided me with the opportunity to change my negative mindset and prepare to golf my own best game.

Overly-critical thoughts about ourselves can have disastrous outcomes in golf. Adversaries trash-talk to mess with our heads and destroy our confidence. We shouldn’t crush our own spirits with self-condemnation. Knowing this, however, didn’t prevent me from beating up my real opponent before she had even taken her first swing.

Greg and I got a reprieve. The storm cell moved quickly, and there was a half an hour before another group was scheduled to tee-off. With no one pushing us, I expected to be able to relax.

We teed off, and I plowed through first-hole jitters by hitting a decent drive. Still, the ambiance of the exceptional course overwhelmed me. My next shot landed in a seven-foot-deep bunker and I had trouble chipping out. I took a nine on the first hole and berated myself for the embarrassing start. My focus during the next few holes was just as much on the mental battle I was having as it was with the physical trial to strike the ball well.

Once I gained control of my nerves, I began to see good results. The day progressed, layers of clothing came and went, and I shot a 100 for the round. Overall, not bad. I celebrated by buying a black and white, stretchy, athletic jacket and vowing to start my diet the next day.

Golf Truth #3: It takes knowledge of the sport to earn respect from other players. Study.

Even if swinging a club and striking a ball comes naturally, we need to acquaint ourselves with the rules governing play. Otherwise, we won’t make it past the driving range without alienating ourselves from seasoned players. They may forgive innocent mistakes made by beginners, but they have little tolerance for ongoing rudeness.

The Rules of Golf are long and daunting, and I’m not sure anyone knows them all by heart. Even golf’s greatest pros sometimes ask for clarifications from officials. The rules book is commonly tucked into golf bags and pulled out during competitions. But it rarely sees the light of day during more relaxed and friendly rounds.

If we care about the spirit of the game, and we should, we’ll grow in our comprehension of golf’s long history and honor the sport through fair and honest play under all circumstances. Golf’s two governing entities want to make the rules easier for golfers—of all levels—to understand and apply. The United States Golf Association and The R&A hope to achieve this goal by revising the rules. This is a unique opportunity for those of us enamored with the sport to directly influence the game by reading a draft of the proposed rules and providing feedback by August 31, 2017. Our suggestions could be the ones that are settled upon in the finalized rule book, expected to take effect on January 1, 2019.

Golf Truth #4: It takes patience to find the swing and strategy that work best for you. Pace yourself.

Watching a video of me hitting my driver, I was surprised to see how slow my backswing is. I’m tempted to swing faster but worry that I would lose accuracy with the change. It’s not worth that risk to me. There are other areas of my game, like putting, that I can benefit from improving instead of a major overhaul in my long game.

Being in a hurry on the course can be as big of a mistake as letting intimidation influence our confidence. The last time Greg and I were being pressed by another twosome, he and I evaluated our pace of play. We were coming in under time, as designated by course policy and indicated to us by the starter at the beginning of our round. As such, we could have defiantly held our ground and made the twosome wait at every hole. But the pace of play rule indicates that we should allow faster players to play through. This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Why deal with tension if you could instead alleviate it by simply being polite?

In our case, Greg and I waved for the guys to move past us and then patiently waited as each teed up, swung, and sent their shots flying forward. We watched as the second golfer searched for his ball 100 yards farther from where it was actually lying. I felt really badly telling him that his ball never made it past the forward tees. Haste makes waste, as the saying goes; and in this case, a hasty swing off the tee made for a bad shot.

So yes, it takes time and commitment to develop a love for golf. You need to approach it like you would any other relationship. Get to know its history. Who are the greats that loved it first? Regularly focus your attention on it. Is one night out a week too much to ask? Invest in it. How much better could the two of you get along if equipped with the right tools and some counseling? Shake off the tense moments and bad results. Can’t you just see how spectacular you are together too?

Control the way you think and behave, and soon you’ll be head over heels in love.

A Fork in the Road

Creed’s fists came down on the steering wheel over and over with enough force he’d have bruises. And if his glare didn’t set the damn piece-of-shit rental car on fire Creed didn’t know what would do it.

“Shit!”

He popped the hood and got out of the car. Wing-tip shoes he wore crunched through the deep, uneven graveled road and the one remaining thousand-dollar suit he hadn’t sold gathered dust. He slapped his legs and suit jacket, but it didn’t really help. The wind swirled around him regardless the desire to keep his suit spotless. He should probably sell the suit. It wouldn’t be needed anyway once he lost his job. He wasn’t even going to be able to afford the dry-cleaning bill after this fuck-up.

