Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Where Books and Caffeine Collide

This barista is cuter than cute, but does she ever love her annoying music CD. She has a CD that she plays on the coffee shop's sound system. She filled it with one-half thoughtful romantic tunes, one-half trendy overproduced crap.

I have a personal policy of not listening to music through an iPod in public places (or, in my case, my fancy phone with more memory on it than the first laptop I bought). I might just break if she doesn't change the CD.

She is tall, busty and has that young-woman-summer-healthy-tan thing going. We'll come back to the barista later.

The coffee shop has a large bookshelf. One day, one of the owners and his brother dragged it in and left it there. Bit by bit, people have been filling it with books. Now it overflows. People come in and grab a book, read it, take it home. Other people come in and grab several books. Even others drop books off. One lady came in with an entire box of books. She filled all the empty spaces, and took five others home.

Isn't that amazing? People, left to their own devices and an empty bookshelf, simply started a book exchange without any prompting or direction. Is it the inherent beauty of sharing a book, or does this speak to something else, something deeper? That people left to their own devices in a legitimate business (the owners of the shop aren't providing coffee for free) simply do the right thing because it's the best thing to do?

I love that bookshelf. I love it very much.

There is an older man here who has been coming in as often as I, or even more. He is some type of engineering consultant. I believe he reviews technical plans and makes recommendations. He is reading constantly, either on his netbook or from one of those notepads engineers always seem to have with them.

Older Engineering Man is a coffee drinker. He likes drip coffee, straight up.

I can dig it.

One of the owners is here. She is convinced that there is an untapped tea market, so she stuffed the shop with loose-leaf tea and tea accessories. I don't know if her tea plan is viable or not, but she has stocked the place with tea not easily found. The place smells wonderful, the tang of bitter espresso with a thousand scents of tea.

I have arrived in writing nirvana.

Sitting in the sunniest spot are two homeschooling sisters. They are very intent when they study. I do not know if they are unschoolers (popular in my area) or curriculum based homeschoolers. One is studying geometry and the other flips through a book from the bookshelf, comes to a page she likes and then draws what she read.

They drink fruit smoothies. For them, school never ends because they are not in school. They are simply learners, and when they are done, they stuff their books and pads and netbooks into a backpack and zoom off. I have yet to see their parents in here.


The barista takes a call on her cell phone. She starts speaking in Russian, rapidly and with an accent. Older Engineering Man and I actually exchange a glance. He grins.

The eighteen-year-old barista speaks flawless Russian. That's so random--it's also awesome.

A young man comes in and flirts with the barista. He's friendly. He orders a simple latte. When he gets his drink, he comes to one of the open lounge chairs and sits. I smile to myself. His flirting was on autopilot. He might not even know he does it.

He sips his latte. He closes his eyes and breathes deep, smelling the tea. When he is done he leaves, and I get that this was a brief refuge from whatever busy life a cute teen boy in the summer leads.

I can't see the barista but I'm momentarily bittersweet. I almost wish he had picked up his flirting again. They would make beautiful children together, and no one in the coffee shop is more alive than she.

As he leaves, he does not take a book from the bookshelf. Doing so would have been perfect.

To me, the writer, the near-perfect day is so much better than the perfect one. There are a thousand thousand stories I can make, pretending he did stop and grab a book, a supernova of possibilites. I pick one that seems the most alive:

It's an old book. Inside is a thin piece of paper, yellow with age. A girl's writing from another time. She is sad and lonely, obviously stuffing the paper in the book to put in her diary later. The paper is odd, it's dated June 23rd, 2286.

The boy finds this strange. He comes back into the coffee shop, talks the barista who is trying to control her heart from going pitter-pat every time the boy blinks with his impossibly long eyelashes.

Does she know who left this book? She does not.

I do, says Old Engineering Guy. The crazy lady with the box of books comes in every Tuesday at exactly 2:34pm.

Yeah, I've seen her, says the Fast Typing Guy. She likes to talk to herself. She grabs new books and replaces them with old books.

The barista and the boy try to solve the Future Diary Entry Mystery Together. Maybe they fall in love. Maybe he breaks her heart for the girl in the odd note. They certainty kiss.

The bookshelf waits.


  1. Great post Anthony. I love the bookshelf imagery. I wish I had a place like that to write, but I typically have to go to a Starbucks, crank up the headphones, and block out all the hyper-caffeinated types looking for a grande half-calf-soy-no foam-lemon twist-half sugar-half splenda-frappucinos ???

  2. Wow, this was an amazing story, Anthony.

    I also wish I had a place that was so full of life and energy as this coffee shop. It seems like an awesome environment to write in really. It has obviously had some effect on your writing, especially the bookshelf.

    The bookshelf and how it draws people in the coffee shop together is an awesome story within itself.

    Write on, read on, and drink more coffee!

  3. It is amazing that the empty bookshelf just begged to be filled and used.

    Thanks for sharing this great story and experience.

  4. Anthony, I LOVE this!!! It makes me want to go put an empty bookshelf in a coffee shop somewhere. Very awesome, indeed, and what a great thing that we writers can make everything magical!

  5. Thanks everyone for you nice comments.

    Yeah, the coffee shop is one of my favorite places. I even get free coffee on occasion. Then there are conversations like this:

    Barista: Hey, I made a new smoothie, wanna try it? Strawberry with white chocolate.

    Anthony: Um, let me think about this. YES.


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