My love affair with the coffee bean started almost 30 years ago in one of those restaurants by the highway.
The kind with the massive parking lots lined with Kenworths, Macks and Peterbilts. The air infused with the heady perfume of diesel and the adrenalin pumping sound of air brakes going whoosh in the night.
Inside were rows of high-backed, red vinyl booths and glossy table tops. Every table had a silver caddy stuffed with a laminated menu, salt and pepper shakers, a sugar jar, a glass container of vinegar and a bottle of Heinz ketchup with its label half washed off causing us to speculate they were refilling the jars with a generic and probably inferior brand.
We ordered French fries just the same. And coffee. There was no getting around ordering coffee.
The tables were preset with thick, white mugs and saucers. Bev, Shirley or Dot in their matching mustard dresses with white collars, gold metal name tags and a pot of coffee permanently glued to their right hand would pour the eyeball popping brew into your cups before they even took your order.
I had to doctor it up with two teaspoons of sugar and a couple paper cups of cream, but it still tasted like diesel fuel thickened with road kill. I would contemplate my coffee while I fished into my purse for a lighter and a smoke. Trans fat, cholesterol and carcinogens hadn’t been invented yet.
A couple cigarettes later I would be fearfully holding the now half-full coffee mug in my hand seriously considering not going through with it, when a trucker across the aisle would bellow, “Bev darling, bring me another cup of your famous coffee, would you love?”
This caused a wave effect throughout the restaurant as everyone hurriedly gulped down their coffee and brandished their mugs to indicate that they too would like another cup of Bev’s famous coffee. Twenty-seven truckers couldn’t be wrong. So I drank my coffee down and didn’t say no when Bev filled it to the brim once more.
I’d leave the restaurant with my teeth humming, stomach burning, jumpier than a long-legged jack rabbit in a fox den. The next weekend I’d turn around and do it all over again. Before long I bought my own coffee pot and morning brew became an essential ingredient to kicking off my day.
I still didn’t like it but I got really good at convincing myself I did. I’d tell myself and anyone who got in my way that I simply couldn’t function until I had my second cup of coffee. It still made my teeth hum, stomach burn and nerves bounce. Secretly, I still thought it tasted like diesel fuel thickened by road kill though eventually I started taking it black. No whip cream or nutmeg sprinkles for this girl. My poison comes to me straight up.
A couple weeks ago the unthinkable happened. I ran out of coffee. So off I went to the grocery store. I rarely buy the same brand twice. I just look for the words “fair trade” and “organic” then pick the cheapest one.
The brand I chose two weeks ago made me feel a bit edgy for the first few days, but after that I started to notice something. I wasn’t feeling like crap. My headaches were gone, my hands didn’t shake and I no longer felt queasy after the second cup.
In fact I felt so good that when I started to run low I took out the coffee package so I could carefully copy down the brand information. Organic . . . fair trade . . . Colombian . . . medium roast . . . Swiss water method . . . decaffeinated.
I reeled across the kitchen, stumbling backwards against the counter in horror. There went two entire weeks of caffeine intake that I would never get back. I was practically inconsolable.
So did I give up coffee? Switch to decaffeinated?
Don’t be ridiculous. Over the years I’ve given up smoking, French fries and alcohol. Caffeine is all I have left. Huh. It’s just as I feared. That sounds as dumb in print as it did in my head.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org