Why I’ve missed coffee shops …


I once asked CJ Curtis her secret to repeat customers at The Garden, her Spokane Valley coffee shop that has soared in its first year in business.

The customer service?

The Indaba coffee?

The avocado toast?

“Personally, I think it is the presence of God; I really do,” she said. “I believe that people can sense his presence even if they don’t know it.”

My first thought: Writing about toast would be easier.

My thoughts ever since: Amen.

• • •

Ironically, coffee shops used to be my escape from anyone’s presence.

Counter seat facing the street.

Earbuds in.

Alerts silenced.

My mission was to move piles of work and avoid eye contact. God, the devil and the mayor could have been there for all I cared. My back was turned.

But if Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung had been sipping a cappuccino in the corner, he would have sworn he saw the devil slip onto the stool at my side.

“Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil,” Jung famously said.

I was always in a hurry.

And it was those things that hurried me that presented the key problem. Charles Hummel published a booklet in the 1960s called “Tyranny of the Urgent,” arguing that the most important things in life are often crowded out by things far less vital. How? Because the trivial items were due yesterday.

To say coffee shops rescued me from this tyrant is oversimplifying things.

But they provided the setting.

• • •

One of the less spectacular ways a marriage deteriorates is a combination of hurry and ego. In my case, I spent years too busy to properly prioritize my wife and too proud to tell myself the truth about it.

For Kim and me, renewal began at shops like Rockwood Bakery and the Service Station (miss that place). Then we started taking weekly coffee dates at Thomas Hammer and Jack and the Bean Shop, at Vessel and Vault, at Arctos and Coeur d’Alene Coffee Company.

The coffee itself was incredible, but it didn’t contain any magic for rejuvenating our relationship. Drinking it slowly, on the other hand …

We invested time seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, knowing and being known. I started to realize that when I wasn’t in a hurry, I was quite taken by the woman across from me.

Over time, I introduced other relationships to the coffee shop treatment.

One of my best friends, Adam, was an acquaintance until the night we hit up the downtown Starbucks instead of coming straight home from an event.

Three hours in the patio sun at Bakery by the Lake with my mom deepened our bond more than our prior 300 “interactions in passing.”

Do you remember how hard it is to be a teenager? I don’t, but it helped when my daughter and I started talking about song lyrics, school stress and mental health at Sams and Coffee on late-start school days. I’m a bumbling parent, but I’ve never regretted those blended mochas at 7 a.m.

• • •

Here in Spokane County, COVID closed down inside seating at coffee shops March 17. That ban was lifted — with several proper restrictions in place — on May 22, a span of 66 days. (There’s a devil-in-the-details fact for you.)

Some have cited the forced “slowing down” of life’s pace as a silver lining of the coronavirus. As a susceptible slave to hurry, I’m not arguing.

But “slowdown” was only a piece of my revival story, and this is why I’ve missed coffee shops so much. I didn’t just need to be present. I needed to be purposeful and vulnerable in my relationships as well.

Jamie Tworkowski, the writer and mental health advocate, says it best: “You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people, and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe better things.”

There was a time I wasn’t believing better things. Even in coffee shops, I couldn’t see beyond my to do list and my ticking clock.

But that was before I turned around.

Before I sat down across from a fellow human being.

Before I sensed it: CJ Curtis was right.

Would you do me a favor?

If you enjoy articles like this one, join the CoffeeJosh mailing list. It’s hurry-free, spam-free and also free … free. As a thanks, I’ll send you a PDF — you guessed it, free — that has 10 of the best coffee shop orders in the Spokane area. (All 10 are drinks and treats local coffee shop owners make for themselves. In this case, expect to pay for your order and feel like it was totally worth it.)

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