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.

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.

An Experiment

digital_book_thumbnailHot Blacktop started as an experiment. I wanted to find out if I could produce a well-devised chapter each month. On July 10th, 2015 I did just that. The journey has been fulfilling. I’ve written, with the help of my editor, Phil, a work that I’m proud of to call a success.

Now that I’ve finished the novella, what comes next? Dipping my toes into an ocean caught in an ever-expanding maelstrom of indie authors that have decided not to go the traditional route is a scary endeavor in my designs for success. Is it better to query several agents knowing the outcome could be a quick toss from the slush pile to the trash after reading the first sentence of the novella or listening to voice from a surprise phone call hearing someone tell me they’re interested in my work?

The first is common. The second is rare but more satisfying. Is it a safer to get my work up in e-book format and see what happens, knowing that it’s finally out there in the world of e-commerce so people can read it right away, no chance that it will be rejected and not seen at all? In the back of my mind, these questions have had me waffling all year. My brain feels like I’ve been balancing one foot on a thin board while my arms get heavier and heavier with the weight of each decision as I rebalance myself. It was a difficult decision.

Finally, I decided to take the leap. I’ve started the process to e-publish. A few of my writer friends have already jumped in, and it seemed painless if not time-consuming, and they appear to be happy with the outcome. So I’m going to reach forward with long strokes and swim in the sea of indie romance writers, and hope that I gain a following, hope that readers like what I have to offer, and hope that Hot Blacktop becomes a success.

Coming in January 2017 the full novella,
Hot Blacktop by Wendi Knape

Also coming in January, The Hot Blacktop series continues with Christof and Megan in:
Hot Turns

Star Trek Heritage: Chapter One, Pt. 1

She was having trouble concentrating with that incessant beeping coming from the proximity sensors, but she didn’t stop working. The Borg Cube was closing in. They hadn’t sent any members of their hive onto the ship, but that was hardly reassuring. The rest of the crew aboard the USS Heritage was currently unconscious and that left Ensign Meva Skogland the lone soldier.

She wasn’t entirely sure why whatever knocked out the crew hadn’t affected her, but she thought it might have something to do with her being in decontamination at the time the Borg ship had appeared. She’d have to remember to ask Doctor Syversten about it when this was over…assuming they all survived. What a terrifying thought.

Meva’s hands flew across the console as she assessed the damage to the ship, checked weapon and shield statuses, and monitored the Borg Cube, which was now currently maintaining its’ distance. Whatever the Borg had done had disabled the Heritage’s warp engines, so they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Everything else, however, seemed to be functioning properly, the most important system being life support.

Meva had never seen a Borg ship in person before, had never seen the Borg themselves at all, but all the reports said the same things. The Borg disable a ship, send over their hive minions to leech data from the ships computers, and assimilate all members of the ships crew. Not necessarily in that order. Then they move on. Another ship. Another crew. Gone. Assimilated.

So…why weren’t they doing that? Why were they just sitting there? Sure they had disabled the ship just like previous reports said they would. But they hadn’t started the rest of it.

“Shit. What am I supposed to do with this?” Meva muttered to herself. Speaking out loud to herself made her less out of control. She was just an Ensign who worked in the Science Department. She was fresh out of the Academy. Everyone else on board, literally everyone, outranked her. Except now everyone else was out cold, which left only her.  And she knew procedure. They trained you for hostile situations. But you weren’t prepared. Not entirely.

Of course she had basic training in the use of the weapons systems. Everyone on the ship did. Every good Captain insisted on it and Captain Miles was a good Captain.

“He’d be a better Captain if he was awake.”

Meva wasn’t confident in her ability to use the ships weapons systems against this particular enemy and survive. She needed a plan. She worked in the Science Department. Maybe she could science a way out of this. For now it seemed she had the time. The Borg were just sitting there. It was creepy.

“Alright then. Let’s see if we can get these warp engines running. Or at least get it to impulse power. If I can’t do that maybe I can figure out how to wake Syver. Or the Captain. That would be nice.”

