Expectations of good coffee steer one away from brightly lit convenience stores and towards the grungy, independent holes that carefully cultivate that underground feel. I’m grabbing the wheel back from these expectations, and steering towards the convenience stores. The diminutive proprietor of the Shell sold me a delicious cup of coffee this morning. He had made it himself a bit earlier. It was strong and hot.
A dapper older gentleman in a convenience-store tunic, he combs his hair back. When I came in, he was in the far corner and moved quickly around to the counter. It’s a self-service program, at a clean white counter across the shop from the front door. You grasp the styrofoam cup, and it resists unlocking from its neighbor, such is the delicious static electricity that nests them together like lovers. There was only one carafe of coffee. The lid is a classic eighties design, thin translucent plastic.
At the register, I gave the proprietor a big grin. He took my two dollars and handed over change with a hint of a smile under his moustache. That’s probably about as much facial expression as one could expect early on a rather dreary Sunday morning. His little cash wrap has no place for tips, so I pocketed the coins and left. I didn’t ask to take his picture. Last week, when I asked his wife, she shook her head no. This couple is so zen that they refuse to be recognized as part of the A-Park coffee trail.
Last week, I realized that I had fallen into a trap. I was so dedicated to a single place that I started taking it for granted, and it started taking me for granted too. We were like an old married couple, bickering but accepting of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it had become an overly sensitive spouse with bad habits, and it finally wore me out. Making a customer feel like the Other is not Stardust. Ordering an artist to take his stuff down NOW, before his show is over, is not Stardust. So I left.
It was disloyal. Stardust was my second home. It’s partly where I raised my kid. It was my office during the recession. Each time I tried something new as an artist, Stardust was where I hung it first. Stardust is the seed inside the core of my manuscript “The Soul of the Tropical City”. It was where I brought travelers like Joel Kotkin passing through our city. Like hundreds of other loyal customers, it felt like it was partially mine.
Knowing this is a shared feeling gives one a sense of deep satisfaction, and a sense of the meaning of the word “community.” I perceive injury to this community from without and wrote about this last week. Having shared so much together, it was a surprise to be on the receiving end of suspicion. It was the final straw to be given the “get out of my way, artist, I’m busy and important” treatment.
America suddenly soured like a quart of old milk. The theory that “Stardust became what whoever coming in needed it to be” might hold true here. For some, it needs to be a place for public accusations and for reflecting the new tribalism.
This led to a confession on my part and a decision to seek new adventures. A few days later, one of my editors wrote a touching paean to Stardust. One act follows the other in gloomy succession.