Monday, February 27, 2006

On any Sunday

What is the fascination with shopping carts? If you are homeless and have no other luggage, okay, I get it. I see you shuffling down the street, your shopping cart (or carts) holding everything you own. But what of the cart that is, itself, homeless? What of the cart stolen from the Safeway parking lot for a mere joyride, then left, forlorn and alone, at the side of the road?

My average Sunday begins hours after Sandra Bullock and the Jawa have awoken. I usually drag myself out of bed around 9:30, get dressed, pick my way past a house completely undone by home improvement and Legos, then casually stroll down to the corner market for a newspaper, maybe stop for a hot chocolate at Higher Grounds. Sadly, for the past five Sundays (save for last week, when I was in Las Vegas), my morning stroll has been marred by the sight of at least two and sometimes as many as six Safeway shopping carts stacked up on the side of Diamond Street.

They are always in the same place: halfway down the hill, at the edge of the sidewalk, leaning against a street sign on one side and a tree stump on the other. They are lined up as they would be at the Safeway, only instead of being safe at their home, they're sitting out here on Diamond. A very nice woman that I work with buys advertising space on these Safeway carts. Every time we go shopping I feel comforted to know that Suzanne from work is there, smiling up at me from my shopping cart.

Left abandoned on the side of the road, Suzanne's smile becomes a sad mockery of happiness. I can see her advertising budget turning to vapor right there on Diamond. One time I noticed that someone had actually slapped a sticker over Suzanne's face. When I see her at our Wednesday meetings, I feel it is my duty to inform her, using very grave tones, that once again someone has pushed her carts down the hill, leaving them at the side of the road. "Well," she says pleasantly, because Suzanne is a pleasant woman, "people walking down the street buy houses, too!"

This entire situation bothers me. If someone is stealing shopping carts and sending them barreling down Diamond Street, why would they then take the time to carefully stack them up in the same spot each weekend? Furthermore, if someone is running carts down Diamond, shouldn't there be random bloodstains on the road from the inevitable crashes? No way can you control a shopping cart down a steep hill. I can barely manage them in the store.

And why doesn't Safeway slap those "this cart cannot leave the parking lot" gizmos on their property? Everyone else does it.

It remains a mystery. Five weeks and counting.

I used to love my Sunday hot chocolates at Higher Grounds. Having lived in Seattle for ten years as a non-coffee drinker, I started drinking hot chocolate to deflect attention and to give me some reason to go to coffee places, which are nice places to hang out.

I do not hang out at Higher Grounds, but always appreciated their hot chocolate, which was made with powdered chocolate (surprisingly better than syrup for the hot choc) and arrived at the perfect temp. Mike, the guy who worked the front of the house, knew my drink and started it as soon as he saw me get into line. The guy who owns the place is friendly. It was a good deal all around.

But then Mike left. Without fanfare, one Sunday he was gone. Since then, Higher Grounds has lost itself in a swirl of instability. Without Mike's encyclopedic knowledge of everyone's drink, there's no quality control, no way to ensure that you will get the beverage you've come to expect. Gone, too, is Mike's high-pitched, gravelly voice, his t-shirt bearing unusual messages, and his unpredictable facial hair.

In Mike's place has been a long roster of wannabes and rookies. His first replacement was a young girl who made everything too cold. A few weeks later she was gone. I went in there on a Sunday and was met by a smiling, goateed, balding Middle Eastern man. Deferential he was, and overjoyed to be helping out, but inconsistent in his craft. The hot choc came out scalding, with no lid.

This past Sunday I began thinking that I might have to switch from Higher Grounds to Cafe Bello around the corner. The atmosphere sucks, and I'll miss the hard-working, ancient Mercedes station wagon-driving owner, but this instability is driving me nuts. If you're going to drop $3 for a Sunday beverage that you really don't need, you should at least get what you want.

Back in the Seattle days, Sunday coffee was an event. We'd pack the Jawa in his stroller and walk the half-mile down Broadway, the main commercial strip of our neighborhood, to meet Flush Puppy and her towheaded daughter, plus single mom Deena and her daughter, at Vivace. We'd sit there for hours while our kids played. They had toys and couches. It was great, a moment frozen in time, circa 1998, that we'll never be able to reproduce.

So if that's gone, if Sunday hot choc has been drilled down to a quick trip down the street, dodging lost shopping carts, grabbing the paper then trudging back up the hill, I don't want the burden of an inadequate beverage. This week, I found the grinning goatee guy, who was joined by new young girl and the hard-working guy, and gave them a final chance. Absolute chaos reigned behind the counter. Too many bodies. They had customers back there grabbing their own coffee. The hard-working guy was slamming plates full of crepes and eggs on the counter.

I ordered my hot choc. It arrived luke warm, overfull and again with no lid. I know that friends don't let friends go to Starbucks, but I've got to find a new place.

4 Comments:

Anonymous flush puppy said...

That is a travesty - maybe Jodi from Vivace should consider a SF outpost. Even worse, where the heck am I supposed to get a latte when I'm there? That was one surprising thing abou NYC - I expected to find no end of cool coffee places, but no. Blocks upon blocks of Starbucks. Even Seattle still has independent coffee places!

12:28 PM  
Blogger Bud and/or Marsi said...

i just wanted to tell my brother that today i am wearing the "the sandwich king" t-shirt he got me years ago from santa clara

2:39 PM  
Blogger Lefty said...

Holy cow! That thing's got to be at least 20 years old.

Nicely played.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Noodle's Mom said...

I don't understand...you can walk to a coffee place? In your very own neighborhood??

In my world even Starbucks would be welcome.

4:15 PM  

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