Door County in autumn smells like freshly brewed coffee tickled by the sweet bay breeze. Adorned by a
cozy scarf and cotton knit poncho, I sit at a coffee shop and enjoy the comforting bliss of the nonchalant after-season, the post Labor Day sigh, the oncoming off-season for renewal and refreshment.
Sitting outside, the cedar trees swirl above my head with a woodsy aroma of clean preparation. Complete slumber is on its way; autumn’s relaxation and reflection weave the connection between summer energy and winter nesting. Between the gurgling and hissing of the espresso machine and the lazy local gossip, the coffee shop beautifully reveals this transformation from bustle to nestle.
Locals gather early morning for casual pre-work conversation. Everyone who walks in the door greets everyone else, and everyone inside greets back It’s not about knowing people, it’s about enjoying the day and the people in one’s path.
A local senior citizen hobbles in to buy his daily newspaper and welcomes every person with a “Good Morning.” When he discovers all New York Times sold out, another table donates their purchased copy to him with no hesitation. His smile extends the length of his cane as he makes himself comfortable amongst comrades outside; enlightening conversations commence for hours.
One good friend completes the task of writing a sermon that will unite two into one. He carefully combines the Jewish and Catholic beliefs into one short sweet ceremony. After a cup of straight coffee, both bride and officiant are satisfied.
A few tourists line up to order their low-fat lattes in jogging apparel and visors. While the espresso erupts and the steam wand sings through the milk, the joggers eyeball scones, political bagels and pound cake. The line of tourists momentarily grows a bit so locals decide to step out to converse with people rarely seen in the busy summer months. Life is too short to stand in line.
I can expect up to six people I !mow to sit briefly at my table and share news while the barista creates their usual. Now that most of us locals work weekends only, the weekdays are spent reflecting, rejoining, and relaxing completely.
As the day progresses, the people seem more interesting. Two middle-aged ladies, who’ve been taking a photography class, tiptoe with huge lenses through the opening door as if they are in a children’s mystery show. Like cartoons, the ladies’ eyes grow round in unison with surprised mouths, gasping, “Isn’t this cute?” The coffee shop might as well be a life-sized gingerbread house. The two fold their hands at the counter in front of the barista, “wowed” by the coffee menu, and ask what the difference is between a latte and a cappuccino. “And what’s a mocha? Does that have chocolate in it?”
An Englishwoman in a long, belted denim skirt and blue cotton cardigan draped over her shoulders, sits next to me with her newspaper. Her husband stays in line to order two cappuccinos as well as a hot chocolate for their seven-year-old son. Her quiet face glows with ultimate relaxation and peace as she scans the news pages.
When her husband gives her a small cappuccino, time cuts to half speed. In slow motion, she removes the lid from her cup, sets it down, and with both hands brings the steaming frothy cup to her nose and inhales deeply. I catch myself inhaling with her, like yawning when watching a person yawn. She grins with her eyes closed and then looks at her husband to say, “Ah, that is good coffee.”
While a good friend joins my table to converse about everything under the sun, a man in his ’60s joyfully makes observations in a warm deep dark chocolatey voice. He seems very content to stroll through the day; noticing how beautiful the rain is. “That looks like real whipped cream. That’s great! Ah, that’s Miles Davis playing.” No worries. No complaints, and it feels contagious.
Jazz fills in the pockets of silence, reminding everyone to keep it cool. Chessboards and Scrabble sit in the bookshelves in silent invitation. The person sitting in front of the recycled newspapers gladly provides a few people with the section they ask for. Strangers and friends cooperatively feel the peace.
A Momentary Disruption
Early afternoon, a man squeezes into the entryway, pompous attitude swelling to a suffocating degree. He orders a Chai tea, but the barista tells him they don’t have any today. His wife steps in and orders two lattes and patiently watches the rhythmic espresso routine. Puffing up his chest, the man moves his sweaty visor up and down his forehead. “Why don’t you have Chai? I thought you had Chai. You had Chai when I was here last year. Will you be getting Chai?”
The barista puts the gallon of milk back into the refrigerator as she patiently answers, “We might be getting some in a shipment this week.” Perhaps this man doesn’t get it — don’t sweat the small stuff. After he pushes his way out, the remainder of the coffeeshop takes a deep breath in unison.
And So It Goes
Ah, a deep breath. That’s the reason for hanging out all day at the house o’joe. Outside one table plays a polite game of Go Fish while an older lady perches in the sun with a thick romance novel, a mini white dog curled up under her chair. Shimmering teenage girls lick whipped cream off their fingers as they giggle about cute boys and weird teachers. One slowly pulls apart the sticky bun that accompanies her cream and sugar coffee. They lean back on the chairs. Without a watch in the group, everyone’s taking it slow.
A cheeky short couple in their ’70s creates a triangular conversation about gardening with the barista and myself. A serious, tall man pouring over his newspaper finds himself caught in the center of the loud oral histories of tomatoes and he leaves.
After school, other high school kids practice their cool amongst the older locals. Girls in black hooded sweatshirts knot up hemp necklaces tied to the cafe tables. Boys smoke cigarettes and discuss new bands and albums. All are friendly and nod “hello” to the other coffee drinkers.
The sun sets on the water, crisp leaves rustle in the trees, and fireplace smoke wafts in and out of the breeze. My little notebook recites all the images I recorded throughout the day as I finish another pint of coffee. Now I can take a nap, stroll to the cold beach, meet friends at the bar, or read a book. Doesn’t matter when. I can repeat the entire laid-back day all over again tomorrow. I’ll meet more friends in the morning over a cinnamon roll; some the same as today, some I haven’t seen since May. Perhaps I’ll head up to Newport with the dogs to watch the leaves glow in oranges, yellows, and rich reds and enjoy the cozy bliss of the nonchalant off-season.