Searching for The 3 Grove Cafe, Episode #1
It is seven a.m. in Columbus Ohio. I am walking through a gentrifying neighborhood towards my first cup of coffee of the day. My oldest son is still asleep a few blocks away. I am in town to visit him. A few days ago, I texted him because I envisioned this scenario. He prefers tea and I knew I would be up earlier than he would be . In response he told me there was a coffee place a few blocks away. I had lived in this very neighborhood when I was his age. It is “nicer” now. As the walk clears my mind, I wonder about how our lives take shape. Are we in charge of our lives at all? Are there clearly defined ends and beginnings? I don’t want to get too heavy before my first cup of coffee but when I walked these streets over two decades ago, I never dreamed I would have a son, let alone three other (now) adult children.
In the spirit of beginnings, journeys and paths I am starting a random but regular series of posts focused on my visits to coffee establishments of all kinds. The title of this series is “Searching for The 3 Grove Cafe”. The address is that of the house where I grew up. Within the title is the hope of discovering a place so perfect it doesn’t exist. It carries the hope I can find childhood again. The hope of a carefree summer day in the old neighborhood running from green lawn to green lawn with childhood friends who, in my mind and with me, stay forever young. Where was I? Oh, yea. Beginnings. Why not make the first post about the coffee place that started my lifelong romance with great coffee. That would be Sta- no, no, no…Not them!...Stauf’s, right here in Columbus, Ohio.
The doors opened for me and the less important general public at seven a.m. By this time, the two baristas have spent at least a half an hour prepping Cup o’ Joe https://www.cupojoe.com/ for the long Saturday ahead. This reminds me that a person currently reading Tripio, and there are a few out there, told me earlier this week that she was amazed at how much went into getting a coffee shop opened. In the case of Tripio, it would have been a Starbucks in Lincoln Park in Chicago in 1992. The coffee doesn’t’ brew itself. The espresso bar does not prime and test itself. The pastries don’t deliver themselves. Now is the time I stop rambling and give you what you are reading this post for: a bit of my accumulated wisdom from over a quarter century of this coffee thing -my heritage barista’s look inside the bean.
At Cup o’ Joe on this Saturday morning the opening work had mostly all been done. I had chosen my drip of the day which was a wonderfully berry like Ethiopian Yerg. As I waited for it to cool a bit, I watched one barista water the plants and say his hello’s to the Saturday regulars. One of them requested the fireplace to be turned on. It was cold this morning. Once the fireplace was on, he assumed a seat, feet facing it, and opened his book. In fact there were as many books as laptops in attendance as the day started. I forgave the book readers for not having selected Tripio, and read the local coffee house periodicals. Here, I find the most interesting events and places. Nearly all coffee houses have a selection of these locally produced papers and they can’t be beat for obtaining the “feel” of a certain city, or if that city is large enough, a certain neighborhood. Of course, it worked. I found an article in one of the mags on a coffee house not too far away called Cafe Kerouac. Hell yes. I would go there later. A wonderful memory hit me. I had given my ancient copy of On the Road to my oldest son many years ago. The same son I was now visiting. So fitting. So many paths. I felt great about my life then and there at Cup o’ Joe, whose coffees are roasted by Staufs, where my own coffee journey began before my son was starting his journey in this world.
Damn, started rambling again. Too much caffeine maybe. Back to how much more I know about coffee than you. My heritage barista’s look inside the bean is: Next time you get to a coffee house as it opens, appreciate that the barista or baristas have already been there working for some time to get your coffee ready. Remember also that these baristas have to make a coffee drink for themselves. So, if the shop isn’t completely ready when you step in, be patient. After all, if the baristas aren’t drinking the coffee they serve then you may want to head somewhere else.
“ May I help who’s next”
This week was a momentous one on the journey to publish Tripio. In a previous post I detailed the final approval and legal transfer of the art from the locally grown artist who produced the original cover. A few days later, my tech support dropped by and put Tripio in line to be approved for presale by Amazon.
I rose this morning with the expectation of working most all the weekend on the marketing, promoting and selling Tripio. This time last year I was actually writing the novel. The only similarity I see in the years is that the weather is cold, grey and unappealing. It is the kind of weather that uncovers an ugly Midwestern city outside. I can find no real motivation to take part in that, hence it is a good weekend to stay in and write. No, wait, I can’t. That was last winter.
