The All American Muse

a response to Doug Holder’s “Dozing at the Grande Cafe”

by ellaraine lockie, sunnyvale, ca

FOR YEARS I LONGED for a place nearby, like Doug Holder’s Grand Café in Massachusetts- a local hang-out where a poet could drink espresso, kick back and let the words come. Maybe chat a little while with the regulars, but know that they’ll leave you alone too because you have that almost mystical respect of being their own resident writer.

I grew up in Montana wheat country where all the coffee shops and bars lent this brand of ambiance. But I’d searched all over Sunnyvale for twenty-some years for a comfy little writing range. Nothing came close to small-town America until Starbucks moved in on Mary and Fremont, where I spend one or two hours writing every morning. Yeah I know, “Corporate America taking over the little guys,” is what you’re thinking. But hey, there weren’t many little guys around to accommodate us bigtime caffeine inspired writer guys; for sure there wasn’t one in my neighborhood.

Starbucks unites the community like nothing short of a city-wide disaster. The same people come in like clockwork: Rosemarie, after her chemo treatments for brain cancer; Dave, her husband, because he needs that Frappuccino and biscotti for more than sustenance; Mark a fellow Montana; Lou, the novelist and dead-ringer for Hemingway, whose pipe smoking relegates him to the outside tables; Pete, whose wife has left him, who meets Vincent every Monday, who never fails to give me a hug.. and so on… They miss me when I travel. I am unsettled when they don’t show. Yet, they all understand that I’m fine for five minutes of catch up and then I’m in another world. Something about this scenario transports me to a fairyland where words roll out on paper like lifesavers ripped from a wrapper.

And Starbucks always seem to be staffed by college kids who get a kick out of getting to know the regulars. For two years, they have had my quad espresso started the second I walk in the door, and my three refills automatic too. Some of these students-turned-baristas need help with English papers, and I consider it a fair arrangement to edit in exchange for a free refill. Others are aspiring writers , and they thrill to my news whenever anything gets published. That famous author feeling is a euphoric state my quiet home studio does not induce. The young people working at Starbucks are more than just ego-inflating though-when health reasons limited my refills to green tea, the cashier yelled (and I mean yelled) at the guy routinely starting another quad espresso for me, “Not coffee! Don’t you know she has precancerous breast tissue!”

Sympathy from the complete host of customers was of course profuse, and my breasts have been frequently and indirectly inquired about ever since. Now, how much more small-town America can you get than that?