Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Uncharacteristically early for a rendezvous with the relatives, I sat down at a large round table on the back porch of the coffee shop. There would be at least six of us. The HUBS was parking the car, no small problem. Apparently, we in the SF Bay Area like to drink the morning after a sad defeat for our San Francisco 49-ers and we drink coffee.

We had met with Patti and Bob Saturday night in San Francisco at Capp’s Corners. Capp’s is just a block off busier Stockton Street, near where Chinatown and North Beach bump up against each other like the tectonic plates along the San Andreas Fault. In this case, the plates are often more of the culinary sort and no matter which neighborhood you’re in, the food is delicious.

Capp’s is in the same block as Beach Blanket Babylon and has an almost-fixed price menu for dinner, pasta is something like $18.50 and other entrees are something like $21.50. Dinner comes with minestrone soup and a salad, both served family style on checked tablecloths. It’s like being at home in a way, but home is a place with a lot of noisy people after 7 pm.

At about 5 pm, though, I was the only one there besides a regular named Tommy who was leaving. We were supposed to meet at 4 pm but one thing led to another and we are relaxed with each other mostly. I wasn’t sure if we had reservations. I had my cell phone, checking for messages. I ordered a Zinfandel. I enjoyed it.

After a while we caught up with Patti and Bob and then Andy and his adorable friend Jeannette from New Zealand. She’s an orthopedic surgical nurse and we agreed that talking about her work in detail at the dinner table was probably not the best. She did confirm that tourists fall off mountains and drive on the wrong side of the road just often enough to keep her quite busy.

I had steak.

Andy and Jeannette had to drive to southern California the next day, so by Monday, holiday for me, breakfast in Alamo near Danville was at a place called Cherubini near the creek. It’s January after all so they had the outdoor overhead heaters on, but they weren’t really necessary.

We’re in a drought this year. Water is so low in the local reservoirs that they are talking about mandatory rationing. The newscasts are talking about the droughts in the 1970’s, before I came to California, but when I moved here in 1989 there was a drought too.

Every toilet flush, every glass of water at the restaurant, every load of laundry or shower was something to be mindful of. House-proud new homeowners in bedroom communities like Benicia saw their expensive lawns dry up to crackling. Xeriscape lawns became the rage, with stones and benches and wooden slat overhead trellises to create shady earth and the illusion of a cool retreat from the unrelenting sun.

Adding to the drought’s bad effects on tourism was the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989. In Monterey the following January, Cannery Row was a ghost town, the natural disasters having shooed vacationers to “safer” places. While I was there for a week, tagging along on HUBS2’s business trip, I had what everyone in California wants: I had the place to myself. I started conversations with otters and harbor seals. I continued them with gulls and ground squirrels. I watched the two scuba divers fiddle with their gear and waddle into the seaweed jungle of the bay. For a brief moment that week, time stood still again. But there was a drought, true enough. I had arrived on Thanksgiving Day 1989 in pouring rain and I didn’t see a drop until May the following year. I thought I was in heaven.

Now I’ve lived in California long enough to worry about the day-after-day of “perfect” weather, the low reservoirs, the anticipation of a bad fire season. I sat on the too-warm deck behind the coffee shop and waited for HUBS3 and his sweet family to arrive. I would wait to get something to drink. It’s a drought year.

I looked toward the creek nearby, wondering at the flowers blooming in January. I used to be startled at January flowers, having suffered too long in Missouri and Illinois winters whose only colors were white, and ice and grey and sometimes charcoal where a tarred road lay scraped and still treacherous or where dark tree trunks lined with clinging frost and snow slatted the edge of my sight. Color here in January may be white and green and pink and red and sometimes yellow. It is the time after fall and not yet summer here. It is the time when birds eat.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
It was a quiet time, as if January had taken a quick breath and held it for a moment. A few coffee-lovers nodded at me on the way to the bathroom, questions unasked about why one person sat alone at so big a table. And yet, wasn’t this the California everyone wanted? The one all to themselves?

I read somewhere that the Ace of Pentacles was the most fortunate card in the deck. It is the big round reality, the essence of material comfort like the sun’s big gold coin in the morning sky, like the big round table all to myself on the back deck of a cozy coffee shop with its good smells that made the air taste like omelets and pastry and java or cappuccino. Being here right now, that was the Ace of Pentacles. This one thing, this disc of the world in its tactile form, this table here was the Ace of Pentacles. I reached out and touched the edge of it in wonder of the tactile universe.

“I got you a coffee,” the HUBS said, setting the Cherubini’s mug with its corseted form in front of me. “I put in the cream but wasn’t sure how much sugar you wanted.”

I was only briefly startled and smiled. I picked up the mug and sipped.

“It’s OK,” I murmured. “It’s sweet enough.”

Best wishes.

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