Coffeehouse observation No. 312 – It’s worth a conversation about, well, conversations!

I’ve hit onto something, um, different. At Empresso, the coffeehouse I frequent most often in Stockton, I’m among the older patrons. But at my temporary coffeehouse, not so much.

Sure, there are a few who are older at Empresso, no doubt. But it’s pretty obvious to those who see me that I’m graying and balding on top and a bit broader than I once was in the middle.

I’m a middle-age guy. There! I’ve admitted it! Now everyone get off my back! And while you’re at it, off my lawn!

Whew! I better cut back on the caffeine. … Ya, sure, as if that’s gonna happen!

Anyway, I’m away from Stockton for a while and I had to find a temporary port of call to satisfy my caffeine cravings. Actually, I had to re-find this particular port of call.

Pure Grain Café has been around Vacaville for years, but it wasn’t until shortly before I left for Stockton that they opened a coffeehouse in historic downtown Vacaville – coffee, pastries, sandwiches, soup and salads. It is that now-familiar morph between straight coffeehouse and luncheon deli.

It’s a sunny and bright place. The Vacaville city seal is a sun shining down brightly on the golden rolling hills around and outside the city. Pure Grain Café’s interior is painted yellow to match the sun. And many of the patrons are in their sunny golden years.

That means I’m not so much “the old guy” anymore. A couple of times so far this week, I was among the youngest patrons in the coffeehouse!

It was great to sit there enjoying a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin, surfing the Web, and watching a few of Vacaville’s long-time residents. Like many coffeehouses, Pure Grain Café is a place where old friends wave and call out to each other and then plop down beside each other at a table to spend the next few hours talking. Just talking about this and that and the other thing. Talking about everything and simply nothing at all.

It is difficult in this electronic age where lives can change – fortunes forged, fortunes pissed away, careers made, careers decimated, friendships solidified, friendships destroyed, loves gained, loves lost – all in the click of a mouse or in the sending of a text. We seem to have lost the art of conversation. Sad. We miss so much by failing to carry out one of the most human of activities – conversation.

We all should take the time to have long, meandering conversations that seem to go nowhere and everywhere at the same time, conversations that solve the world’s problems, great and small, and conversations in which recipes for “the world’s best chili” or “the world’s best burger” are exchanged with impunity.

We should return to those conversations in which words spoken are as important as the words left unspoken. We should return to those conversations carried out under willow trees dancing in the wind, on boats with water slowly lapping against the hull, in hushed tones of conspiracy or love or both, and conversations accompanied by boisterous laughter.

Conversations should be lively, animated and meaningful. If not, why not just text the person.

I did not eavesdrop – at least, not much – but it was clear that the conversations among old friends going on at the tables in Pure Grain Café were lively, animated … and very meaningful. My table was the only one on which there was an electronic device. Those conversations – those meaningful conversations – required no email, instant messaging or texting. No electronics at all were used to carry out the actual conversations.

Don’t get me wrong! Electronics and the amazing Internet are vital to our world and they will be essential to bringing this country more economic stability. But personal conversations are just as vital.

Let’s talk about it, at least.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

All rights reserved by Keith Michaud ©

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Coffeehouse observation No. 311 – Hot, steamy coffee on a rainy day

The weather in California has been, well, to say the least, weird this year. It’s raining on the first day of June. By now we normally would have experienced a couple of 90-degree days, but I cannott recall even one so far.

It’s been gray, cloudy, rainy and windy today. It truly feels like fall or winter in Northern California.

It’s just the right weather for a hot, steamy cup of coffee enjoyed in an inviting coffeehouse. I’m sucking down the house blend at Pure Grain Café, my temporary coffeehouse headquarters for the week that I am in Vacaville cat-, house- and mansion-sitting. Nothing quite like a hot, steamy cup of coffee – or tea, in a pinch – to chase away the chill of foul weather.

All rights reserved by Keith Michaud ©

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Coffeehouse observation No. 310 – Temporary coffeehouse is pure as the grain

Taking a break from musty, dusty, crusty Stockton is always great thing.

This week I am getting away from Stockton by doing a bit of house-sitting, cat-sitting, and mansion-sitting.