Meva grabbed a Data PADD so she could continue to monitor the consoles on the Bridge and headed for Engineering. There were crewmembers all over the place. Many had simply fallen wherever they had been standing when the attack came. Some sporting bruises from hitting the walls, the floor, each other. Some were lying in odd, and obviously uncomfortable, positions. She wished she could help, but with no proper medical training she didn’t even know where to begin.

‘This is one hell of a first assignment,’ she thought as she headed for the turbo lift. She sincerely hoped that the turbo lift didn’t malfunction. She didn’t need to be trapped in an elevator on top of everything else. Then they would all be screwed. ‘As if we aren’t already.’

Meva Skogland had been so excited to be given the chance to serve her first Starfleet assignment aboard the Heritage. It was the ships’ maiden voyage through space and a spot aboard was as coveted as a spot aboard the Federation Flagship Enterprise.

She reached the nearest lift and, surprise surprise, it wasn’t working.

“Great. The Medical Bay it is then.”

Heading toward Dr. Syversten’s office she tried to remember anything she may have learned at the Academy that might help with this. The Kobyashi Maru maybe. Except she failed that test. Everyone did. If she couldn’t wake Syver then she knew it was over.

She reached the Medical Bay in record time. Just like the Bridge and the hallways the bay had personnel laying and sitting wherever they had been. She found the Chief Medical Officer sitting in his office chair, his head lying on his desk like a kid who had fallen asleep at school.

“Doctor?”

Meva shook the doctors shoulder, as if that would do any good. It didn’t. She began looking through drawers and in cabinets. Assuming everything was properly labeled, which it always was, she was hoping to find anything that might be used to wake someone up.

While she searched for something, anything, that would help she continued to monitor the Data PADD. There was still no change from the Borg Cube and Life Support Systems were still functioning. Good. She still had time, but that could change at any moment.

Finally she found a stash of hypo sprays. She looked through them until she found one labeled ‘Epinephrine’.

‘Well, this will either wake him up or give him a heart attack.’

She read the label of the hypo spray, checked Syversten’s medical record in the ships’ computer to make sure he wasn’t allergic to anything, and then, taking a deep breath she stuck the hypo spray into Dr. Syversten’s neck and waited. It didn’t take long. The Doctor’s head shot up as if he’d just had a bucket of water dumped on him.

“What the hell…” he muttered. He was looked groggily around the room.

“Doctor. Are you alright?” Meva asked.

“Ensign Skogland? What’s happening?”

“The ship was attacked, Sir. I think. A Borg Cube sent out some kind of energy pulse that shut down the warp engines. It also seems to have rendered the crew unconscious. Everyone except me anyway. And now you. I was going to try to get the engines back online, but I can’t get down to Engineering. Thought I would try to wake you up instead. I’m really glad it worked.”

“The Borg? They’re here? Why haven’t they taken the ship yet?”

“I don’t know, Sir, but they’ve been here for several hours now. They disabled the ships ability to move, but haven’t done anything else. I’ve been using the time to try and either get the ship away from here or wake up someone who can. That’s where you come in.”

Dr. Syversten got up and looked around. “What did you use to wake me up, Ensign?” he asked.

“I used a hypo spray labeled Epinephrine. I only have Starfleet’s basic first aid training. I was kind of guessing and hoping it worked.”

“I’m very glad you guessed correctly, Ensign. Were you able to wake anyone else?”

“No, Sir.”

“Alright. Well, the best course of action then would be to wake the Captain and the rest of the bridge crew. They’re better trained to handle these sorts of situations. That will give us the time, hopefully, to start taking care of the rest of the crew.”

“Hopefully is right. The Borg haven’t fired on the ship yet, which goes against every report I’ve ever read about them. Granted there aren’t many so we’re probably missing information. We need the Captain.”

“Okay. Let me grab what I can from here and we’ll head to the Bridge.”

Resident Evil illogical moments

Until the first live-action Resident Evil movie starring Milla Jovovich came out in 2002, I had never actually played any of the games. My general experience with the series was limited to watching gameplay videos online or reading the novel adaptations written by S.D. Perry.  I don’t favor the films since they are anything but faithful adaptations and have all the established characters from the Resident Evil, or RE for short, universe play second fiddle to an all-original character portrayed by Jovovich.  But the games aren’t without their share of problems.

