I know. I live in Portland, Oregon. Aren't there coffee shops percolating and frothing on every corner? Yes. There are a lot. Some that I love very much. But I have a few essential criteria to my morning ritual and unfortunately, none of my preferred spots fit the very first one:
- It must be on my bike route to work. I'm willing to detour a block or two but anything beyond that is tough without a motor. With four miles of urban riding, you'd think I'd be sorted. You'd think. And one more thing on that point. I sort of prefer it coming toward the latter part of my commute, rather than earlier, just so I can be a quick ride from the office.
- They have to make a decent cup of coffee. Americano actually. Which is pretty much a given and in this town there aren't too many places that can fuck that up. But alas, there are some and those are simply out of the question.
- Good music. I really don't hear much when I get into the 7:30am laptop brain, and sometimes I'm even carrying headphones to regulate my sound. But if this is gonna be my daily spot, I don't want any easy listening bullshit when I come without my gear. Again, something that should be easily attainable in Portland coffee shops and yet, there are a few who just don't get it.
- Free wi-fi. If you don't offer it (Starbucks), please close up shop and go home. You have no business playing.
That's it. Nothing crazy. Oh, yeah, I refuse to wait in line for more than 3 minutes, but only the Stumptown on SW third - which, by the way, meets all other criteria - consistently fails me in that one regard.
Now at my last gig, which was in the super trendy Pearl district, there were two, not one, but two great places that met my every wish. Cafe Allora and the Urban Bean. I had to stop going to Allora (the better one) because of some freak coincidence where every morning I would see the parents of an old friend who has since ignored all my attempts to get in touch with her. Despite our estranged friendship, I was forced into small talk every morning with these old people who offer me daily updates on their three daughters' pregnancies. I had nothing against these folks really. They were nice enough for Portland bourgie, but I don't like to talk to anyone during my sacred coffee shop time. That and the fact that there was a bizarre, off-white elephant hanging over every conversation which forced me to go elsewhere for my morning cup. Now I work in a different part of town and the one good shop in the Pearl is way out of the way.
And just one more shout out to the Albina Press. I do so wish you were on my route but sadly, you're not even close.
I've tried alternate, east side routes. I've spent mornings trolling unfamiliar neighborhoods hoping to find a hidden jewel, but I come up disappointed every time.
So it's finally come down to one little hole in the wall shop that is exactly two blocks off course, but relatively close to my final destination. The coffee is great. Ily. The music can be hit or miss. I've heard everything from Eliot Smith (great) to Cyndi Lauper (which, at 7:30 am is enough to make you peroxide your pubes pink and get in the ring with a greased up Captain Lou Albana to go at it all greco-roman style) there. The wi-fi is free. And there's hardly any wait. So I know what you're thinking. Keep bringing your headphones and call this done.
Here's the problem. I hate the owner. I don't just dislike her. I've made up hateful stories in my head about her. I'm convinced she cheats her employees out of their rightful tips, employees I actually like alright. And I'm pretty sure she'd have some sexual harrassment claims against her if her staff weren't so embarrassed that someone that grotesque would hit on them.
What wrong has she done to me personally?
First of all, she's a winker. She should be gutted for that alone.
But my hate campaign started in earnest within the first two weeks. After coming in and ordering the same thing at the same time, everyday, an 8 oz. Americano with a little room for here, she continued to act like she didn't recognize me. She kept asking for my order, and kept serving it in to-go cups, filling it to the brim or just going with a 16 oz. cup and filling it with water.
On the one hand, this was a good thing. No recognition means no small talk. On the other hand, I'm a fucking regular by this point. Treat me like one, damnit!
Well, she did. It happened one day after I had a nasty fall off my bike. With bloodied palms, I asked her for the bathroom key but explained that I would be right back for my coffee so she wouldn't think I was some vagrant just there to use her bathroom. (Bathroom keys also fuckin' kill me by the way. Like I need someone monitoring my bathroom habits). Before she would release the key to me, she asked me what I would be ordering. I'm fucking bleeding. She takes my exact same drink order everyday. And she wants to know what I'll be ordering, suggesting I'm gonna use her crapper and take off without buying anything even though I had been coming in regularly for at least three weeks.
I responded with the obligatory, "8 oz. americano with room for here." "Great" she said with big, happy to help out smile. "It'll be here when you get back. $2 please." Umm, did she want me to pay before I went into the can? Yes. Yes she did.
Now I knew I was gonna be up there for a while, cleaning out my wounds. I thought about showing her what I'd be tending to, but instead just asked if she could wait to make it until I got back so it didn't get cold.
She winked at me, with a wink that said she knew what I needed the bathroom key for and assured me she would wait. This chick was trying to bust me taking a dump in her commode, even though I wasn't.
The next day was the first day she remembered me. Guess how she let me know she remembered me. "Good morning! Americano? Bathroom key? (Wink)"
I should have turned around and walked out right then. Scratch that. I should have bought the coffee, tossed that shit in her one open eye and walked out.
But I didn't. Like some leather-clad sub, I just smiled and took the lumps. From a person to whom I'd been a loyal customer. I've continued taking those lumps for at least five months, but I've made it very clear that I have no interest in their bathroom, their winks or any of their contrived small talk.
She asks me what I'm writing. I pretend not to hear her.
She tells me it's a nice day. I stare off into space.
Monday through Friday. Every morning. And this is the best option I have.
Two days ago, I really needed to use their restroom. It would be a quick one, but I debated it nonetheless. Could I handle the shame of going through the bathroom key deal with this lady again? Until I couldn't stand it anymore. I approached the owner, with two people in line right beside me, and asked her for the bathroom key.
She handed over the key and with a big, fat, smirky, wink-face, she mock-whispered, "just don't go shooting up in there." What the fuck does that even mean?
I really need to find a new coffee shop. One that meets all my criteria. But in the meantime, I've decided to go ahead and use the bathroom at this one to conduct my daily masturbation habit.
Just in case anyone's wondering.