April 25, 2013

Coffee Song Dichotomy

Coffee is both the inspiration for and subject of much art. Because of this, we get a long of songs featuring coffee, if not outright about it. And among those, there is a delicious range. Take, for example:

Pretty cool.

April 24, 2013

24, Going on 100

He bought a drink - I don't remember what, and it doesn't really matter - and paid with his credit card. Our machine, being a shitty old dial up relic, took its time processing. He asked if his card was working; I said that it was, and explained that the machine was simply slow sometimes. Dial up machines don't always connect on their calls.

He kind of laughed. "I didn't know those things still existed. How do they even work?"

"Work?" I asked. "I don't know the details, but they basically make a call using a phone line, and once that connects, the transaction happens."

He paused. "Weird. Isn't that what computers used to have? Like before, um, DSL, or whatever?"

I confirmed his suspicions, and adding that my first internet experiences were using dial up. I explained that pages took many minutes to load, if they ever did, and attempted to approximate the screeching noise the connection process made.

"What did you even do, back then? Like, did you even like it?"

First: Back then?

Next: Yes, we liked it. Back then, it was all we had, and we didn't know any better. Why, I remember going to school, and actually looking up things in encyclopedias. Imagine that, real books with real information. None of that wiki garbage you kids are getting up to AND OH MY GOD, THIS IS IT, ISN'T IT?

This is talking to an actual, literal adult, who knows nothing of dial up internet. This is looking at an apparent peer, one who looks indistinguishable from you, but is actually 6 or 7 years younger, was still rolling around on his parents' floor when I first experienced AOL.

This is not getting old, per se, but certainly older.

I guess it's better than the only available alternative.

April 22, 2013

Free State 13.1 Race Report

I arrived at Clinton Lake, legs feeling quite good, the rest of me, less so.

Bipedalism is a thing we take for granted, as humans, for the obvious reason that we evolved that skill some eons ago. But every runner had this though after the Boston bombings: What if that had been me?  What if I were among the amputees? What if I could never run again? 

It's a dread thought, best pushed out of mind. 

Still, it was there, rattling around with my thoughts on the fastest guy I know. (I've decided not to be more specific than that, because it's simply not my story.) He's a runner in the truest sense, which has little to do with that speed, and everything to do with his fevered work ethic. It's an identity he embodies, articulately explores, and promotes. 

But he's not running now, nor will he for a while, because he's got cancer. I would say that this is unfair, because it certainly feels like it is. But it also seems as if those words don't capture the feeling, and anyway, what good do my words do?  I would say that I was running for him, but that's an terribly arrogant idea on some level, to think that my running could help in some way. It was, quite literally, the least I could do. But it was also something I couldn't help but do, in a sense, because my thoughts never wandered away for long. 

And so I arrived at Clinton Lake, eager to run, cognizant of the circumstances that allowed me to do so, and supremely grateful for them. I delighted in the budding green, the dirt, the rocks, the crowds, the camaraderie, the movement. 

Everything about it was beautiful. 

I got second, but the details seem even more trivial than usual. The winner utterly destroyed me, but whatever. I tied for second, but it's cool, because sharing the run made it so much better.  

Katherine Switzer, the first woman to finsish the Boston Marathon, said "If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon." I ran half of one instead, but found the dose sufficient. 

Running is just running. It can't save the world, and it can neither stop bad things from happening nor make them right. But the world inside yourself - the only thing you can really control anyway - is greatly improved by it. And that's significant. 

April 19, 2013

The Best

He introduced me, without irony, as the man who makes the best coffee he's ever had. The promise was that I would do the same for the woman accompanying him.

A couple minutes later, she was sipping the result of my efforts, poker face intact. It was good, she said - first to me, and then to the man.

They left, in the way of people who have business to discuss. There was effort to their strides, walking quickly towards something they wanted badly to avoid.

I thought on that drink until the next customer broke my revery, and then again. 'The best' is a moving target, impossible to hit most of the time, even if you know where to aim.

I gazed in to the dark, trying to find my arrow.

April 17, 2013


There is a man who walks very slowly in to my shop and buys coffee most days. He does so wearing a pair of sweat pants, from which he always manages to produce a crumpled wad of bills, or sometimes, just a handful of change.

These next two descriptors will sound like insults, but they're not meant to be anything but mere fact: He's both quite overweight and homeless. The first is obvious from a glance; the second I know from talking to him.

Naturally, you might feel bad for such a person, and that was my initial reaction as well. Though he always has money to buy coffee, he clearly doesn't come by much of it.

But before you go feeling sorry for someone, it's worth considering their opinion on the matter first. You might not like that life, at first glance. But then, you're not being asked to live it. He is. And, perhaps surprisingly, he's quite happy doing so.

He says he gets by, and that's enough. He doesn't work, but doesn't want to. He only has several pairs of sweat pants, but finds them the most comfortable variety anyway. He jokes that, clearly, he is not underfed. His days consist of napping, walking around town, and eating. Lawrence being Lawrence, a number of places are happy to offer free food to those who need it, so you can eat quite well without a penny. And so he does.

This contrasts nicely with a number of other frequent customers I have, who dress nicely, are at least middle class, and objectively successful. And yet they never have anything to say accept how miserable they are, how stressed their life makes them, and how fuck, is it the weekend yet?

I don't really know what I'm trying to say here. I'm certainly not telling you to take up a life of darma bumming, casting off the shackles of responsibility, spending your days eating free sandwiches and napping on public use couches.

I'm just saying, look around sometime. Ask yourself: What the hell am I doing? And why? Do I even like any of this?

Take a minute, really drink your coffee, and think on it. And do it in sweatpants.

April 15, 2013


So, Boston.