Hey, I am not bitching at all. I voluntarily took on the direct publishing of Tripio myself (with the help of dozens of others). One of the benefits of direct publishing is the freedom to make all the decisions yourself. Of course, the balancing out of it is that you have to actually create the time and energy to make and implement the results of those decisions. But that is part of the challenge and fun of it all.
Yet, I was a double espresso and regular cup of coffee into this morning and I wasn’t feeling it. I could not get going on this exciting new phase on the life of Tripio. A moment ago, I was standing in my kitchen pouring drip cup number two into my mug, when a line from the Big Lebowski popped into my head… “All the dude ever wanted was his rug back.” I stopped pouring just before the coffee overflowed. I had captured what I was feeling about the writing of Tripio. All I ever wanted was to write that book.
I wrote it, dammit. I miss writing it now. During that creative process I found strength in myself I never knew I had. With assistance from therapy, metaphysics, yoga and a lot more, I was able to unpack and discard things I no longer needed to carry. I also reached out of my vast yet tiny comfort zone, found fears there, and kicked their asses. Writing Tripio has helped me in the day to day world as well. At work, for example, I am now described as “most improved “and “content”. That is, I believe, a byproduct of undertaking the challenge of writing Tripio.
Nobody put a gun to my head and made me attempt to publish and sell Tripio. In fact, I may be undergoing a sort of postpartum separation period now as Tripio heads out to be a mere commodity and transaction. The Dude’s rug was no flying carpet. Yet Tripio took me places almost magically. For me the comparison holds up because, like the Dude and his rug, the writing of Tripio really tied my life together.
“May I help who’s next?”
I’m glad you asked. Because I get that question all the time. I get it from the people lined out the door for my book signings. I get it from stars of stage and screen who are having their people look into my novels for possible projects down the road. But, mostly and honestly, I get that question from my own mind. Not my subconscious mind. It gets me up at 4 am to write. But the woke and worried mind that the world is more comfortable with.
Of course there is no “one size fits all answer”. I could do any eye catching, scan friendly bullet point blog. It could be called “7 Reasons Why I Write” They are said to be popular and an excellent format to attract readers. Not today.
There is the option of a bullet point post of the contrasting informative intent. Something along the lines of ‘7 Mistakes Writers Make”. Also, not today.
What else was in it for me? Just to say I had done it? To look back in 20 years and then understand why I did it? That made as much sense as anything to me standing in the kitchen of a stranger’s house in Louisville.
The excerpt is from Jay in Back outta the World. It captures so much of what I like about revising BotW, after first completing it over two decades ago. I am having a great time looking back at me. Through that process, I am getting a clearer understanding of who I was, and who I am now. I do believe the newer me is writing a better BotW than the one I wrote two decades ago. This can be quite a humbling process, which in turn creates a nice vantage point to remind me not take myself too seriously.
The second answer I give to my adoring public as to why I write is that it is fun! Why not? My writing process is not a gut wrenching process. I do not spend hours searching for the perfect word. If I still used paper to write, I wouldn’t fill a waste basket with rolled up pages of discarded manuscript. I am not saying it easy. I think it would be more accurate to say that one cannot be taught to write, but you can learn how to write. I did that by clearing my mind. I began to understand and notice my subconscious mind. I trust it to supply me with what I need when I set down to write. It usually works. In this way, my time actually at the keyboard is productive. I am usually “in the zone”, having done most of my writing during yoga, mediation, on the cross-trainer or even while driving.
By now, I am sure, you have answered the question yourself. And, I am sure they are completely different from mine, as they should be. Write how you write. You have no choice anyway, just remember to have a little fun along the way.
“May I help who’s next?”
Whitman. Twain. Melville. VanSchaik. (I’m the tan one)
Yes, that is a list of a few of America’s greatest writers. But it means something else to me.
You see, every summer for the past five years, I’ve managed to take a short mid year holiday at a rental house on the Ohio River. I discovered these rentals when I was hoping to escape the trials and turmoil surrounding my family several years ago. Since that first visit the mid summer trip to the holiday rental house has become many things.
It is still that getaway along the banks of the Ohio River. It is confirmation that my family and I are still here, surviving and even thriving for another year. It is the place that confirms I have worked hard all year and earned this time off. It also gives us the place to tell other folks we go “every year”, which presents to those folks a picture of stability in our lives. It is also simply fun to physically remove oneself from day to day life. Speaking for myself, I have also found spiritual renewal on the banks of the Ohio River. I will, can and must return every year.
