Brothers and Sisters:
When searching for the most traded commodity on earth, one is always close to the top on every list: coffee.
My coffee journey started in my early years as a fascination over this hot, fragrant brew my elders seems to crave in the morning, occasionally during the day and finally with a cigarette after dinner. At social events, other than the beer fridge, the stainless steel coffee urn was not only the most visited fixture, it produced with no doubt the best iteration of the brew. More over, it seemed most gatherings ended in the kitchen with great conversation over a cup or two of coffee.
In an effort to see what all the fuss was about, I found myself seeking the last little “kiss” at the bottom of the cup and soon was enthralled by the bitter sweetness of what I would later describe as a “small two and two”: small coffee, two cream, two sugar.
At somewhere around twelve, I developed my own taste for the caffeine-laced concoction which was so heavy on the cream and sugar I am surprised I ever slept. By high school my taste refined to the two and two formulation which lasted through college.
Collegiate coffee was the way to stay awake for an all nighter, sober up for class with a chocolate-cream filled doughnut chaser and write an editorial sure to anger the administration.
When I became a father and my children were about four years old, I taught them how to make a pot for dad. It wasn’t about the drink, whose quality might be sketchy at best, it was about teaching them something they could do on their own to give them confidence in themselves. Coffee had become a teacher.
In my previous lives, I used coffee for a number of different applications: warming up while working in a freezing warehouse, a substitute for a lunch I could not afford, a way to assuage the boredom of a mind-numbing cubical existence. Coffee, a substitute for happiness.
When I entered the trade, coffee was a habit every bit as strong as someones after dinner cigarette and the pre-union meeting beer. Mechanics I worked with and admired would religiously stop work at the appointed hour, walk or drive to the spot and sit with a steaming styrofoam cup in various shades of brown, a stir stick and napkins. Lots and lots of napkins. On those napkins they worked out problems, illustrated ideas on how to move the generator up an impossible flight of stairs and taught relay logic. There is no doubt in my mind every possible problem has been solved over a cup of coffee and millions of napkins.
My three favorite coffee spots are the Brecksville McDonald’s, the Lemon Tree in the old Huntington Building and The Market at 9th and Chester. What made these places special had little to do with the location and everything to do with the people.
While working the mod at Huntington, Big Bob held reign every morning and God help you if you sat in his seat. I listened, learned and studied for my mechanics test while drinking coffee there. The Brecksville McDonald’s had a cliche of old men who talked like they ruled the world before returning to their wives who ruled the roost. After taking the job at CSU I found myself gravitating to coffee at The Market, not because of the quality or Wa’s always upbeat nature, it was the guys.
I miss Pat, Al and Dave and our conversations fixing elevators, our companies and the world. I miss the guys who would drop by for a cup when in the neighborhood or make a special day trip. I miss Jerry and we all will miss Tom.
The next time we all are together, let’s raise a cup to those that are here, those that are not and those we wish were.
Until next month,
Work safe, work smart and slow down for safety.