I must confess the New Year has found me still reeling from 2009 and all its ravages, milestones and changes: dealing with the death of my mother, turning 50, celebrating my tenth wedding anniversary, giving up bottled water, getting cable, becoming a pet owner, going to a new gym, and — hold on to your hats, ladies and gents — receiving both a cell phone and an iPod from Santa. (More on this to come — just as soon as I take these new-fangled gadgets out of their boxes.)
Some of these adjustments were easy (one smelly gym really is the same as another). Some have been life-enhancing (no more wrestling with rabbit ears!). Some were liberating (no more 2.5-gallon Poland Spring monkey on my back). And some are still stupifyingly shocking (Action Girl, 50?).
But among these momentous and minor changes, there’s one I just can’t come to terms with: I don’t know where to go for Coffee Date.
OK, before I begin, let me explain about Coffee Date. Coffee Date is not the same as Going For Coffee. Going For Coffee takes place during the week, almost always at my satellite office (Coffee By Design, India Street), and involves friends or business associates. Nor is it the same as the 3 p.m. Coffee Treat, which is also a weekday CBD India function, but is a solo activity done to help keep me from licking the wallpaper after spending too many hours cooped up alone.
Coffee Date takes place on the weekend (or the rare weekday off). It’s time reserved exclusively for my husband, John. And, up until this past summer, it meant going to Portland Coffee Roasters on Commercial Street. If you traced its lineage, you would discover its unlikely progenitor was Meeting For Last Call. This was back in John’s and my courting days some dozen years ago, when Action Girl thought nothing of venturing down into the dangerous Old Port on a Saturday at midnight to meet a cute boy and his buddies for a couple beers. (These days, it’s a challenge to get me out after the aforementioned 3 p.m. Coffee Treat.)
Gradually, marriage, the acquisition of a real job (not by me, obviously) and a house in the ‘burbs changed things. We still went out, but it was an occasion. We made plans. I would actually comb my hair. For all the time we spent on the peninsula, we may as well have been living in Windham.
Enter Coffee Date. For years, Fridays were reserved for my mom up in Bath and Brunswick. When I’d get back to Portland on Saturday mornings, John and I would need a way to ground ourselves. Chores would’ve been my first choice, but I’ve yet to convince him of the wondrous restorative powers of household labor. Going into town to have a cup of coffee made us both happy.
I don’t know how we chose PCR, but that’s where we settled. We mostly sat outside and gawked at the tourists. When we couldn’t take the cold or wet, we sat inside and watched the weather through the soaring windows. We loved the shifting tide of baristas and especially loved the owner, Gerrie, even when her interest in the place waned and took its toll on her usually sunny disposition (e.g., rolling her eyes at someone while trying to explain for the third time why they didn’t serve hazelnut decaf).
Gerrie’s successor, Don, made a good go of it, with a new crop of loveable baristas and a few welcomed upgrades (more seating, better counter traffic flow). He added live music — some of it of questionable quality, especially at 10 a.m. — but that didn’t ruin the vibe of the place. By then, we’d made friends with some of the regulars. When two of them started dating, Don all but leapt over the counter to tell us the news. This place was home.
Then Don unexpectedly sold the business last summer, and it sat idle for some time. When it finally reopened, the new version just wasn’t for us. They’d carpeted-over the funky tiled floor. There were no more ceramic mugs, only paper cups. Commercial radio played on tinny speakers. The place seemed more like a lunch counter than a coffee clubhouse.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wish the new owners all the best. But something very valuable — something stable and comfortable — had been taken away from me when I needed it most. Since then, John and I have been cast adrift.
It’s not that we haven’t tried to find a new Coffee Date location. We’ve given almost every place in town that isn’t a national chain a shot, but the Goldilocks in us keeps finding something lacking: too cold (either in terms of temperature, staff attitude, or both), too cramped, no clear view of the outdoors, too many kids on playdates, weird hours, bad bagels. The best substitute we’ve come up with so far is breakfast at Local 188, but with an additional $20 and 1,000 calories, it’s no longer Coffee Date, is it? When we see other former denizens of PCR and ask where they go now, they all shrug. Most of them are having coffee at home.
Until I convince John of the appeal of doing chores instead, I’ll keep looking. It’s gonna be a long search.
Elizabeth Peavey measures out her life with coffee spoons here each month.