You read that last bit correctly – mansion-sitting.

A friend is the estate manager for a property important to the history of Vacaville, the Solano County city where I worked for more than 13 years before moving to Stockton.

She and her boyfriend – along with his guitar, his bows, her clothing, her books (to be donated to a library), her camera equipment, and a refrigerator-sized telescope – crammed into a Nissan Sentra and headed out of the Sacramento Valley, over the Sierra Nevada, and across a good portion of the state of Nevada for a vacation.

My friend, beside having a grueling workload at the mansion, has been involved in the care and morale for a couple of friends who over the past few months have been battling cancer. One of them seems to be kicking it; we buried the other a couple of weeks ago. Being there for those friends – and the subsequent death of one of them – has taken its toll on her and this is a much-needed vacation.

So I will be here to feed the four or five cats she has welcomed into her home, the boyfriend’s slightly skittish cat, two gold fish (including one who apparently has a problem digesting food), and two turtles in the fish pond that really doesn’t have any fish. I’ll be picking up mail, accepting packages from UPS and FedEx drivers, checking the exterior of the yard and mansion to make sure security is OK, being onsite to make sure security is OK, and doing pretty much what I can around the place to make sure security is OK. The mansion is fairly grand – for the city and for the time period during which it was built – and the grounds are spectacular and a joy simply to visit.

And historic downtown Vacaville is only a few blocks away – it is a perfect morning stroll for a cup of coffee.

Yes, coffee. I will be drinking coffee while here in Vacaville. Was there any doubt?

I used to live and work in Vacaville before I started working in Stockton. I’ve always liked Vacaville and wish now I could afford to live here. I’ve been out of work for so long now that soon I may not be able to afford anything but a Maytag box.

Not too long before I left, the city used redevelopment funds to spruce up things in the downtown – fantastic new buildings, new plazas, new walkway along the creek downtown, and more.

And in one of those new buildings on one of those new plazas is the expanded Pure Grain Café. The coffee is just OK, but the pastries and muffins are fantastic. They have WiFi and a lunch menu, too, complete with sandwiches, paninis, soups and salads. If I didn’t have responsibilities as a temporary assistant estate manager (actually, I don’t think I have a job title at all), I could spend quite a bit of time and money in Pure Grain Café.

I’ll be checking in from here throughout the week. This is my temporary home-away-from Empresso, the coffeehouse I most frequent in Stockton. The other is Exotic Java.

Empresso is fun because it is located in the lobby of an old movie theater, so it’s a bit quirky and on the dark side unless you sit near the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Pure Grain Café is different. It has floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls that open up to Vacaville’s Maine Street and an adjacent plaza. The interior walls are yellow and the high ceiling white, giving it a much more open, lighter feel. The display cases are crowded with cakes, pastries and muffins on one side, and luncheon offerings – sandwiches and salads – along the other side of the counter. The whole place has much more the feel of a contemporary deli than a typical coffeehouse.

It is a nice change.

Apparently, this is the place for old friends to meet, read the newspaper and catch up on the latest gossip. More than half the tables inside are filled. The outside tables have been used since I sat down, but there is a bit of a chill in the air so it is not particularly comfortable to side outside.

Beside facing Main Street and the plaza, the building in which Pure Grain Café is located is just a short walk from the local senior center, county library, a wine and gift shop, and the Ulatis Creekwalk.

OK, time to move along. I’ve gotta get back to the mansion.

All rights reserved by Keith Michaud ©

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Looking back at ‘Emerald Kingdom invades’

I was a newspaper columnist in Vacaville, Calif., years ago and wrote about an invading force from the north. Of course, it was a weakly veiled reference to Starbucks. This is part of that column that appeared March 24, 2004, in The Reporter, the newspaper in Vacaville, which holds the copyright.

Emerald Kingdom invades

Ye fair citizens of Vacaville, am I the only one who has noticed that we are under attack!

The invasion began a few years hence. Knights from the Emerald Kingdom to the north came wearing bright green tunics with a medallion at the center depicting the kingdom’s queen. They spoke a strange, new language of venti and laite and Frappucciono. Even today the language baffles the mind and twists the tongue.