As we have visited the rental house each year, we have created our own traditions: a visit to the “swimmin’ hole not far away, a trip to Tell City Pretzels, floating on inner tubes off the dock.
A tradition of mine is always bringing a book to read. Not just any type of book. One that is as American as the Ohio River, corn fields and small towns. So, I started with Huckleberry Finn. Last year it rained so I was able to read a good deal of Moby Dick. I most often buy a copy of the book I have chosen second hand, so I can leave it for the rental’s library- a wicker basket on the floor in the living room.
It is still winter as I write this post. It is a good time to be thinking of the summer getaway. I use my tax return money to fund this annual pilgrimage. That dinero grande is due in a couple weeks. I have already decided to add one more item to the list of traditions experienced on the banks of the mighty Ohio. This summer during the trip, as my future place in American Letters demands, I will leave a copy of Tripio in that wicker basket on the floor of the rental house.
May I help who’s next?
I am willing to write this post on the proposition that anyone reading it has had daydreams for their novel, whether it is finished yet or not. A side bet I would make is that the dreams are not of the novel ending up on top of hundreds of other copies with it’s cover ripped off, resting in peace at a Walmart Returns Warehouse.
No. Hell no. My dream for my novel,Tripio, is that it ends up being made into a movie, perhaps produced by Tom Hanks or a person of like stature.
That said, I have the opening in mind for Tripio’s film adaptation. This dream for Tripio has been in mind for a while. Now, luckily, I am sharing it with you. Roll it!
Dominic Cooper would be a good choice to play Jay
Establishing shot-exterior– A crowded Chicago street corner in the early 90’s. Intro music in background as a bus pulls up to the corner.
Interior shot of passengers getting off the bus– A handsome you man (me obviously) hurriedly stuffs a notebook into his backpack and gets off the bus.
Quick cut to interior of Starbucks. Though familiar, it is a 90’s location and the store is trashed, the line of customers is long and staff are disheveled and tired looking.
Exterior shot-1990’s vintage Starbucks on corner from earlier shot-The young man is seen from a distance entering the Starbucks. I think distance works here to enforce that the young man (Jay) is still alone with his thoughts.
Cut back to interior of the Starbucks– Jay enters the scene. This shot is from the espresso bar. Jay carries himself confidently but wearily as he knows the closing shift ahead will be long. He wanted to stay in his apartment and work on his novel. He looks for a place in the long line of customers to cut through so he can get behind the counter and punch in.
A shot of a dozen customers in line, none paying attention to Jay– We hear bits of their conversations. Jay decides on a place to cut through the line. It is between two older men. As Jay politely steps through the two older men, we hear their conversation:
First Man-played by me : “You don’t like coffee? Well wait until you try this stuff.“
Second Man-played by Howard Schultz: “I’ll wait and see for myself.”
Jay pays no attention as he slides behind the counter. More customers have come in behind him. The two men continue to talk, oblivious to Jay. The line closes behind Jay as he disappears. This shot foreshadows that, later in the movie, Jay will be swallowed up by the growth of Starbucks.
I think it will make a great movie.
“May I help who’s next?”
There it sits a few feet away. In book form. My book. The novel I wrote. What to do with it? The box actually arrived three days ago. I knew what was in the box and opened it with a kitchen knife. Tripio was bigger and thicker than I thought and expected. It didn’t “feel” like 333 pages when I was writing it. Wait, wait! On second thought, I did plan every word, comma and space. Because I wanted the final printed, for sale edition, to end up being 333 pages. Threes. Tripio. Three story lines. What I genius I am!
Of course the above is nonsense. Except maybe the part about me being a genius. Actually, if I were that smart, I would have done something brilliant with my five proof copies of Tripio. Yet, after I took one out of the box and looked it over with a smile, I let them sit in that box for a couple days.
Those couple days later it is occurring to me that I think I was afraid I wouldn’t like Tripio anymore. Tripio arriving as a real book was like your best friend from high school or college dropping by after not seeing you in twenty years. Would you still like him or her ? Would he or she like you? I wanted to retrieve the journals I kept while writing Tripio and find the entries that I wrote in which I was excited about the creation of Tripio. I wanted to find the passage I wrote when I knew Tripio was great. I knew was doing all I could to write a unique and wonderful book. I did not. I simply went about my work week. I let some friends a family know that the proof copies were in my possession and that was about it.
