Coffee Shop Conversations…


Is there anything better than a great coffee shop? Just walking in the door, smelling the rich aroma seems to soak your soul with comfort. A good coffee house is a study in contrasts. Customers languidly peruse the newspaper, read their current favorite book, or are engrossed in a conversation with a friend. While life in front of the “bar” is relaxed, life behind the bar is a blur of activity and conversation; people busily creating the elixir, a stimulant, that gives comfort and relaxation. Its interesting how the relaxation in front isn’t affected by the business behind. We each have such an ability to tune out the lives of others, all the while being engrossed in our own stuff.

Sometimes, I enjoy watching the interaction between those in front and those behind. A common occurance is when a regular “fronter” comes to the bar. If the “behinder” has worked there for awhile, they may greet them by name. A short, polite interchange takes place and then the real reason for the visit happens:

“What can I get you?”

“Oh, my usual…”

“Ok, Venti White Chocolate Mocha coming right up…”

The behinder takes a cup, writes a name on it and passes it on to another behinder who begins to make the drink. Fronter meanders over to the newspapers, scans the headlines, all the while awaiting the reason for their visit to be finished. All of the polite interaction was actually a pretense for the exchange of money and a dearly loved addiction rekindled. Nice, friendly, and both get what they want.

This arrangement usually goes on with little interruption. Oh, there are times when the line of fronters out-numbers the behinders, so polite interaction is ignored…not enough time…after all, the exchange is the thing. Money for addiction. Time is important because it is the medium through which the exchange takes place. The less time it takes, the more exchanges, the quicker a return to relative calm. The arrangement can also be fouled up when something unusual happens: a new employee, a cup spilled, a wrong order, a check written…(Check? Don’t you people have debit cards where you come from?) Eventually, though, the misaligning event is corrected: the new employee is trained, the spill cleaned, the wrong order corrected, the check writer is kicked out… and the exchange returns to normal: polite, efficient, profitable… and surface.

Sometimes, however, a coffee shop becomes more than the exchange. Broadway Cafe is one of those types of places. Typically, the sidewalk in front of the shop is lined with a curious mix of people:

Blue collar construction workers talking about the day’s work in front of them.

Local business owners sitting and enjoying some peace before the office pressure.

The young, pierced, tattooed, colored haired, talking about their life and loves.

Retired couples reading the paper.

Interaction between fronters and behinders is NOT polite nor equal. Friends come to Broadway and they are treated as such… the bar doesn’t divide. If they know the next person in line, they talk while the drink is made. If they don’t know you, its straight forward, not rude nor hostile…just business.

A 46-year-old-man picks up a cup of coffee on the way to church. Tired, quiet, a little unnerved by the current state of affairs in his life. A large Cafe Mocha is ordered and the waiting and watching begins. All is well until he is given the wonderful cup, the coffee topped with an artful leaf created with the frothy milk by the barista artisan. He takes the cup, moves to the side where he grabs a lid and places it on the paper to-go cup. He reaches for one of those cardboard things… the ones that protect your hands from getting burned. He begins to lift the cup by the lid to place the cardboard thing on it. The lid pops off, the cup drops to the counter, spilling its contents all over the counter, the floor and the pants of the man. He stands there, as if frozen, and looks at the mess. Finally, another customer reaches for a napkin and this movement breaks the freeze… “Oh man, I’m sorry…” He reaches for a handfull of napkins and starts cleaning the counter. One of the behinders, says “No worries… its alright…no worries…” The man continues to clean with more vigor… “No worries… here’s a new Mocha…No worries… we’ll clean that…”

Kindness…Grace…Forgiveness…A new chance…All dispensed at a coffee house.

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