"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Coffee Shop Connections

Photo by Mike McAuliffe
My favorite local coffee shop, Grounds for Coffee, is celebrating 21 years in business this year.  Located less than half a mile from my house, it's a gathering place where locals go not just for coffee, but also to connect with each other.  When I mention that I'm going to coffee, or talk about something that happened at coffee, everyone who knows me knows that I'm talking about "Grounds" as it's called by many.   

My addiction to coffee started later in life.  I didn't even start drinking coffee until my mid-twenties.  It wasn't until years later, in my mid-thirties, that I ventured out into the realm of fancy coffee drinks like lattes and blended, iced concoctions. 

I don't remember the first time I went inside Grounds for Coffee.  Since it's on the corner of a major intersection near my home, I drove by it nearly every day of my life for years before I actually dared go in.  It seemed like a mysterious, unknown place, filled with strangers, a place where I'd be uncomfortable just showing up to hang out, alone.  Plus, for several years I had no reason to go there, since my husband at the time always got up and made coffee in the mornings. 

After divorcing, and spoiled by having my coffee ready and waiting for me for years, I started stopping in to get a cup of coffee on my way to work. Sure, I could have made my own coffee, but I was terribly lonely and feeling pretty isolated after my divorce.  Stopping for coffee and having a brief interaction with strangers at the counter made me feel better, somehow less alone.  Soon, I started going in on weekend mornings.  Some weekends, when my daughter was at her dad's, talking to the person who made my coffee that morning was the only human interaction I'd have the entire day. 

I noticed there was a group of regulars in the shop every morning I went in.  The size of the group varied, but there seemed to be a core group of three or four who were there every day as far as I could tell. They seemed friendly, interesting and harmless.  Sometimes we would nod and say "hi" from across the room, but I never dared bridge the distance and just walk boldly over and join them.  As fate would have it, eventually I met one of the regulars through another group of people I know.  After that, it wasn't so awkward for me to join them at their table.  

My hunch had been correct.  They were friendly, interesting and mostly harmless.  I quickly learned who was who, and to my surprise discovered that many of them were neighbors who lived very close to me.  Before long, I was joining them on a regular basis and it felt like I'd known most of them for a very long time.  The group consists of a widely varied cast of characters, but there's a core group of regulars who show up almost daily at predictable times.  I soon found out that I had to be on my toes and have a thick skin to hang with them. The barbs fly regularly, without mercy, and nobody is exempt.  They're intelligent, witty, sarcastic, and don't tolerate fools lightly.  The conversation can turn on a dime-one second serious with wise observations and opinions being offered, immediately morphing into something raunchy, politically incorrect or otherwise inappropriate.  Sometimes, especially on Sundays, the mostly male group talks way too much about football or other sports.  

One morning, one of the regulars showed up with a new guy.  I noticed him immediately, intrigued by his quiet, aloof manner, kind eyes, muscular forearms, and the way he listened intently but didn't jump right into the fray.  I tried to act nonchalant, but I really wanted to know more about him. He was back another time or two, then I didn't see him for quite a while.  The next time I did see him, he was having coffee with an attractive blonde woman.  I was crushed, but not surprised.  After that, he seemed to drop off the face of the earth.  

Imagine my surprise when months later he showed up again, alone and unattached! This time I was determined not to let him slip through my fingers.  We slowly started talking, but never alone, and always surrounded by the other regulars.  After a month or more, I still only knew his first name!  Even though it was obvious our attraction was mutual, and that the friend who had originally brought him around was clearly trying to facilitate us getting together, it was just too awkward trying to find out more about each other with so many interested bystanders.

Mike showing off his first broccoli of the season, grown
in the community garden at Grounds For Coffee.
Thankfully, Mike finally took the bull by the horns and tracked me down through Facebook.  At last, we were able to talk outside the coffee shop and away from the prying eyes and ears of others.  That was over two years ago.  Needless to say, Grounds has a special place in my heart, because it's where Mike and I met.  

It's also special because it's where I met people who have become friends that I know will be there for me if I need them.  Mixed in with all the joking and mindless chatter is real talking and connecting.  We know what's going on in each other's lives, with our families, friends, jobs, business ventures, children and pets.  If someone needs help or support, it's given.  After my sister died, Grounds was one of the first public places I dared venture into. I knew there I'd be among friends, and nobody would be alarmed by my zombie-like appearance and demeanor.  In fact, it was a friend from Grounds who mowed my lawn and took care of my yard the week I was gone for Julie's funeral.  I hadn't even thought to ask anyone to watch over my place.  He just did it, like a friend would.  A few months later, when I needed a large vehicle to drive my family and several boxes of Julie's belongings back from Colorado, it was another coffee shop friend who offered me his vehicle without hesitation.  

7-week old Lucy meets the crew at Grounds
Grounds for Coffee is like the bar in the old t.v. sitcom, Cheers.  It's a place where everybody knows your name, or at least it feels like it.  I don't know what vision Dan and Suzy Dailey had when they started their business 21 years ago, but I know their coffee shop is much more than a business. It's a community. In the back, there's even a community garden, a fitting extension of the shop inside and the connections formed there.  Inside and out, Ground for Coffee is a gathering place where friendships are formed, lovers meet , and both special and everyday, ordinary moments between families and friends are shared. Places like theirs are special and rare, and they don't happen by accident.  

Congratulations Dan and Suzy!  Thank you for being a part of our community.  

Gillian having hot chocolate at Grounds for Coffee
Photo by Steve Conlin

1 comment:

  1. I have a coffee shop I visit every morning during the week on my way to the gym. I've got a bunch of people I sit with every day, too, and I know how important a gathering place like that can be. Grounds sounds like a step up from Avellino's (my place), but everyone knows my name and I love the connection. Congratulations on having met Mike there! Yayy!


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