While most of the games in the series have stellar stories, epic action sequences, interesting heroes and villains, and truly iconic monsters, there are also moments that don’t make any sense whatsoever if you think about it. Which I have.  What follows is my list of the ten most illogical things in the Resident Evil video game series.  I thought about including a moment from the latest main entry in the series, but there is so much wrong with RE6 that it deserves its own list.

10) Are the bad guys really this bored or stupid?

The opening for RE4 has government agent Leon Kennedy journeying to a remote area in Spain in search of the President’s missing daughter, Ashley.  Story-wise, I believe only two hours transpire from when Leon first encounters a hostile cult-like terrorist group behind the abduction to when he finds a random note written by one of the cultists.  This note not only acknowledges Leon’s presence in their village, but it also flat out states where Ashley is being held.  Given that the cultists have been hell-bent on eliminating Leon as a threat up to this point, it begs the question on why one of them would take the time to write this.  And, the note’s writer may as well have added an additional sentence: I’ll just leave this lying on a table where the intruder can easily spot it.

9) Fear of getting wet?

The water puzzle in the prequel game, Resident Evil Zero, where you have to move three crates to form a pathway over this rather small tank – simply to retrieve a valve needed to access a locked room, I might add – couldn’t be more ridiculous if it tried.  One thought that crossed my mind, as I was pushing the boxes into place, was ‘Why can’t Rebecca or Billy just swim across to get what they need?’  What makes it even more absurd is that this puzzle is encountered just after Billy pulled himself out of a waterway and hadn’t had time to dry off.

8) Shoddy containment measures.

One of the most curious aspects of RE5 is how many monsters are roaming about unchecked in Wesker’s secret facility.  While one could argue that the game’s antagonists unleashed the majority of them to deal with Chris and Sheva, the cages for the Lickers tell a different story.  The beasts are seen confined within a glass enclosure that they can, and do, easily break out of when the heroes are passing by.  There is evidence that at least three people have been killed by these creatures before Chris and Sheva even stumble upon them.  Given that the Lickers are one of the deadliest creatures present in the series, it’s questionable why even Wesker doesn’t take better care to protect his own staff from them.

2016-8August-JeannetteBlogPhoto

Clockwise from top left: Wesker distracted by Alexia; Resident Evil Zero’s crate puzzle; Glass cage for the Lickers in RE5; Chris preparing to punch a boulder; Rachel Foley running from a monster; and Ben’s prison cell in RE2. (photo credits at end)

7) Did the dogs really stay by the doors the entire time?

The first game in the series kicks off with members of the paramilitary organization, S.T.A.R.S., taking refuge in a seemingly deserted mansion after being chased through the woods by a group of zombified Dobermans.  The majority of the game centers around trying to find an alternate way out, as any attempt to exit through the front doors results in one of the dogs gaining entry to the house and attacking whichever character tried to leave.  It doesn’t matter what point of the game it is; the dogs are always there.  Why they stick around that area even when the S.T.A.R.S. members aren’t anywhere near the main hall is anyone’s guess, especially when there has to be something more accessible to hunt somewhere in the forest.

6) Wesker is far too easily distracted.

In RE: Code Veronica, the mainstay villain of the series, normally known for having remarkable focus and awareness, can’t seem to decide who to give his undivided attention to at various points.  During one scene where he has his mortal enemy, Chris, in a chokehold and is threatening to end his life, Wesker hears the game’s primary villainess, Alexia, laughing on a nearby computer monitor before the screen goes dark.  For whatever reason, Wesker throws Chris aside and immediately takes off to chase her down.  Yet later, when Wesker is actually fighting Alexia, he seemingly forgets about her and lunges toward Chris when he realizes the latter is present in the room.  As a result, Alexia nearly succeeds in setting Wesker on fire.

5) Turn off for the relentless killing machine?

