Coffee shops

Haight Street is slick with last night’s rain as take Fry for his morning walk. At Ashbury, a woman approaches. “Do you know a good place to grab coffee?” she asks politely.

I freeze. “It’s 7 am, everything is closed!” I scream … but only in my head. I go to pull out my phone and check Yelp, but I left it at home. I want to tell her to just Google it, don’t waste your time asking strangers for advice. I’ve lived on the street for 8 years, but I can’t think of a single good place to grab coffee.

For hours I stand there stammering as she waits, obviously regretting approaching me, but too polite to walk away.

“RITUAL!” I finally ejaculate. “Its two blocks that way … on Central.” I say, pointing in what I hope is the right direction.

“Ok, … thanks,” she says, relieved to finally walk away.

I had been walking that direction, so I lead Fry to the nearest tree and let him sniff around, giving her a head start.

I think about Ritual, with its expensive yet fair trade, organic, delicious pour over, taking pride in my quick thinking and local knowledge. She will be pleased with her coffee, and thus, pleased with the nice man and his dog that she met on the street.

Fry and I continue towards Masonic.

And then I see it, Coffee for the People, looking warm and inviting on this wet morning. When I was still in AA, I used to meet my sponsor at Coffee for the People, every Thursday at 6 am. I would get a ceramic mug of coffee and a banana nut muffin, then we would sit on a big leather couch, and talk about me for an entire hour. It was like waking up and crawling back into a womb, once a week.

Coffee for the People has a library, board games, couches, fliers for upcoming protests, and locally made art for sale. Its a Gen-X’ers paradise, exactly what I imagined college life in San Francisco would be like when I first moved here from an Army base in rural Louisiana.

I think about Ritual and its bright lighting and sparse seating. Its the kind of place that lets you buy an expensive cup of coffee and then get the hell out. If you’re lucky enough, you can snag a chair, pull out your Macbook Pro and Skype with your boss, but otherwise there’s no loitering, no reading, no board games, no meeting with your sponsor, no community activism. Its a coffee shop for the well-to-do, modern liberal, who wants to feel good about their coffee and then go back to their high paying tech job.

I want to chase after this woman and tell her I’ve made a mistake. Go to Coffee for the People! Support the community! Talk to a homeless person! Do a puzzle! But its too late. From afar I can see her walking towards Central, ready to grab her coffee and get on with her life.

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