Back in college, I found myself so sick of seeing one limited section of society. Twenty somethings. Everywhere. No children, no elderly, only an occasional dog. I had to get out of there. I was going a little crazy and I needed some balance. So, I went to a doughnut shop. Two to three times a week, I’d watch the sun rise at the drive through window as I studied, read my bible and daydreamed. A group of older men would gather there every morning around the same time. They’d make an occasional comment to me about homework, coffee and doughnuts, but otherwise, I kept to myself. One morning, there weren’t enough tables and I ended up making room at mine. So began “The Liars Club”. From that day on, I sat with them. I heard their stories (which were largely exaggerated at times, hence the name) and they heard mine. We joked, drank coffee and they ate a lot of donuts. On fridays, I gave in and got a Karamel McKnutt doughnut, and I have yet to find a doughnut that good since.
Karamel McKnutts was my first glimpse of a truth I’ve come to know. If you want to belong, and you want to make friends, show up regularly at the same time to the same place. Relationships are inevitable. When I graduated, I said farewell to my Liar’s Club. It was sad, but I knew that wherever I ended up, I could find another place to belong.
Fast forward and I’m working as an addictions counselor and living on my own with my giant dog Sam. I was struggling to pay rent because, for some reason, my clients wanted to buy drugs and alcohol with their money and never had enough for treatment. It was time to get a second job. I had my eye on the Caribou Coffee up the street from me. I basically harassed Melissa until she hired me. I would open the coffee shop, come home and walk my dog, and then head off to lead DUI groups at night. I love crazy, it’s why I loved counseling, but I thought I was getting a break from crazy by serving coffee. Wrong. Only crazy people want to drink loads of caramel, chocolate and whiped cream through a straw at 5:30 am. Eventually, I was laid off my job as a counselor and picked up hours at the Deer Park Caribou to get a full 40 hours a week to pay my bills. There were the ladies who worked the Jewel Bakery, the runners group on saturday mornings, the twins who had an impossible order but catered food to us regularly, so we complied. There was the guy who brought in his guitar to play. There were teachers, blue collar workers, teenagers and moms. There was the latino man in a full body carhart suit who wanted a scone and a green tea, who didn’t speak english but gave me a high five and a toothless smile every morning in return for his breakfast. They were real people. They were my Liars Club.
It was only a month after I got laid off at the counseling center that I found out I was pregnant with Lila. After we opened the shop, Lisa and I sat down by the fireplace and sipped our coffee. She listened to my fears, she encouraged me and gave me hope. Becky helped me to laugh and built up my confidence. Pat assured me that I would be just fine and that motherhood would surely bring joy just as surely as it would bring hardship. We wiped down are silver sparkling countertops. We listened to the hiss of the wand as it frothed milk and chocolate. We stained our fingers with espresso as we delivered countless drinks with silly names. All the while, we shared our lives with each other. When I got married and moved out, Deena warmly accepted me to her Lake Geneva store. I could not have gotten another job 6 months pregnant. I tried. She brought me in and gave me a chance. She treated me just like she treated all of her Bous, like family.
A new shop brought new regulars. There is Mark, who works at Wal-Mart and hates it. There is Mike who walks from the YMCA, orders hot chocolate and pays with exact change. There are the swimmers, Peg, Sue, and Kim, who get their coffee, tea, and a spoon and enjoy their mornings as friends. There is Andrew who has two kids but hasn’t updated the picture on his credit card yet. Bob and Dawn who are so transparent and friendly, you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. THE Mr. David Gallegher, who gets a mug of dark and a paper and can point out a grammer error on the trivia board from a mile away. There is the whole Coffee Club, who met randomly when that Caribou opened by showing up to the same place at the same time and slowly became friends who quickly became family. Sheri is tall and witty and has a funny way of trying to offend Paul by her coffee mug choice. I just love it. Mysteriously, there is always a jingle in Lila’s pocket after she sees Sheri. John is so kind and warm whenever he greets me and my family.
Miss Mary Quinn is intelligent, kind and well traveled. There is Joan (in the picture above), who gets an extra hot milk chocolate mocha pretty much every day and doesn’t gain a pound. There is Ronnie, who has a family sweet and stunning enough to be on the cover of an LL Bean catalog. Anice, Barry, Patrick, Pete, and Dee. There is the pilot I also see at the YMCA along with Steph, Jamie and Victoria. There is pretty much the entire Lakeland Community Church staff and congregation. Heather, Lisa, David, Buck, Richard and Mel all make their way there and I’m always glad to see their faces.