RE3 sees Jill Valentine attempting to escape the doomed Raccoon City while also trying to survive against a genetically-engineered humanoid creature called Nemesis that’s been programmed to kill her and the other S.T.A.R.S. survivors from the first game.  Jill is relentlessly pursued by Nemesis throughout RE3 until a period where she is infected with a virus and requires a cure to keep breathing.  A man named Carlos, who isn’t even a S.T.A.R.S. member, comes to her aid by manufacturing the antidote she needs.  Even though Jill has been left unprotected and virtually helpless, Nemesis comes after Carlos while he’s on his way back to her.  Given that Nemesis otherwise dogs her every step of the way, this sudden deviation is very curious.

4) Must have found a plot hole to walk through.

During an exploration of the derelict, creature-infested police station in RE2, rookie cop Leon and corporate spy Ada come across a man named Ben who’s locked himself in a jail cell.  Ben states that he wishes to stay in there because he feels it’s safer than roaming the halls.  Later in the game, Leon is literally at the other end of the hall from the holding cells when he hears Ben screaming.  When the scene cuts to Ben, he’s seen being attacked by a particularly large monster that’s somehow gotten into the cell with him though the door is still shut and there is no other viable entry point in sight.  Even odder is that when Leon makes it over there less than a minute later, the creature is nowhere to be found.

3) How many members does this terrorist group have?

Much of the plot of RE: Revelations revolves around a bio-terrorist group known as Veltro and an investigation on whether or not they’re still active.  Several pairs of military teams are sent to investigate the cruise ships that Veltro had been using as their base of operations, only to find that each ship is overrun with mutated members of the terrorist group.  Ridiculously overrun, as there never seems to be any shortage of creatures around during the exploration of the primary ship, the Queen Zenobia.  During one battle, there’s even an endless supply of humanoid monsters coming out of the vents to replace the ones killed by the player.

2) How did she make it into the military if she’s this spineless?

The government organization known as the FBC, or Federal Bioterrorism Commission, featured in Resident Evil: Revelations seemed to have many promising agents to its name.  Three of the four who were featured most prominently – Raymond, Jessica, and Parker – seemed more than capable of keeping their wits in dangerous situations.  Not the case with Rachel Foley.  While it’s unclear how long she’d been an agent prior to being sent to investigate the Queen Zenobia, she immediately turns into a proverbial damsel in distress when faced with just one of the mutated creatures roaming the ship.  She even throws her gun at the creature when she runs out of bullets.

1) Chris suddenly becomes Hercules.

Even though I’ve seen the most outlandish moment in RE5 as the butt of many jokes on the internet, I still have to include it on this list.  During the game’s final battle, Chris Redfield’s idea of creating a safe pathway for his partner, Sheva, is to repeatedly punch a boulder three times his size to get it to move.  You would think that, after Chris stated in an earlier point in the same game that he’s no superhero and even exhibited signs of pain just from punching his arch-enemy, Wesker, in the face, there would be some hesitation before carrying out this daunting task.  Nope.  Not only does Chris rush in and start whaling on this giant rock, but he also gets it rolling aside in under 30 seconds.

Regardless of this list of criticisms, I am a huge fan of the video game series. What I like most is how the games have evolved with the times.  I love the puzzle-driven adventures released from 1996 to 2002 just as much the high definition third-person shooter style from 2004 on.  Each game, excluding the spinoffs of Operation Raccoon City and the Chronicles series, brings something unique to the table that sets it apart from the rest.  Whether you prefer the tense, fast-paced scenario in RE3 that forces the player to keep moving, the twist-around-every-corner story present in Code Veronica, the impressive cinematic fights involving Wesker in RE5, or even discovering the secret cause of the first outbreak in Resident Evil Zero, there is something to satisfy just about everyone.

And the soon-to-be-released RE7, coming next year, promises a new spin on the series. According to reports, it will be a first-person shooter and will return the series to its “horror roots.”  It is unknown yet what the story will be or if any of the previous characters of the series will even be present in this newest installment, but it is something to which I am very much looking forward.
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Photo credits:
1–Wesker distracted by Alexia
2–Resident Evil Zero’s crate puzzle
3–Glass cage for the Lickers in Resident Evil 5
4–Chris prepares to punch a boulder
5–Rachel Foley runs from a monster
6–Ben’s prison cell in Resident Evil 2