If your dad was like mine, stopping for a cup of coffee wasn’t just about the coffee; it was more about tasting the flavor of the community we were passing through. For the generation raised with drive-through service and fast food, this concept is foreign. Even those of us who grew up with the luxury of time, have become seduced by the quick and consistent, but we have all lost something more valuable than the flavor of good cup of java.
This was brought home to me on a recent road trip in New England. One morning, I did the drive-through and the next I stopped at a local eatery for a coffee and English muffin. The contrast between the two experiences awoke in me the memories of how charmed my dad was by local conversation and color. It wasn’t an aside of the trip; it was the point of a trip.
The drive-through took but minutes before I was back on the road, hurrying along towards no particular destination. As I sipped the too-hot coffee, I passed a little place called, Ma’s Kitchen. Glancing in through the window, I saw a few locals sitting at their tables with those big porcelain coffee cups in their hands. It made my paper coffee cup feel meager and bland, so I resolved the next time I’d stop at a local place for an old-fashioned coffee break.
Two days later, I found myself at Fiddleheads which proudly proclaimed, “All fresh and cooked to order”. As with Ma’s, the locals clustered around their tables (which were socially distanced). Stepping up to order from a menu scrawled across four big chalk boards behind the counter, I told the waitress it was going to take me a minute to figure things out. She laughed back, “You’re new here. Start with the coffee over t’your right.” I poured it into a good, old mug and stood sipping while I figured out my order. Must have taken only a few minutes, but it was enough to slow me down and allow me to really taste that brew.
After ordering, I took a seat at an empty table. A couple of old-timers came in, followed by a pair of young guys. One grey-haired fellow counted out his change, “. . . twenty, -five, fifty, sixty, -five, seventy-five and a dollar. There you go Sue. Got it exact.” A young buck teased him about spending all his paper route money in one place and everyone laughed, including me. For that brief moment, I felt like a local as they all smiled (from behind their masks), including me in the joke.
So, I lingered over my breakfast (yes, I ordered a full breakfast), had an extra cup before saying good day to the boys as I walked out the door. It took longer, but I had a much more pleasurable time than I’d experienced alone in my car with a paper cup. It was much better coffee, too, but maybe that was the atmosphere.
Scott Funk lives, works, and writes (and gardens) in Vermont. His Boomer Funk columns are available at VermontFunk.com, as are his blogs and archived Aging in Place columns.