Three days ago I bought a ticket to fly from New Hampshire to California, twelve hours before the flight. Spring had recently broken in North Conway. The town snow was gone, the ice slushy, and rock warm. Other friends were heading west, too. Most were going to climb. I was going for coffee.
Stereotypes are neither appropriate to address or easy to refute. I flew into the tribe of the skinny-jeaned people and left behind the stacked backs and forearms. I was going to the San Francisco Mission District Highbrow Coffee World. All in caps, because that is about how it feels when you head there from the Mt Washington Valley.
The avant-garde of the coffee world is as self-selective as the outdoor world. People dress alike, have similar hair style (the style of the lack of style), wear the same shoes, depending on where they belong—be that for the day or the life.
What self-selects us to the life we have? Did my choice to have my senior picture in a synchilla fleece pre-determine my life outside? Did these people in front of me always know how to pick a hint of tangerine out of a drink?
A man who once rented a room in my house told me that he wished he could go to prison. Incarceration, he told me, would give him time. “8 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year—you can learn anything.”
This man wanted to learn how to play guitar. I mentioned that there were other, perhaps easier ways to learn.
“Do you dispute that I’d learn it best in prison?,” he asked.
I had no argument for him.
Intellectually, I understand that there are bastions of outdoor people in San Francisco. I understand that the coffee-obsessed live in the mountains. We’re all crossing sides all the time. But maybe we forget this in the micro settlements of high focus on any of it. Spend long enough in any culture and it will become the only one you know. The hyper-obsession justifies total action in any direction. For me, it justifies renting a two bedroom apartment—one bedroom to sleep in, the other for my gear. It needs to sleep as well.
This is my effort for spring. I will live in both worlds. I will have one wardrobe. The words are mixed for me, anyway. I went to Ethiopia the first time because of coffee, I stayed to climb, I’ve gone back to write a book on coffee. I’m chronicling the stories of coffee in the country from where coffee originates. I explained this to the group assembled today. I spoke of the 200+ tribes in Ethiopia, each with their own understanding of coffee. I talked about different expressions of coffee, and different uses. I stepped aside and watched as everyone slurped their way around a coffee tasting table afterwards.
Maybe some of us in that group learned to do what we do in prison. Maybe it was just obsession. It leads to the same place.
Mid-way through the tasting, a man with sticky rubber approach shoes walked in to check out the coffees. I was wearing heels. Everyone else was in converse. We slurped together until everyone left. I have no idea how many people are headed outside this weekend. Maybe all of us are.
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