How I Met Your Coffee Maker

*Kids, back in 2013 when your mom and I moved to Rochester, I had to immediately address a problem of epic proportions. So big, in fact, that the word “epic” is indeed applicable, but not entirely accurate. Rather, let’s use a better word. Let’s call it “legendary.”

The problem, kids, was the how the hell I would make my morning coffee.

See, we got rid of everything when we moved—everything that wouldn’t fit in the car. And in a blind rage of yard sales and give aways, my french press was lost and forgotten in the hubbub. As we drove across the continent, stopping at gas stations for dollar “coffee,” I prayed for a brighter future. A bolder future. An acidic future. One that involved coffee.

You know, the one.

Season 1

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It all started in Idaho when I was in my early twenties. I worked at a Natural Foods store in Coeur d’Alene where local roasters would come to teach—as monks enlighten—and they would also come to replenish their store bins. It was through these vendors (Doma, Evans Bros, and Equal Exchange) that I learned to sip, spit, and smell my coffee.

And coffee became more than just a warm liquidated caffeine which instigated BMs. Coffee became everything. I had learned the secrets of the bean. I began to taste subtle notes. I researched and learned growing and roasting techniques. My lips began to automatically scowl at shelves with Folgers and hands holding Starbucks.

I preached about Fair Trade and just wages (annoying everyone I talked to).

Before long, I couldn’t depend on work coffee. I had to make the “plunge” and buy a home maker, something my coffee monk friends would approve of. The french press, of course. It was a single cup beauty, and she served it hot, gritty, and frighteningly strong. (more…)


The Hunt for Red Jobtober 3: White & Nerdy & Inner City Youth

I watched Mary Poppins for the first time. It was a prerequisite of sorts. See, my wife and I we’re going to see Saving Mr. Banks at the cheap theatre, and though I grew up watching TV with a cupboard full of VHS tapes, Mary Poppins never once stopped by my house. “A spoonful of sugar” is a lot of sugar. That’s all I’m going to say.

Okay, I’ll say a little more. While watching Poppins, I realized that I am a Bert of sorts. In the film, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) never seems to be doing the same thing twice. He has four different jobs: one-man band, chalk-artists, chimney sweep, kite salesmen. He’s an unpredictable cockney, and I couldn’t help but love him.

SIDE NOTE: Saving Mr. Banks was a wonderful picture. You see it?

As the blog title suggests, I’ve had another “vocational realignment.” I’ve pulled a Bert (awkward), working where I never have before: the inner-city.

White Boys Can’t Hump

Last semester, I had a job at Wegmans (a New York grocery store chain) making coffee in their “Buzz” cafes. Wegmans is a great place to work and shop. There’s a strong sense of local pride that permeates off the walls, and it makes you feel like you’re apart of something special. While the coffee itself was not very good (Northwest coffee snob, ova-heer!), the job was a good one.

A new job opened up in a social program that works with inner-city youth, encouraging them to graduate high school and go to college. Yes, coffee can be a worthwhile vocation, but bad coffee is bad coffee, and I needed something a little more meaningful. So I learned about the program. I realized it would be like mentoring, like working in a youth group again (which I loved!), minus the cheesy Christian songs and dealing with “visionary” pastors and elders. Sounded absolutely wonderful to me. (more…)

New Beginnings Abound! (or, Mr. Hungry, my Frightful Friend)

I started a new job today. It’s a mentorship program for at-risk youth in the Rochester City School District. I’m still learning what organization does what, which branch represents which function, and who exactly I’m working for (the U of Rochester, I think), but the building, at least, is labeled the Center for Community Health. Specifically, my program is UR BOLD (Building Outstanding Leadership and Distinction).

A startling statistic I heard today is that only 10% of Black males graduate high school in Rochester (9% Latinos). Crazy, eh? If there was ever a job for a skinny, white, redheaded kid from California… I’m not sure this would be it. However, I’m up for the challenge! I couldn’t be more excited.

The past two or three months I’ve been working as a barista in a local grocery store. The job was okay; I had to wear a goofy hat and listen to my coworkers talk about boy problems while making microwaved breakfast sandwiches. Overall, the job weighed empty on my shoulders. I needed something meaningful.

