I love the essence of the small coffee shop. A place where a few funky paintings furnish the walls and the decadent aroma of unblemished grounds waft about powered by an oscillating Robbins and Myers fan. A couple glance seductively at one another in the corner, most likely they are on a first date, while an old man flashes a peek over his reading material at the newcommer who just set the bell above the door into their harmony. A lazy looking barista, on his tenth espresso of the day, assists me with my routine selection of coffee and I wander to a cozy looking armchair to open my book. The first sip is magnificient the last sip can be depressing as the light brown stains around the edges of the cup remind you that your time in this cozy local are coming to an end.
I don't have the luxury of supporting the little shops as I whisk through one town and then another in the darkness of night before the early rays of sunshine pierce the horizon. My life on the road tends to be a blur between convenience stations and Starbucks coffee shops. Normally I'm not a huge fan of supporting Starbucks but lately their wifi connections seem to be the most reliable source of my connection with the digital world. These days I become quite disconnected if I am unplugged for too long. In my attempts at poaching the elusive wifi signal I have come into cofrontations with the autocratic Starbucks manager and lurked in the back of my truck at night continuously adjusting the angle of my computer to eek a little more signal from the airwaves.
In my repeated visits to these cloned locations I have begun to notice the nuances that make each gas station or franchised Starbucks a little different. Sometimes it is the friendliest clerk in a gas station in the middle of nowhere who tells you her story and wants to hear yours. An exchange where the currency is a human presence willing to listen. Other times I have noticed the sneers from the underpaid coffee representatives when I require the simplicity of a black coffee. I have learned that the secret with Starbucks is to bring in your own mug and ask for a refill. Technically you are supposed to have a purchased a coffee earlier that day but they rarely question you and you can save over $1! The Starbucks in the City Market in Moab, Utah is not the place to try this technique. With the constant stream of dirtbags attempting this trick they are well informed of this practice.
A lady I know, who appeared a purist when it came to nutrition, suprised me on a roadtrip outside of Yuma, Arizona when she informed me that she was a coniseour of crappy gas station coffee. We proceeded immediately to the counter in the gas station and I was treated to one of the most acidic cups of coffee I had ever experienced, it actually made my cheeks pucker. This cup of coffee provided the necessary strength to wheel back to San Diego at 4 am after a hard day of climbing.
Since this first run in with the gas station brew I have found myself stumbling into gas stations between Monticello and Pagosa waving my cup sanctimoniously through the air. I peer into the glass a symbolic orange ring encircles the top of the molten black liquid. The glass is always sitting modestly on the counter and may have been left unattended for days. I glance to my left and catch the sublime, open mouthed, stare of a man in a cowboy hat and I can read in his expressions, "Is he really going to drink that?" Given the fact that this ritual usually occurs many days between showers when I am wearing an impenetrable coat of dirt from a few focused days of climbing I try my best to flash my smile. Considering it's the only thing I have not fully choked with desert sand I find it to be one of my most disarming features in these civilized places. Unabashedly, yet carefully, I refill my cup knowing from experience that this ultra hot beverage will burn my flesh if it escapes. I have found that gas station coffee almost always tastes better if you pay for it in change. Perhaps I feel better about not having sold my sole for a $5 latte but the truth is I feel glorified by having put my change to use. I even feel like a serious environmentalist letting my body filter the coffee instead of having the clerk pour it down the drain where it will eventually escape to the ocean and alter the mating rituals of the South African Kosi Rock Skipper.
Every coffee provides me with a novel experience and a few minutes out of the cold. Next time you visit a gas station with your eyelids dragging your entire spirit down and hundreds of miles of road ahead before your next climb I recommend the High Octane blend from your middle of nowhere gas station. Chances are that Walter White spiked this concoction with a little blue but if you don't have a serious heart condition it will get you where you want to be.