A Cup of Joe for Joey

Five months into the dramatic shift in daily life and one of the things that has helped me is an occasional cup of coffee. I’m sure you understand: life is often about the simple pleasures. 

I’ve previously confessed in this space to binge-watching too many television shows since things went all “Corona.” But, I did not confess another fact about my world of addiction. Coffee. Some, who know me, understand that I love coffee but it doesn’t always love me back. At various times, more than a few local coffee shops were under direction not to serve me coffee. It’s usually done politely by the barista asking, “Is that okay? Or, are you sure? Or, don’t you mean decaf; are you allowed to have regular coffee?” Lest you think I become a raving sociopath while “under the influence” let me explain.

For the entirety of my life, I have seldom had more than one cup of coffee in a day, and, I have seldom drunk coffee every day as many do. Normally, I have one cup every few days, early in the morning, and then I get A LOT done for the rest of the day. I can bang out the crossword puzzle or nail Jeopardy questions as if a superhero! I talk a lot, but that’s not so unusual, and if no one is around I don’t talk but work hard and focus on one thing after another. This is good for a writer, a builder, and gardener. So far so good, until sixteen hours later, I cannot sleep, my muscles get tight and painful, and the jitters set in. One cup, sixteen hours later!

A Cup of Joe

If I drink coffee on consecutive days, by the third day the boom book starts going away, less gets done, and all that chatty, creative energy transforms into a Zombie-land depression. My energy flags, my speech slurs, my body hurts to the point that walking stairs is difficult and my neck gets so tight I want to snap it off. I begin to organize my world in a bout of OCD, and honestly, I just get weird. And yet, all day, all I think about is getting that next cup the following morning. Though my addictions are legal, relatively safe, cheap and benign, they are addictions.

Caffeine can have both positive and negative health effects. Some people experience sleep disruption or anxiety if they consume caffeine, but others show little disturbance. Caffeine can produce a mild form of drug dependence associated with withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness, headache, and irritability when an individual stops using caffeine after repeated daily intake.

Crater Lake

The two best cups of coffee I ever have enjoyed were: in August of 1974, as I was driving with friends from San Francisco to my home in Tumwater, Washington, we detoured to Crater Lake and arrived to the rim at midnight, with a few blankets and no other camping gear or warm clothing. The temperature at the rim was 31 degrees, so we retreated down to a campsite and went to sleep. At 4 o’clock in the morning it started raining! It would be fifteen years before I saw Crater Lake in the anytime, as four of us piled into the car, a 1974 Pontiac Catalina! And headed downhill with the heater cranked on high. An hour later we stopped for breakfast at a café and when they poured the coffee into the restaurant ceramic cups, it was as if manna had been delivered from heaven. To that point in my life, the best coffee ever. It was probably Boyd’s or Folgers and I don’t care: “Any port in a storm.”

A Port in a Storm

The next great cup of coffee would come under different circumstances, but oddly similar. Nancy and I were in Europe in 1988 for the first time, and were traveling by train from Barcelona to Rome. Sharing our cabin was a young Argentinean traveler whom we befriended and we spent much of the overnight trip talking instead of sleeping. Upon arriving in Rome, the Argentinian, a well-versed traveler, said, “Let’s get a coffee,” and we stepped into the bustling coffee line where a veritable phalanx of baristas stood cranking out shots of espresso. The Argentinian said, “Be sure to order two so you don’t have to wait in line again.” This we did and enjoyed the coffee, agreeing that it was the best EVER!  

Rome Termini Train Station Cafe

If you think this piece is simply the rationalizing of a drug addict (it is), let me say that coffee is not simply a drug experience, but more an aesthetic, that means artistic, ritual that I enjoy sharing with others. The other day, one of the Oregon Department of Forestry fire patrol crews stopped by to say hi, and with respect and appreciation for how hard they work and the service they perform, I made them a cup of coffee. They had heard about my coffee ritual and before preparing it, I explained my process in step-by-step fashion. A few minutes later, they joyfully received the brew.  

In pandemics and in life, it is the little things that sustain us. Amen!



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