They warmed to me slowly. Lake Geneva is a tourist town and there are countless brown haired brown eyed girls that show up on my side of the register only to dissapear after a few weeks. When I came back after having Lila, I wasn’t working to pay bills anymore. I worked a couple days a week just to go somewhere and be Darla. I love being a mommy so much, but for 10 hours a week, I was called by my first name and it kept me balanced. I saw so many familiar faces for 2 minutes at a time, once or twice a week, but they were my friends. All different ages and walks of life came to our watering hole and crossed paths that might not have been crossed otherwise. Behind the counter, even tighter bonds were formed. Do you know Penny? Because you should. Talking to her makes you feel heard and important but also makes you laugh. She is the coolest gal in town and everyone knows it. Katie was a friend instantly. Her sarcasm and jokes cut the tension in any room. She has a way of making everyone fall in love with her and somehow manages to love them all back.
Leslie was there when she was pregnant with Bailey. I don’t think I’ve ever told her how much I look up to her. She taught me so much about being a crunchy mommy who loves her kids and helps me and supports me to this day, even though she didn’t come back to the Bou after her little babe. Suzie, Reade and Gregg all worked on different shifts than me but I could tell who closed when I opened in the morning. Each closer had a signature, whether they knew it or not. Where were the coffee urns soaking overnight? Where was the cold press resting? What was the trivia question? It all pointed to who closed the night before and it was endearing.
Mostly, I worked with Paul. When Deena left our shop, he came to take over. I’ve mentioned that the Lake Geneva Crew is slow to warm right? They didn’t make any exceptions for Paul. It was pretty funny to watch, well, it was for me. Paul and I hit it off right away, though. He felt like a lame and chubby older (much older) brother that bossed me around and annoyed me. We had good work chemistry. I would show up right at 5 am and he would be sleeping in his minivan, waiting for me to finally make the trek to the shop. We’d spend the shift working, and talking. Don’t tell Paul, but I really looked up to him. He has 5 kids and one more due any day now. Paul and Shannon got married when they were young and have been through a lot together. He became a friend who listened and didn’t judge. He gave me life changing books to read, solid advice, and continually offered prayer and support for me and my family. He always let me work within my pathetic availability (pretty much thursday mornings) and encouraged me in setting my role as a mom as my priority. If he asks, though, tell him I said, “Whatever, he was ok.”
When we heard that Caribou was closing, I began relfecting on how much life I’ve lived in my 3-4 years there. I’ve shared my joys and my brightest days and also shared my absolute darkest days. It was on a thursday that I lost my baby. It was on a thursday that I left my shift to go to the ER. It was on a thursday, during when I would work, that I delivered my son. It was on a thursday that I left because Lila got her first real owie and had to go to the doctor. It was on a thursday that I came back one last time to say goodbye.
It’s hard to let go. I won’t be making the transition with my fellow Bous to become a Peetnik. I can’t make it to all of the training with my little Milk Man still so young and dependent on his mommy. I have to let go and move on, but I’m so thankful for Caribou Coffee. It wasn’t just a job, it was a community. It was my community place that I loved. This is the end of an era, but the beginning of something new. I’ll miss my thursday mornings with my dear, strange friends.I’ll miss having somewhere to go “where everybody knows your name” or at least what your drink is. I’ll miss the crunch and churn of our esspresso machine. I’ll miss the hot soapy water where I washed all the mugs that were held through thousands of conversations, carried a thousand lipstick stains, caught too many tears and rattled with abundant laughter as hands slapped our rickety tables. I’ll miss that smell. When you grab a five pound bag off unopened coffee beans and hold it to your chest as the air puffs out that aroma of coffee beans. How it triggers all of those memories. From crawling on my Daddy’s lap at the lake house early on a saturday morning, to those sunrises at karamel McKnutts, to those late evenings dating my sweet heart and chatting the night away, to the brunch dates with my best friends. I’ll miss the terribly annoying beep of the oven, the hum of the blenders and the thump of the door slamming behind Mr. Pink, the milkman. I’ll miss the line building up behind a customer sharing that her mother just died and the line building up again on the anniversary of that day. I’ll miss Lisa joking with me and telling me I take too long to make her skim iced mocha. I’ll miss Denny’s downright terrifying halloween costume.
I’ll miss it all but I won’t forget. I’ll be reminded of Carl Mancini each time I see a humming bird. I’ll remember Dawn’s tender heart and faith when I wrap my rainbow baby son in the blanket she continued to knit for me even after I lost my baby. I’ll remember Peg when I put cinnamon in my morning coffee and Katie’s son whenever I see a TeePee.
What’s important to know is what I learned back in Marion Indiana. Show up at the same place, and the same time and relationships will develop. We are community creatures and we’ll flock together with all the strange birds just like us. You’ll get what you put into your relationships, and I’ll keep that in mind as I carry on and find my next watering hole, and a new place to belong. Goodbye Caribou Coffee, it’s been real.