Creed’s life had been going south, creeping toward hell and brimstone, but this just topped off his cocktail of disaster. More money he couldn’t afford to lose. And he’d lost a lot of it. A business meeting he’d planned over two months ago to bring him back in with the big boys of investments fell through at the last minute leaving him stranded in bum-fuck-no-where’s-ville. He had no clue why they’d canceled.

Creed counted on the account to get him noticed by the investment firm he works for, making him a partner instead of a drone. It was also supposed to help get his fiancé back. He remembered the surprise and numbness that had come with the confrontation. The last time he’d seen her she had been winding up to throw her engagement ring at his face. At the last second, she’d clenched her fist around it, screamed, “Fuck you, Creed Dalton! I’m keeping the ring.” She’d said she needed something to compensate for the time she’d wasted on him.

But now, stuck on this dirt road because the GPS had sent him the wrong way, Creed could see that his relationship was as dried up as the road. Busy trying to make millions he’d neglected the one person that should have been the most important to him. He ran his hand through his hair. Why had it been so easy for her to walk away? She’d said all the right things. Their sex life had been hot as hell. When he was home. Hadn’t she loved him?

But now looking back at the past few months there were other signs that something was off. The looks she’d given his best friend. The times she wasn’t with him she’d get all decked out in tight-fitting dresses, fuck me heels, with just a touch of perfume that made a guy want to dip his face right into the crease of her neck and linger. He should have known she was looking for something he wasn’t giving her. All the comments his best friend kept blasting at him. “Go home Creed take care of your woman.”, “She’s worth taking care of man.”, “Don’t let her go, man.”

Was his friend taking his place? No, Creed thought. Creed shook his head. His buddy wouldn’t do that. Would he? No. He was just looking out for him. Every indication told Creed he was the one who was the asshole.

“Idiot,” he said, thinking that his reaction to both his fiancé and his friend were all screwed up.

Did he really love Christina? Would he have let her walk away and not gone after her if he had loved her enough? He would have stopped her before she had walked out the door. But what had he done? He’d let her go, went back to work to make the millions that he’d promised himself he’d have before the age of thirty. It had taken him a bit longer than that. At thirty-five, he was multi-millionaire. At thirty-six he was almost broke.

One mistake, one bad choice in investments with his money and clients’ money, and his sure thing had turned into millions lost. No one trusted him. And with the meeting being canceled his last chance to redeem himself was like a check mark in the screw you pile by fate herself.

Creed angled his hand above his brow blocking out the oppressive heat the midday sun beat down on him. He loosened his tie. He looked up and down the road to see if any other lifeform was around that could help him out. Dust swirls danced through the barren field’s as the only sounds were the wind gusts carrying the dirt. He really was out in the middle of nowhere.

Creed opened the car and reached in for his phone to call a tow. He pushed the unlock button. The screen stayed dark. He just stared at it like he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. Then he squeezed the dead phone so tight he thought he might break. He clenched his jaw to keep from screaming out his frustrations. It wouldn’t do him any good.

When he was done throwing an inner temper tantrum, he secured his tablet in the trunk, took off his suit coat and lay it over his suitcase. Then he looked to the west and started walking. There had to be something over the hill, what was it, about a mile maybe. He hoped.

What the hell was he going to do now? Creed would just have to hole up in a hotel until he could get himself sorted.

****

Celeste needed the open road. She was desperate for the time to herself. She needed it like she needed an alternate universe. One where friends didn’t die, and she had time and money to fix the mess she was in.

She secured her helmet, got on her Harley Fatboy motorcycle and listened to the engine roar, the rumble settling in her chest replacing some of her pain.

After years of struggling and getting the experience she needed to have her own medical practice she easily slipped into her mentor’s practice and took over.

She’d gone to school in Michigan, but she knew she’d always come home to the little town she grew up in just outside of Austin, Texas.

What she didn’t realize was the mess she’d walk into. Dr. Fellows had had cancer. Celeste hit the accelerator.  She took a breath, sucking it in hard. He hadn’t told her. The thought that he didn’t want to confide in anyone, to lay the burden on anyone else broke her heart. She wouldn’t cry anymore. She squeezed the handle bars harder. Her heart was feeling hollow, like nothing she’d felt before, she pressed harder into the bike and went faster. She had to forget. Just for a little while.

The funeral had nearly split Celeste in two. The pain had been too great. Watching the casket dip past the line of soil at her feet, hearing the cries of pain, the tears the town added to the earth where he would rest, remembering such a great man made her sob even harder. He had been more than just a mentor. He had been like a father to her. More than her own.

