Some of my greatest memories involve coffee. I didn't really drink coffee until I left Wisconsin to attend art school in Seattle. Now, Seattle in the 90's was all about "Grunge" music and coffee. My first day in town I remember walking around for what seamed like 1,000 miles. I was excited to explore my new home. But as is common in Seattle, it was a dreary and rainy day. I was chilled and soaked to the bone. I need a place to sit for a bit to recharge myself before the long hike back to my apartment. I ended up ducking into a tiny coffee shop near Pioneer Square with an Italian-sounding name. The walls inside were plaster, painted a very warm yellow with red trim. There was music playing in the background...a band I'd never heard before, and everyone in there looked to hip and sophisticated. I was finally experiencing the Seattle I had come for.
Like I said, I wasn't a big coffee drinker so I had no idea what to order. There was a large copper machine behind the bar and rows upon rows of bottles with pumps attached to their necks. There was steam flying everywhere and a menu that had words I have never seen before. Suddenly, I was up at the counter...I had no idea even HOW to order, much less what to order. I was panicking...I was going to look stupid in front of the Seattle people! The barista looked me up and down and asked what I wanted. I was sure she was thinking, "Great another rube from the sticks..."
I decided to play it cool. "Just a coffee please."
Her face lit up in a friendly smile, "Do you need room?"
I had no idea what she was talking about. I had a room back in my apartment...surely she wasn't offering to let me stay there...? Again, since I didn't know what to do...I just shook my head. About fifteen seconds later there was a mug of steaming, black coffee in front of me. I paid for my drink and walked over to the little stand next to the bar that had sugar and cream on it. I had seen people add this stuff to coffee before, but my parents had always just had it plain. Looking at my mug I realized that even if I wanted to add anything there wasn't any room for...Ah...I got it just then.
So I took my black coffee and sat down at a table right next to the front window. The glass was dripping with condensation, blurring my view of the street. It was exactly as I'd pictured living in Seattle. I sat and sipped the strong, smooth, and slightly bitter liquid and warmed myself from my long walk in the rain.
There were young people reading books by authors I'd never heard of, discussing topics I had no grasp of. I was completely out of my element but in the exact place I was supposed to be. It was the first great trip I'd ever taken alone, and I was looking forward to becoming a part of this exciting and eclectic community.
After finishing my coffee and figuring out that I was supposed to bus my own table, I gathered my things and started to head toward the door. As I passed the counter I took another look around. The rich smell of roasting coffee, the quiet din of conversation, and the unfamiliar groove of local music surrounded me and made an indelible mark on me. Rarely does an experience so perfectly live up to every single expectation you have. But at that moment, in that coffee shop...I was perfectly happy.