I think that it felt odd to have Tripio back in the house because I had been practicing giving it away. I have made it an intention during my morning yoga to release attachments and expectations to and for Tripio. It is no longer mine. It does not feel comfortable to have it to myself again. Like the old friend whose jokes no longer makes you laugh. What do you then do? After a couple days the answer came.
I decided to take my old friend Tripio out in public where we could relax together and get reacquainted. That was yesterday, the third day after getting the proof copies. I packed Tripio in my bag and we headed off to Coat Check coffee https://www.coatcheckcoffee.com/.
It made sense. It was a way of coming full circle. Remember that Tripio was actually begat 25 years ago in Chicago’s coffee houses and early Starbucks locations.
So, in the spacious and calm environs of Coat Check, my dear old companion and I got reacquainted. The coffee of the day was an Ethiopian, always a favorite varietal of mine. This felt right. As the barista called out the occasional drink order in the background I read over the first chapter and felt relieved that I still liked my dear old friend. Relieved and needing to relieve myself, I got up to use the facilities. Upon returning to my table, I saw my old friend awaiting me, looking content and relaxed on that table next to my mug of coffee. It was Tripio at home again and sure all along that this would happen.
Tripio and I were still friends.
“May I help who’s next?”
I want my historical fiction novel, Tripio, to sell. And sell. And sell some more. If you have a book on Amazon, then I assume that is a goal of yours as well. To that end, I recently attended a class on just that subject. The class was called, “How to sell more books on Amazon”. Tripio was published last spring on Amazon and I had not yet formulated a coherent strategy to sell Tripio on Amazon. It was time to get to work.
I had heard from other sources that getting reviews was the most important and powerful thing you could do to help sell your book. I have one 4 star review to date. The class reinforced that I needed more. I have since made it a priority to relentlessly badger my dear family and friends who have read Tripio to write a review. I have done this with folks who I only see occasionally as well. Most, but not all, remain friends.
Earlier this week, I received an email from one of the person’s mentioned above. The first paragraph told me that the email sender had indeed placed a review of Tripio on Amazon and Goodreads! Eureka! Pay dirt. I briefly considered texting work with my two weeks notice. I did not. I quickly checked Tripio’s Amazon page to see the actual review. I forgot that it takes a few days for anything to happen on Amazon.
Fine. I settled down to read the attached email. In it, I found the true value, the reason, the validation for having written Tripio. It was worth way, way more than a mere review.
I am having a tough time with this post. I say that because I am only just now beginning to understand why Tripio came to be. I’m not trying to be noble, but those reasons had nothing to do with getting reviews or making money. Here in the email attached to the review, was captured why I wrote Tripio in the first place. To be transparent, I have known the person who sent the email their entire life. So the person had a proximity to Tripio that 99.9% of readers won’t have. The person understood Tripio to the last comma. Reading the attached email brought tears to my eyes. Every second I worked on Tripio was worth it. I had been validated. Tripio had helped someone. It may have inspired a friend of the email sender to begin writing. After reading the email, I thought I was done with Tripio. It has served its purpose. What could getting more reviews and selling more copies do for me now? Goodbye.
I can’t stop though. I have no choice. I can’t stop the journey of Tripio anymore than I can snap my fingers and stop my heart from beating. If Tripio is the novel I hope it is then I have to see it through. I hope readers can “feel” what the insider felt upon reading Tripio. Only time will tell. Time will tell if I am a good enough writer to enable any and ever reader to take from Tripio what the email’s author and I know to be in there.
I’ll pretty sure be able to tell when they leave their reviews on Amazon.
“May I help who’s next?”
When my sons were much younger they loved dinosaurs, specifically the animated series of movies starring a group of singing dinosaurs called Land before Time. Now they are young men out on their own with jobs, adult responsibility and are making their way in this land.
I found singing dinosaurs irresistible too. I watched the movies with them those twenty years ago on prehistoric format known as VHS. At that point in my life I had just left a career at Starbucks behind. Why? Tripio was written partly to explore that. For today’s post I am focusing on the time when most of the country was still living in an era I have long referred to as “The Land before Starbucks”.