SIDE NOTE: It doesn’t get more meaningful than coffee; however, this grocery chain isn’t what one would call “speciality” or as I like to call, “good.”


Short Story: The Cafe Throne


When I visit the cafe, I change seats about three or four times before I settle. It’s no science. I’m not a creep or anything. I just like my space. I like my spot—the corner window with the round table.

The workers here probably think I have OCD; but then again, they’re judgmental.

The coffee is how much?

Every morning I have to wait on this guy, he likes the corner window seat too. It’s the same guy every day. I imagine him outside, waiting in the cold, sprinting as soon as they open the door. You can’t blame him, it’s the best spot in the house. The lazy squatter watches the sunrise and the fog burn off both sides of the highway. By the time he gives up the seat, the sun blares in my eyes and I’m left with a lingering smell of his breakfast veggie-wrap.

That’s alright. I grab my coffee, sit, and wait. It’s okay here, the coffee that is. You wouldn’t catch me handing out any awards. They brew it hot enough, I guess. The food does make me sick and good thing, it’s expensive.

The coffee is how much? 

I’m close to home when I come here. I’d otherwise exist, every morning, with people who know how to appreciate a level table. Here, they bob up and down like a child’s hand in a classroom—can I go to the bathroom? You do all this work, jumping from table to table, getting closer and closer to that prized spot, that seat of accolade, the damn window corner cafe throne, and what’s that? Oh, it wobbles.

The coffee is how much? 

Thirty years I spent climbing the ladder. I’m not talking corporate ladder, I mean an actual ladder. Up and down every day. Up and down, up and down. Painting, cleaning, watching.

I’m tired of the up and down.

Taking a Local Day

How formulaic do our lives become? It’s both good and bad, I suppose. We take vacations from the norm, only to get sick of the vacation and return to our norm.

I heard this statistic the other night and I can’t get it out of my brain:

96% of all Americans spend, on average, their whole lives indoors.

Upon hearing this, I wanted to run outside and skip through a field of daisies; I don’t even like daisies. I wanted to dig a garden, walk to work, and ride a hot air balloon around the country with a monkey named Charlie.

I decided that I needed to prove this statistic wrong.

So the next day, I went on vacation in my own town.

Extraordinarily, I was free from work and school. After an invitation, I made my way down to Doma Coffee and partook in my first ever “cupping.” The perplexities of smelling, breathing, and tasting coffee for hours on end was unusually delightful. For the first time in my life, being a “sipper” actually came in handy.

I learned how to pick fragrances out of coffee like apples, leather, chocolate, and “corn flakes.” I got to know the Doma guys a little better too. We talked about current coffee markets, espresso machines, and good beer. It was great.

After overstaying my welcome, I traveled back downtown to The Long Ear, a local record store (yes kids, those still exist). I traded some CDs in hopes of stocking up store credit for the upcoming Record Store Day. While there, I searched through the vinyl bin and “smoozed” a bit with the staff.

I was reminded me of the hours I’d kill at Boo Boo Record’s in Grover Beach, CA (RIP), where I’d search endlessly through the used CD bin and sticker bucket. Oh the days of my youth…

After The Long Ear, I went back home, recorded some music, waited for my wife to get home and then did a little shopping at my work, Pilgrims Market.

As the day grew late, I reflected upon my day. It was unique and more than usual. There were two things that made it different:

*I made time for myself

*Every business I entered was locally owned

So take from that what you will. Do you feel that you need a break from the norm? Take a local day for yourself and discover what your town has to offer.

Stay out of Albertsons, keep away from Wal-Mart, and for God sakes avoid McDonalds. Corporations and franchises exist only to capitalize off of consumer’s fear of the unknown. It’s funny, but the more I stay out of these businesses, the more I seem to enjoy the area I live in.

Try supporting only local shops for an entire day; take a walk and get outside. Maybe, you wont even need a vacation after all.

My goal this spring and summer is to get outside more, shop locally, and continue to discover my town. Why else would I live here?