Her father had been mired in his grief and bottles and bottles of scotch, swallowed up by his failings. Or what he thought were his failings. Her father had become twisted, pulled apart and thrown away like garbage when his wife, Celeste’s Stepmother, left him.  Celeste’s father had done everything he could to make his second wife happy, but it had never been enough. He’d been left a husk of the man.

When Celeste’s stepmother’s demands had gotten to be too much, Celeste would run to Dr. Fellows house and hang out with him if he was off work, which wasn’t very often. So, when he was, she would spend time with Mrs. Fellows learning as much as she could from the man. The woman had doted on Celeste like she was her grandchild, which she guessed she was since they hadn’t had any children. She learned to cook and sew, and plant flowers. The woman was wonderful, but died too soon. The loss was another layer of pain compounded onto others.

She shook her head to rid herself of the memories and went faster.

Presently, Celeste had other things to worry her.

She had to figure out where all the money had gone. Dr. Fellows’ books weren’t balancing. There were also medical supplies not accounted for in the store room.

Anxiety entrenched Celeste. What would have to happen to correct the situation? The office assistant who’d worked for Dr. Fellows for over ten years had left on vacation right after the funeral, so there was no help there. She didn’t want to go to the police before she looked at the books again. Maybe there was another place he stored supplies that he hadn’t tell her about. The practice was attached to his house. But she hadn’t gone searching for anything. Not yet. She had been distracted with planning the funeral.

 

Cresting over another hill in her journey, to nowhere really, Celeste thought she saw a mirage. The day’s dry heat rippled across the road making the land seem to dance, the illusion getting larger and larger. Was it a lost dog? Closer now, she gasped inside her helmet. She blinked a few times thinking it could be the tears she’d let fall making her see something that was not there. She downshifted and approached with caution. Not a dog. A man sat at the edge of a culvert. Facing away from her. A very dirty man with blood dripping from the side of his head.

With precision only a seasoned biker had, she stopped the bike in quick, efficient movements, took her helmet off and called 911. “This is Dr. Celeste Breckinridge. I’m on Route 1 just West of Old Town. A man looks like he’s fallen into the culvert, possible concussion, lacerations to the arms, back and,” she paused and looked down, “and legs. I’m going to need an ambulance. I’ve got limited supplies with me on my motorcycle.” She heard a tsk from the operator’s voice, and had to hold back a laugh. Trinity Jones was on call it seemed. A friend of Dr. Fellows, she didn’t like Celeste riding the Fat Boy.

“Alright, Celeste. We’ll get a bus out there asap.”

“Thanks, Trinity.” Celeste hung up and put her phone in the back pocket of her leather pants. She grabbed the first aid kit that she always had in her saddle bag.

Approaching the very well dressed dust-covered man, she noticed a lot of things all at once. The suit he wore looked expensive. Now though, the arm of the white dress shirt was torn open and not from the large biceps that stretched the fabric. She could see a dirt covered scratch mixed with blood. Her eyes roamed again. She slowed her steps. The back of the shirt was torn exposing more bloodied skin caked with dirt. He’d fallen into the culvert. “Shit!” She cussed softly, but not soft enough that he wouldn’t have heard her approaching. But he didn’t respond, and the cut oozing blood on his head made her worry rise even more.

“Are you okay?” She said. No response. “Sir?” That got a reaction, but not a fast one. He slowly turned his head and winced, but didn’t do anything else. Just stared at her. Kneeling next to him ignoring the gravel digging into her leathers, she put down the first aid kit and looked into his eyes. They were dilated, but they followed her hands as they opened the first aid kit and then moved toward his head. The color was a brilliant blue that matched the crystalline blue sky. “You’re going to be okay. I’m Dr. Breckinridge, the local doctor.” As she said the words, she felt a pang in her heart. Dr. Fellows was gone. But she needed to focus. As she continued getting out the supplies she needed for clean up, he still followed her movements, but he still hadn’t spoken. “Can you tell me your name?” He licked his plump lips and Celeste couldn’t help but follow the motion. She cleared her throat as he tried to speak. Nothing came out. How long had he been out here? Jesus, he was probably dehydrated too. “I’ll be right back.” She ran to her saddle bag and grabbed a bottle of water. “Here,” she said and uncapped the bottle and put it to his lips. She watched him swallow and had to swallow herself as the motion made her react in an inappropriate way. “Now can you tell me your name?”

He licked his lips, and she almost groaned from the action.

The man cleared his throat and said, “Creed.”

“Good, good.”

