Friday, February 13, 2009

The View from the Counter

When Torrefazione Italia closed in 2005 and I broke down crying at the end of my last shift, a coworker did her best to comfort me. "There'll be other cafes," she said. That seemed unlikely at the time, but, within months, I was frequenting Costello's Travel Caffe for an afternoon of coffee and reading, and Mio Gelato replaced my job. It wasn't the same, of course, but did I really want it to be? I loved them both, for the coffee they served and for the coffee I made, for the people I served and the customers I met.

Since then, there have been several other cafes. I remember certain cafes I have visited on trips - Kopplin's Coffee in Minneapolis, the local Insomnia Coffee chain in Dublin, the Black Medicine Coffee Co. in Edinburgh, the multiple Autogrills on the roads in Italy where Dad and I stopped for a quick shot of espresso - and each time I go back to Portland there are new places to try at my parents recommendation, and the old places to go back to (especially Northwest Coffee House for a delicious mocha and Extracto for a bowl latte and the best chocolate shortbread cookies).

But it's not just the coffee I love. It's the atmosphere.

Cafes are the most inspiring places, ever, anywhere. All I need is enough change for a cuppa, several sheets of paper, a pen with a full ink cartridge, and I'm set for hours.

The effect is even better when I'm working.

This past week, I've done some last-minute filling-in at a local cafe, one of my favorites. In the lulls between customers, I grab a scrap of paper and jot thoughts and ideas down. I sketch out characters and build up plot triangles. Clever bits of dialogue, either from a real-life customer or from some wonderful part of my mind, pop out and clamor to be recorded.

Last summer, I was working on a novel in my free time. The thing that kept me writing, all summer long, was my job. As my hands cupped a steel pitcher and I waited for the milk to hit the right temperature, the ideas hit me. I scrawled on napkins and scribbled on receipts. After work and on my days off, these scraps were grouped together and became a fictional Portland coffeehouse with character, bustle, and, of course, coffee.

The view from behind the counter is the best narrative viewpoint.


Savira said...

I think we know there was more than just coffee and reading at Costello's. heh heh...

Grace said...

Ha! I'll admit to that, Savira, but that was not the main draw. None of the other cafes I love have had that. That was just a bonus...