These knights – warriors of all shapes and sizes, but mostly youthful – wield no swords or pikes. No, they brought with them a more sinister weapon – caffeinated drinks – and devices with which to amalgamate caffeinated drinks. And pastries, yes, they brought pastries, too.

Later they brought their wares to markets and there anyone could barter for a bag o’ beans and partake of the caffeinated drinks in the comfort of their own castle.

And with these tools the warriors from the Emerald Kingdom continued their worldwide conquest. Today, in Vacaville alone, the Emerald Kingdom has at least seven strongholds: one on Nut Tree Parkway near Helen Power Drive; another on Davis Street a few blocks south of Mason Street; one each in two grocery stores of the same chain, with another to open in a rival grocery store; another in a neighboring discount department store; and a drive-through version on Alamo Drive at Butcher Road, where a person can fill up their car with gas, get it washed, grab a grande double-shot mocha, and pick up some cornnuts, all in one stop.

I admit that I have somewhat succumb to the caffeinated drinks – some concoctions of which certainly must be the work of witchery – and the somewhat contrived atmosphere of the Emerald Kingdom strongholds. It does a soul good to sit in the out-of-doors sipping a caffeinated drink.

But I do wonder when the quest for world domination will end. Or if it will end on this planet. Imagine a kiosk of the Emerald Kingdom awaiting astronauts to arrive on Mars.

I think I need a caffeinated drink. And now.

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Remembering a friend and colleague 9 years later

Cliff Polland

Cliff Polland in a photo taken by Rick Roach.

This isn’t about coffee or coffeehouses – except that I am writing this in a caffeinated state and I happen to be in a coffeehouse. But a Facebook post reminded me that today is the ninth anniversary of the passing of a friend and former colleague – Cliff Polland.

He had been ill, but far too young to die. He left behind many family and friends who continue to miss him to this day.

I recall that day quite clearly. Cliff had failed to come in to work at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., where he had been a photographer for years and years. His boss and a close friend of mine, Reporter photo editor Rick Roach, was concerned. He had tried to call Cliff, but with no reply. Rick wanted me to go with him to nearby Winters where Cliff lived with a German shorthaired pointer named Lucy. They lived in a cool two-bedroom home a couple of blocks from downtown Winters.

We drove there in Rick’s pickup barely saying a word to one another. We knew that Cliff had been ill – in-and-out of the hospital ill – for a while and we knew there could be too many terrible reasons why he didn’t make it in to work or answer Rick’s calls.

We each had a key to Cliff’s house – I would house- and dog-sit when Cliff was out of town and Rick had one because they were buds and also checked on things if Cliff was away.

I still carry my key on my keychain to this day.

We arrived, knocked on the door, and Rick used a key to let us in when there was no reply. But he immediately backed out of the house.

“He’s in there. He’s dead,” I seem to recall Rick saying as he struggled to catch his breath.

I had him repeat it, because I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. I asked where exactly. He was in a living room chair he had crafted.

We could hear Lucy inside and we knew it would be better to get her out of the house and into Rick’s pickup before police and other officials arrived. Dogs, of course, can be protective of their people and homes and we didn’t want her to react in a way that would cause officers to pull their weapons, as we had reported upon before in other circumstances.

She wouldn’t come out the front door, the one next to where Cliff sat in his chair. So, I went around to the back to a garage door I knew would be either unlocked or rickety enough for me to bust open. I was able to call Lucy through her dog door leading to the kitchen of Cliff’s house and ran my belt through her collar to fashion a leash to lead her to the front and to Rick’s pickup.

Rick called the local police to report the death and not long afterward two officers and an ambulance arrived.

We left a short time later to begin letting the world know that Cliff was dead. Those phone calls over the next day or so were difficult and I wouldn’t wish any of it on anyone.

As the assistant news editor in charge of special sections at The Reporter at the time, I wrote about Cliff in my next column a few days later. That was not an easy thing, either, writing about the death of a friend and colleague. A few months later I wrote another column in which I mentioned Cliff’s death. Below are those columns.

(I believe I also wrote another column, one on his memorial service a few months later – Hawaiian shirts, good stories, cigars and more. It was a great way to remember Cliff. I cannot for the life me find that column. – KM)

 Never good time for this

 I hate writing these kinds of columns. I’ll never become accustom to it. Never.