Creed lifted his hand to his head, but she grabbed his arm stopping him mid-motion. “Let me clean it first.” He put his arm down, but once again said nothing. She noticed that his hands were all cut up too.

“Did you fall in the culvert?” He obviously had, but she wanted to get him talking. She looked over his legs, his very muscled legs, which she was totally ignoring, and saw the rocks at the bottom of the culvert, the dry environment and sharp objects giving more clues to the evidence that Creed had fallen into the culvert. She rinsed the blood away with a saline bottle catching the excess with a swab of cotton so it wouldn’t go in his eyes. When she wiped across the laceration on his head with alcohol, he hissed and then groaned.

She looked down at his large hands. Very large hands. They were also cut up. “Can you tell me if you’re hurt anywhere else?”

“I’m fine,” he spoke finally and tried to get up. “My meeting.” She ignored whatever nonsense he was spouting because he did not get up on two feet. He nearly buckled to the ground when he put weight on his left leg, but Celeste caught him just before he would have gone over again and sat him down. She noticed his knee, now that he was sitting again, had swelled up like a grapefruit.

She looked over her shoulder when she heard sirens in the distance. Thank God.

“Where were you headed?”

“A meeting,” he said again.

“Well, it doesn’t look like you’ll be making that meeting.”

He blinked a couple of times. She looked at his eyes and lost herself for a couple of seconds which she didn’t have time for but was drawn in anyway.

When his arm started to lift, she froze. His scratched-up fingers tangled with a loose piece of hair that had come out of her braid. He put it behind her ear, and she couldn’t help but suck in a breath when his finger lingered on her cheek.

“You have pretty hair, all brown and chestnut mixed.” he said, the words almost like they were floating across her skin. The words gave her goosebumps even as the heat pressed down on her skin. Holy cow this guy was potent. And he wasn’t even at 100%. His hair was darker than hers, almost black, and almost touching his shoulders. A frown stretched his lips down and accentuated the stern but strong line of the bridge of his nose which only highlighted the strong brow that formed his chiseled face. He was damn gorgeous. Gah! She needed to stop thinking about him and get back to getting him to the hospital.

His frown went even longer, and out of the blue, he said, “That’s alright.

“What’s alright?” she asked confused.

“The meeting was canceled,” he said and then looked away from her.

“What do you do?”

“Investment Banking with an occasional foray into Forensic Accounting.” That had her perking up. He could help her with the mess doc left her. But no, he was from out of town. He wouldn’t be able to stay. But she was curious to see what he might say about it. And what had brought this man to her small town in the middle of nowhere? She didn’t believe in fate because fate usually kicked her in the ass if she granted it too much attention. Just as she was about to ask another question about his job the ambulance had come to a stop alongside her bike.

“Doc, what do we got?”

“Hey Jeremy,” she said, and then gave him a rundown of what she thought was wrong while they worked to get him on the gurney. Which wasn’t easy being that Jeremy was only about two inches shorter than her five foot six and Melanie who was Jeremy’s partner, was as petite as you could get. It probably looked more like a circus than professional medical staff because when Creed stood at his full height, he was more like a giant compared to the three of them. And every time they moved Creed he groaned or hissed at them. And his vocabulary of swear words was inventive. She couldn’t help but laugh a couple of times which caused Creed to glare, which only caused her to laugh more.

“Sorry,” she said finally getting him to a sitting position on the gurney. “I’m not being very professional, am I?”

“Sure, you’re a doctor and not a biker chick?” He flicked his eyes toward her bike and smiled, which caused her heart rate to skyrocket, her hands to get clammy and the other parts she tried to ignore.

“Well, I am right now.” She smiled back, but then she remembered why she had been riding in the first place and her smile disappeared. Melanie and Jeremy glanced over at her knowingly. She looked away right onto Creed whose focus was startling. She didn’t like the attention. It unnerved her, but it turned her on, too. He would have been a nice distraction, but he was sure to go back where he came from.

“Hmm.”

They stared at each other until Jeremy cleared his throat.

“Alright,” she said with a sigh. Let’s get you to the hospital.

“I don’t need the hospital,” Creed grumbled.

“Not your call.” Celeste chimed in as Melanie got Creed to lay down. Not easily.

“But…” Celeste cut him off.

“Nope. You’re going. You could have a concussion and I don’t have the equipment at my office to get an MRI done. Plus, I’m worried about that knee of yours.”

“Can someone get my things out of my rental car?” He flicked his fingers down the road and practically snarled. “If the damned car hadn’t decided to quit I wouldn’t be in this situation, so leave it. The rental place can deal with it.”