You know what happened by now. And I don't really have anything to say that resembles a revelation. But I need a catharsis, and this venue has often been that for me. 

First of all, I should say that no one I knew was hurt. That's great, and I'm very happy that it's the case. 

But people I don't know were hurt, and that's tragic. It's a tragedy that feels inappropriately intimate to me, someone from Kansas, with only a few acquaintances attending the event. I feel bad and I feel bad that I feel bad, as if I haven't really earned it, like I'm some tragedy seeking bandwagon jumper. 

I normally avoid news outlets in the wake of things like this. I find the coverage - and indulging in it - to be voyeuristic. I don't need to see weeping children outside of a school that was just attacked, not for one second. 

But I read about this for several hours, then drove to the gym, and watched CNN for two more hours on the treadmill. I saw the explosion and the percussion of the barricades a thousand times, watched as the 78-year-old in the orange jersey fell down. 

I watched while I was running, but mostly, I watched because I was running. I watched because running has saved me from things, and given me things. For better or worse, I am what I am right now because of it. 

Running matters to me. And so, runners matter to me. 

It's a kinship and extended family that makes the sport what it is. It's a community that unites over shared effort - not just on race day, but the grind it takes to get there. And Boston exemplifies that grind like no other event. Simply put: To race it, you have to qualify. It's the people's olympics, the bar the non-elites aim to clear. These are everyday people with superhuman endurance and work ethic, hidden under a common exterior. You don't see the thousands of miles in their legs, logged before or after their full time job, the energy they devote to something most can't understand. 

And so, among those who do understand, there's something. 

These are people I will never meet, and yet with whom I share a mode of expression, of indulgence, of obsession. If nothing else, we have the miles in common.

And so I watched, while logging those miles. It felt entirely appropriate and anything but. 

But this is not about me or my various neurosis. It's about Boston, and more than that. It's about a community of people who unite in their solitary pavement pounding, every day, whenever the hell they can find the time. It's about those that support them too, who cheer from the sidewalks, forgive the 5 AM alarm clocks, the brown rice again for dinner. I know so many people like this, and I know that there are so many more than I could ever know.

But I also know that there were people like that in Boston today. And those people don't deserve the images they'll carry for the rest of their life, the scars, the lost limbs, or the lost loved ones.  

April 13, 2013

Sprudge Survey on Income

That, right there, is a little taste of The Room, either the greatest or worst film ever made, depending on your inclinations at the moment.

But I'm not just sharing... whatever that is, for kicks.

Talking about money often gets that reaction. It's confidential, you see, so private that even the utmost in private (wink wink) affairs takes conversational precedent.

"How much did you make last year?" is an awful invasion of privacy, whereas "Hey did you (blank) that (blank) last night?" is somehow fine.


Sprudge is asking about money though, and it's worth answering. You even get to remain anonymous, so there's no sense in avoiding it.

The results - if I may be so bold as to hazard a guess - will likely reveal that baristas are somewhere between broke and fucking broke, perhaps leaning towards the latter. But the details matter, and I'm curious to see how it plays out. We know that baristas live on bread and water; but can we, perhaps, afford artisan whole grain bread and Italian sparkling water - or are we doomed to Wonderbread and tap?

April 10, 2013

Competing, Finally

I've waffled a bit recently, but on the whole, I've wanted to participate in some kind of barista competition for a while now. Years? Probably safe to say without hyperbole. I don't suppose I'm the best there is, but I do suppose that, to be as good as you can be, you have to use others to push yourself.

This is the same spirit I find in foot races. I'm not out to crush those who would run with me, merely to do the best I can. Four times, I've won, but those aren't my most satisfying races by any stretch. You know when you've done good things, and that satisfaction matters more than anything else.

That having been said, a contradiction: I really do like to win.

So, now that it seems somewhat official that I will take part in a Lawrence barista competition, it has to be said: I really do want to win the thing. Sure, I want to meet with others who've spent years developing their latte art, swapping "war stories" and other such things. I want to do all of that, really, to smile and laugh and exchange meaningful words.

But then, I do want to win. I want to stand and smile and say "Yes, I won. I am better than you, and this was all a formality, a mere coronation that could never have ended another way." I want them to ask me how I make the milk dance like that, how I coaxed such silky foam out of my pitcher, how I'm capable of such divine work.

Contradictory, yes, and thus human. I do have my hubris, and perhaps, in the grand literary tradition, I'll be duly humbled. We'll see in one month's time.

April 6, 2013

Alchemy Coffee

Lawrence, KS, is a college town, located more or less in the center of the United States. While it is popularly considered by its residents to be a bohemian paradise away from the otherwise cloistered conservatism that dominates the rest of Kansas, it is still very much Kansas. That is to say, Lawrence, KS, for all that I love about it, is not on the bleeding edge of anything. We do not quickly adopt, much as we like to think the opposite is true.

But Lawrence has a coffee shop as they're now being created - with a focus on the brew, and the sublime product that results. It's called Alchemy, and I've been pleased with my visits thus far. The beans are provided by Broadway Roasting out of Kansas City, a favorite of mine. And the staff (which is only two) seems interested in their craft. I've never been asked for feedback as much as I was here, and that can only be a good thing. As for the aesthetic, you can see the entire shop above. I adore it, though it may be a bit twee for some tastes.

There is no espresso machine yet, and not much space to sit or park. These are considerable challenges in an already crowded coffee market, but perhaps not damning, considering the uniqueness of the place.
While Lawrence has many other coffee shops, it has nothing like this. The closest, perhaps, would be Oddly Correct in Kansas City, or PT's in Topeka. But those are not close enough to be competition.

In any case, I'm told it's doing well so far, and I hope that continues. There is a large part of me that wants the industry to go in this sort of direction, and thus an equally large part of me that wants to see those who do venture forth find success.