I spent the better part of Monday helping in a very unpleasant task.

Longtime Reporter photographer Cliff Polland died over the weekend and I helped notify former Reporter employees and friends of the sad news.

Cliff’s obituary on Tuesday made mention of his professional achievements and gave a rundown of his career as a photographer.

But Cliff was more than a photographer.

He was restoring an old Porsche, piece by piece. Some of the parts, no longer available elsewhere, had to be sought out over the ’Net; some had to be manufactured. He was a mechanic, automobile historian and sports car restorer.

He loved music – jazz and blues – and could play guitar. He owned a couple of electric guitars and not long ago he picked up an acoustic guitar. So he was a music enthusiast and guitarist.

He loved fishing. He loved camping. There were fishing rods in nearly every corner of his Yolo County home. Camping gear in the remaining corners. So he was a fisherman and camper.

He loved making wines and beer. So he was a winemaker and brewmaster.

He liked tequila. So he was a tequila drinker, too.

He had a dog, Lucy. Lucy is energetic, to say the least, but a sweet dog.

She stayed by Cliff’s side after he died and had to be coaxed out of the house. I believe the joy he received in owning Lucy added years to his life.

He was a dog owner.

Cigars were another of his joys. Cheap ones, expensive ones. It didn’t matter much. He loved them while fishing or camping or just sitting around his home reading. So he was a cigar enthusiast.

He painted with watercolors. He painted fish – trout. So he was a painter.

He built furniture. He died sitting in a chair he made a few years ago. He was a furniture maker.

Friends gathered Monday night to reminisce. We poured Cliff a shotglass of tequila and lighted a cigar for him. We kept it burning until it was gone.

Then we lighted another. More than once during the evening, someone said Cliff was probably looking down at us shaking his head at the carryings-on.

He was modest, too.

He was more than a photographer. He was a friend.

The author, a former Vacaville resident, was the assistant news editor in charge of special sections for The Reporter when this column first appeared in The Reporter on March 21, 2001.

My ‘Gone fishin’ sign is out

 By the time most of you read this, I will be long gone.

Oh, I hear the minstrels tuning their harps and people rushing to dance in the streets.

But don’t be so quick to rejoice. I’m only on vacation; I’ll be back next week.

By the time most of you have rubbed the sleep from your eyes, have caught the first refreshing whiffs of coffee, and made your way outdoors to fetch The Reporter from the bushes, I’ll be on my way to a piece of heaven in the Sierra Nevada.

My chariot this fine day is a forest green Chevy pickup loaded with camping gear and towing a fishing boat, also loaded with camping gear. My companions this fine day are my best friend for the past decade or so – who happens to be married to another of my best friends – and a German shorthaired pointer named Lucy.

We are running point for a biannual camping excursion that dates back 12 years. Some 30 or so others will follow, but we will be the first to take in the mountain air, the first to set up camp and the first to dip our lines in the upper of two very fine trout lakes with grand, glacier-capped mountains looking down on our every move.

And at night, with all of us gathered around a roaring campfire and mesmerized by its flickering orange, red and blue dance, we’ll renew friendships, partake in camping traditions better not discussed in a family newspaper, and each of us will at some point wish that the moment would stand still for all eternity. “Strangers” come along with us on these camping trips, but leave lifelong friends. It’s the way it’s been for a dozen years or so.

The bittersweetness, however, is that for the first time in a half-decade we’ll be without our friend, Cliff Polland. Lucy is – was – his dog. Now she stays with my best friends and their family, but I think, at least a little, she belongs to all of Cliff’s friends.

Cliff’s birthday would have been on Monday. We would have celebrated while camping, giving him goofy gifts, like a camouflaged baseball batting cap with dual beer can holder mounted on top with drinking tube.

We’re brewing some beer to bring with us, using some of the equipment Cliff once used. It’ll be a fine brew for a fine camping trip.

He’ll be there in spirit, at least, and having a good ol’ time along with us.

The author, a former Vacaville resident, was the assistant news editor in charge of special sections for The Reporter when this column first appeared in The Reporter on May 23, 2001. 

 

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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