“Fine, but we can’t wait any longer.” She nodded to Melanie and Jeremy and they put him in the back. “I’ll have the sheriff get someone on that. Meet you at the hospital, Mel.” She nodded and rounded to the front and got in the ambulance. Jeremy, stayed in the back and nodded and went to shut the doors, but before he could, Creed yelled, “What’s your name?”

“Celeste,” She said.

“Nice to meet you, Celeste.” His head went to the gurney, and Jeremy shut the doors while smiling and shaking his head. The smile that pulled at Celeste’s mouth was the first genuine smile she’d had in days, and it stayed with her for the rest of it as she walked into the hospital and found Creed.

Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 1

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

It’s my second week in New Jersey, and I see a woman in a yellow University of Michigan sweatshirt.

Really?

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.

Coffee Shop Chronicles: It’s all phone and games

Espresso Royale

Ann Arbor, MI

November 2016

There’s a PokéStop right outside the Espresso Royale–next door at Noodles & Company, actually–but I can spin as I sip my coffee.

It’s Autumn Spice coffee today.  That’s new; I’ve never seen it here before.  Different, a hint of cinnamon and sweetness that’s smooth and full.

I stare out the window, down the street where I used to work.  Financially, it was a great job.  Mentally, physically and even spiritually, I’m glad I left.  If I judged my overall experience as I do customer service, well, I wouldn’t leave a tip.  At all.  There’s a PokéStop outside my old building, and I bet if I still worked there, I couldn’t spin it from my desk, adding to my misery.

That was a lifetime ago, and I’m here in a coffee shop, finally sitting down.  The barista didn’t want to bus this table.  It’s the first rude, experience I’ve had here.  I asked him if he would clean the table, he said, “If you want to move the dishes to another table, I’ll get them.”

I didn’t want to touch the dishes.  They weren’t mine.  That was the point.

There were three saucers on the table, one coffee cup and a glass of water.  Ew.  Would I move dishes in a restaurant?  Am I expecting too much here?  It’s not like they were super bustling busy.  He took the dishes but didn’t wipe the table.  I have my own glass of water and I have napkins, so I’ll do this.  Besides, servers never dry the tables, leaving them wet and sticky.

My phone is open beside me on the dry, smooth, nonsticky table.  This way I can see when the PokéStop sets, and I can spin for more Pokémon items.  Everyone here has a phone out, necks cricked down as fingers type.  Several students have headphones.  One girl wears earbuds, and another girl has the full-on heavy metal jacket-type earphone helmet.  I bet they’re noise canceling ones.

Why don’t people talk anymore?

I’m as much to blame since I watch for PokéStops and critters these days.  I rarely look up at the sky.  I’m surprised I’m looking around now.  Well, the PokéStop is purple, waiting to reset.

This is not a setting for talk, especially with everyone’s insulation of isolation.  These are solitary college students who never knew of a time when coffee shops didn’t exist.  They don’t know the intricacies of speech or the delight of hearing a friend’s voice on a phone call.  A phone call.  Yes.  At the beginning, phones were made for dialing, not texting.

I like texting.  I got into that at my last evil ex-job–not the one down the street here–when every incoming call was monitored and logged.  My husband used to call me just to hear my voice; then he sent me “thinking of you” texts during the midday instead.

I miss Dad at times like this.  He’d be here talking across the table, talking so much that he’d annoy me and I couldn’t focus on my work right now.  But he’s not here, and he won’t be.  He died almost 12 years ago–11 years and 10 months ago, I calculate.  I don’t feel like counting the days; this is close enough.  Right now, I’d rather be annoyed than lonely.

The baristas aren’t chatty.  It’s-all-get down to business, an atmosphere feeding off of the students.  This place is not like any of the three Starbucks I frequent near my house.  They’re friendlier there; heck, they’re friendly.

Must be a class break because the streets are busy and the sidewalks congested.  There’s a line almost out the door.  People sit around me, gather in twos and threes and there’s conversation.  It’s the lunch meeting crowd.  The people across from me talk about meetings of some sort, and two guys set up laptops behind and chatter about something mathematical or scientific, something I know nothing about.

I like the more noise part, but it’s all business.  It seems no one is talking just for fun, about life and sharing what happened today. You know the casual meeting for the joy of company.  No one’s even talking about games or PokéStops.

I miss all this daily hustle and bustle, walking to shops and restaurants and being among people.  But I don’t miss work.  If any ex-coworkers came in, I wouldn’t talk to them, and that’s just fine with me.