Opening Day at the Coffeehouse

Today is opening day at the coffeehouse and although Saturdays are not my shift, the manager and I work in order to set the systems straight and plan for the upcoming season. I take heavy doses of forsythia all day and make it through the shift without a hitch.

“This is quite possibly the best latte I’ve ever had in my life,” a tourist from Charlotte says, nose over the rim of a handmade ceramic mug.

I raise my arms in the air like a champ and we smile at each other. I haven’t pulled shots of espresso or foamed milk for four months, so her praise means the world to me. I pat the side of Flo, our Italian espresso machine and say, “Yup, she’s the best, isn’t she?”

Closing up, there are six or seven students in the reading room – the back room of the coffeehouse – and they are fresh from the Real World, still plugged in and hooked up and used to hi-fi-wi-fi easy access life. Among staff at the craft school, we like to joke, “Welcome to the Craft School, it’s time to unplug.” There is no TV here. There is limited Internet access and nowhere to print and some cell phones don’t work. There are two payphones and meals are served three times daily (no snacks, dessert about once a week). There are walking trails and limited parking and we live in a dry county. Things run on mountain time, so to speak, and that means work hard, play hard, and eat well.

So it feels good when the students linger past 5pm, then past 5:15pm, and into the second half of the hour as I sing overloud to bluegrass gospel radio and mop the floor. Just before I turn out the lights I herd the remaining customers out the door and they are laughing caffeine happy people, introducing themselves and their media (“I’m Steve, Iron” or “I’m Becky, I blow” – that means she works in hot glass, or “I’m an instructor” – which means he wants his coffeehouse discount).

The drive home is long – 17 miles one way – and winding as the river it follows. I’ve missed this drive, actually, from the peak of Conley ridge and down into the valley, then ‘round the north end of Seven Mile Ridge and a hard turn southbound into the South Toe river valley against the wall of the Black Mountains. Sun sets about the time I begin cutting along the river and suddenly the light is right, the music still solid and true from the radio, and I smile, legs sore and coffee bean stains on my arms. A good day, no, a fine day – and what a way to start the season!

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