Vic and I are at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe in BigCity, NC when the torrential downpour begins. As a native Oregonian, the rain is my second skin but I will confess that there is nothing like a Carolina thunderstorm at its peak. We gawk at sprinting pedestrians on Haywood Street as the skies open up and weep.
“Look at this, I can’t believe this,” Vic says in her deep, gentle voice. Even if she is perturbed her manner of speech is steady, like a river making a wide bend, a side effect attributed to years of meditation and something that I find very soothing. “This is not a $2.50 latte, can you see that foam? It’s more like a cappucino. Man!”
I glance at the puny eight ounce glass that her drink was poured in and nod in agreement. “A wet cappucino,” I clarify, pointing to the section of steamed milk sandwiched under the foam. We lament that the barista from Seattle is not working today.
“A latte has a dallop and it should have umph. I’m terrible, I know, I’m so spoiled, but seriously people,” she says as she gets up to kindly ask the barista to replace the sloppy latte with a doppio espresso.
“I’ll doctor it up myself,” she explains, and for a moment I withdraw inward while Vic busies herself at the bus table. It’s been at least a few weeks since I have been to the city and even longer since I have allowed myself a night off in public places where people go to relax and entertain themselves. I forget sometimes that this is a way of life for millions of people on the planet. In other words, I don’t get out much. This becomes increasingly apparent as I fall in and out of love with every other person who walks through the door.
First there is the guitar player punk rocker, his sweaty wristbands sagging and stretched over the heals of his thumbs, hair damp and over-gelled for any occasion, black Converse lace-ups lacking laces and with a hole worn above each big toe. Next is the slick silent wavy-haired baby face twenty-something gentleman who strolls in from the street utterly undisturbed by the rain. His collar is unbottoned and opens in a wide, stiff triangle that forms a perfect pedestal for his blush-red cheeks and easy smile.
I watch only for a few moments but am struck by the uniqueness of each person, the nuance of wrist or eyebrow, the theme of gait or idle pose, the smoothness or sternness of eyes. To each his own, I think to myself, and chuckle a little outloud as I begin to entertain myself with a game of “Guess Their Drink.” The punk guitar player would have been a cup of coffee to go, black. The baby face sexy collar would have ordered a single latte, extra hot.
Later, Vic and I go to a movie and I laugh louder and longer at all the jokes. I probably go to the theaters about once every ten months so this is a rare treat – a true sign that I need to relax and zone out for a while.
At one point I lean over and whisper to Vic, “So the jock-like art student is really an undercover cop, right? Or is he the murderer? No, I take that back. He’s just a cop.”
Vic nods and smiles in an exaggerated fashion, gently poking fun at me for missing some of the plot clues.
“I’m a little slow,” I laugh back.
“It’s ok, you don’t get out much,” she smiles, because she knows, because she understands, because we both think it’s a little funny and when all is said and done the movie was lame but we had fun anyway.
On the way home the skies dump a lifetime of tears on my windshielf and we hydroplane across a bridge on I-26 floating like terrified , giddy ducks into the black sea of a storm spring night. Sleep will come easily, sudden like the Carolina storms, rushing, like the city I leave behind.