Thursday, April 25, 2013
I've closed a few coffee shops in my day. Since we moved back to Hudson in the fall of 1997, two of my "regular" shops have closed (Saywell's, Dave's Coffee), and now my third (Caribou) is about to go under. I'm not taking credit or blame for any of this. Just saying ...
Saywell's had been a family business for nearly a hundred years. A kind of old-fashioned drug store cum soda fountain, it had a very warm atmosphere. The servers there knew what I wanted, and when they saw me coming down the street, they would put my order on "my" table so that it was ready by the time I entered the shop. (My morning order: coffee, toasted bagel with peanut butter [crunchy].) I went there every morning--and sometimes in the afternoon, too--and did my reading and/or homework for the classes I was teaching. We had also patronized Saywell's when we were living in Hudson earlier (1979-1990), and even when we were living in Aurora (1990-1997), we would drive over to Saywell's on weekends--and in the summers.
Sundays were the best days at Saywell's. Our friends would gather there--about 10 a.m. or so--and we would read the Sunday Times and have earnest discussions about teaching and politics and the Tribe and whatever. Then ... friends moved on, passed on, and it wasn't long before Saywell's closed, as well--their Rx business had been decimated by the arrival in town of CVS, Drug Mart, Acme Pharmacy, etc. No way to compete with corporations. And Starbucks had drunk deeply from Saywell's coffee business. (I did--and do--go to Starbucks in the afternoons--but I never went there instead of Saywell's: That would have been treason!)
When Saywell's closed, I moved down the street about a block to Dave's. There were friends there, too, and Dave and his wife were interesting people. He was an aspiring writer; she, I think, worked in the music industry. Both were liberal Democrats, and it was fun to hear the exchanges between Dave and his GOP customers (there weren't that many, I don't think, once the word went out). I used to sit in one of the easy chairs by the front door and do my reading and homework. A comfortable place--in many ways. But then Dave decided to move on. And coffee shop #2 bit the dust.
The only place left in easy walking distance was Caribou, so I started going there, early every morning (I was often the first one in the door at 6 a.m.). The political atmosphere was very different: Most of the people who were there about the time I was were very conservative (some were very conservative--and very very conservative), so sometimes I felt my BP spiking as I heard the tirades about Obama and Democrats and lazy-people-who-just-don't-want-to-work, etc. But I stayed out of it, stayed huddled in my corner easy chair, doing my work.
But sometimes the debate came right to me. Some of the customers knew my politics (though I hardly wear anything on my sleeve other than a coffee stain), and they would come over, confront me, say outrageous things, just to see. I usually tried to smile and discourage them with silence, but one man, in particular, liked to get sarcastic with me. The other day, for example, I was unloading my backpack (getting out the work I was going to do), and he said something like this: If you had on a backwards baseball cap, we would know who you were. He said this to me, days after the Boston Marathon bombing.
I was horrified. But said nothing--not aloud anyway. I just did my work and walked home, still in disbelief that someone--especially someone I barely know--would say that to me. I have two brothers in Boston, a niece, a nephew, a sister-in-law. Friends. Fellow travelers in the vale of tears.
Caribou is closing in about six weeks, converting to a Peet's. But I have not gone back. And I will not go back.
I've started hanging out at Hattie's, a cafe that's now in the space where Saywell's used to be. They don't open till 8, so I do some work at home before I go there. But they're nice to me at Hattie's, the workers. They smile, we joke lightly, amiably, and I can read and take notes in peace and not have to wonder who will decide his day just won't start right if he doesn't assail me with something cruel.