I have recently discovered Reddit. There is a dinosaur joke in there somewhere. I have been looking over their r/Starbucks page to see what the barista of today is doing, as opposed to the barista of Jay’s day in Tripio. The first thing I noticed is that today’s barista is as good with their camera as they are with the steaming wand.
Many of those baristas are close to the same age as my sons. So, as I looked over the photo posts I wondered if and what they know of The Land Before Starbucks. What was this place? Does it occur to them that such a place existed?
In Tripio, Jay’s prehistoric landscape shared much with the snapchatted one in which the modern barista roams. Tripio is three plots and narratives alongside and intertwined with each other. The Starbucks growth narrative is told from a barista’s perspective. Jay starts out as a barista and even when promoted up the chain to store manager, Jay is a barista at heart. After being promoted Jay still takes pride in his performance on the espresso bar at his current store on Diversey in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. He realizes that he must display mastery of the espresso bar for the customers and store functionality, but mostly to”earn the respect of everyone he works with.”
Removing the camera phone from the picture, I see more similarities than differences to Jay’s barista days and those reflected on the Reddit posts. It was tough in the trenches for Jay in early 90’s in Chicago and it is tough in the Starbucks trenches today. There is no hiding in a cubicle, breaks are hard to come by when it’s busy and you are always on stage and always being judged by the incredibly fickle and self centered human race. In short, Jay may have been working in the Starbucks Jurassic Era and the Reddit Baristas are in the modern day, but the job of barista is not easy. And it never was.
I hope that when this generation of baristas find its way to reading Tripio they will pull a couple twenty second shots for Jay and his fellow dinosaurs. Because, those dinosaurs helped create the Land of Starbucks and thanks to them, today’s barista can now post proof of its existence on Reddit.
“May I help who’s next”
Recently, I have been resisting working on “Back outta the World. Oh sure, I can tell myself that work has been busy. True. I have been paying more attention to the blog. Also true. This afternoon I spent a good deal of time letting as many people as possible know that I have just appeared on a podcast.
All the above are true. Yet if I truly wanted to find the time and energy to keep revising “Back outta the World” I could have.
I have made good progress to date and may have found an editor to take on the manuscript after I have finished this revision. As some of you may know, the novel and the current revisions were written almost 25 years apart. That dynamic provides a unique vantage point to take stock of who I was and what I felt and thought about life a quarter century ago . Sometimes I look foolish to my older self. A good sign, I think. In other passages I see myself and mutter, “That’s me, alright.”
In “A Commotion in your heart-notes on writing and life“, Barb Shoup says that ‘The first tool in any revision toolkit is putting the manuscript away for a while.” Maybe I went a little overboard in waiting over two decades between revisions.
Whatever the case, I am enjoying the hell out of communicating with my younger self. The passage from him that has forced me to resist going on isn’t a bad one. But one that has made me stop and think. And to feel a little anxious about what Jay, who is obviously me from BotW, will tell me about myself next.
In BotW, Jay is several weeks into his road trip and is becoming accustomed to not knowing what day it is, and not setting the alarm clock. He is about to head out of Chicago on the next part of his pilgrimage westward with his companions when he stops on a busy corner to observe the commuters boarding one of the many buses that are stopping there at rush hour. For that moment, Jay wants to give up the road trip for the boredom and security of the daily grind, which those bus commuters are bound to. It seems safe. It presents a good place to be. He pictures himself momentarily living that routine specific to his own life. But, isn’t he on this trip to avoid just such a fate? Jay only comes out of these thoughts because he has hope of meeting a beautiful female wanna be rock star down the road in Louisville.
When I read that passage it struck me, these 25 years later, that I am happy to be like the commuters on the bus on that corner in Chicago. I like the 5 day routine. I like shutting down the work day and the work week and doing things on the weekends just like most everyone else.
In fact, that stability and routine has enabled me to create a consistent, predictable and productive time to work on Tripio, and now BotW. When I was living out what was the source material for those novels however, I fancied myself a mad Beatnik or a wondering Henry Miller type. I’m not though. I thrive on the dull life Jay is running from in BotW. I need that so that I actually can get back into those manuscripts and make something better out of them.
The question that has me stuck for now is, “How did Jay know? More unsettling is the prospect that later in the manuscript he’ll tell me things I don’t really want to know about myself.
‘May I help who’s next?”