Java, Cup of Joe

I can distinctly remember my first cup of coffee.
I was 12 or 13 years old so that puts it around 1973.

Yup, it was the “olden days.”

My mother used to go down the street to Mrs. Gladden’s house for coffee and gossip.
It was summertime and I was bored one day so I went with her to hang out. Mrs. Gladden’s son wasn’t around so I sat in the living room with my mother and Mrs. Gladden and Mrs. Gladden asked if I would like a cup of coffee.

I looked at my mother and she nodded her approval and I said “yes!” It seemed to me to be so very adult to get to hang out and drink coffee. There was the first sip of black coffee which was not too pleasant and then my mother and Mrs. Gladden coached me through the process of adding non-dairy creamer and some sugar which made it much more palatable.

I was hooked from the get-go.

Keep in mind that during my adolescence and early adult years I did not drink or experiment with drugs. That’s right, while the other kids rocking round the clock, I was hoppin’ and boppin’ to a thing called the Crocodile Rock Java Jive. While many of the kids my age were extolling the glories of casual drug use by doodling marijuana leaves and pills on their notebooks I was revelling in the iconic simplicity of a steaming cup of coffee.

There were plenty of head shops during the 70’s but not so many dedicated coffee shops. Places like Jo-Jo’s, Denny’s and Kip’s Big Boy served bottomless cups of coffee, but they were restaurants first and foremost. The wait-staff frowned on teenagers coming and ordering cup after cup of coffee without purchasing a meal. I can recall Rich Davis and me wearing out out welcome at the Kettle on S. Shaver (or was it Spencer Hwy?) in Pasadena, TX any number of times.

After I got out of the Navy and returned to Pasadena my coffee addiction was in full swing and now it was 1981. Coffee shops were still a rare commodity and I was pretty much hooked on coffee. I had a percolator my parents had given me and I kept that thing going pretty steady.

In late 1983 Hurricane Alicia came along and ripped the roof off of my small apartment and this was the catalyst for moving into the city. I landed in the Montrose and before long I was working at the Half Price Books on Waugh Drive. In the process of exploring my new neighborhood I discovered Tim’s Coffee Shop. It’s now Bambolino’s Italian Kitchen but back in the day it was a cozy little coffee shop/restaurant and I was there almost every day before heading in to work, reading the paper and drinking coffee and making friends.

Tim’s Coffee Shop became the formal gathering place of the Philosopher’s Guild, a small band of friends who would meet and stay up to all hours of the night discussing anything and everything while consuming mass quantities of coffee.

Tim’s eventually closed down and Charlie’s Coffee Shop opened just down the road in what was once a topless bar called The Boobie Rock and is now the lesbian bar Chances. I sometimes wonder if the patrons know the sordid history of that little piece of real estate…

Charlie’s, for all intents and purposes, was a gay Denny’s. While it was primarily a restaurant, you could still just grab a booth and sit and drink cup after cup of coffee. I spent a lot of time in Charlie’s and was very sad when it closed.

During this time frame two things happened that were directly influenced by my love/addiction to coffee.

My first radio show of any significance was on Friday mornings from 5-8 and when I was trying to come up with a name I thought of that glorious line from the 1984 movie Suburbia, “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee” (which was also later used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986).

The third album/CD my band recorded adopted the title “Give Me Coffee” from the first song I ever wrote of the same name.

Fast forward some years and I’m in The Heights after Cynthia and I first got together. Coffee shops are starting to pop-up like crazy. Starbucks has begun to explode and coffee drinking is becoming quite the fad. I found a place called Java Java on Heights Blvd and that became my new coffee haunt.

After I finally managed to get out of working retail and on to a more steady Monday through Friday schedule working in the corporate worlds my trips to the coffee shop began to dwindle as I opted for the grab and go convenience of Stop and Go coffee.

In all the years I have been consuming coffee I rather prided myself in being quite basic about it. No lattes, no cappuccinos, no espressos or mochas or anything fancy. Just a cup of coffee with cream and sugar or black in a pinch. As Starbucks rose to power, other specialty coffee shops sprung up but I kept true to my coffee roots.

I practically swore to myself I would never patronize a Starbucks. That was until our trip to the UK. While we were in Edinburgh, Scotland we toured The Edinburgh Castle. It was cold, wet and windy. When we got to the top there was a gift shop and in that shop there was a Starbucks…

I didn’t change my coffee stripes then and there. I was a coffee addict and this had the appeal and benefit of actually being available. Still, the chip in my coffee armor was there now.

Over the years my resolve to stay away from designer coffee shops has wained.

Cynthia enjoys a “good” cup of coffee on Sundays. She’s not interested in Stop and Go coffee and suggested a few years back that we stop at Starbucks on the way to the grocery store. Her offer was to buy the coffee if I would agree to stop there. I capitulated and now it’s our Sunday tradition.

It wasn’t long before I was hooked. I can no longer drink the coffee offered at the local convenience store. Now I get a Starbucks pretty much every day on the way to work and often one in the evening.

But it’s still a matter of pride that I don’t order those designer froo froo coffee drinks.

No frappacinos, no half caff no fat grand mochachinos for me, no sir. Just a LARGE house coffee to go, thank you very much!

8 thoughts on “Java, Cup of Joe

  1. Nice little composition! A very pleasurable read indeed.

    I like to treat myself to a nice latte from time to time, but really prefer my daily cup of Nescafe instant coffee over anything else. It’s cheap, fast and exactly how I like it every day…with one packet of Equal. I am a simpleton when it comes to coffee…and food for that matter. 🙂

  2. Nice Bill Bryson-esque flashback. I think Charlie’s was the first place where I ever had tomato slices inside my grilled cheese. I still make it that way now.

    My boss gave me a 10# bag of Starbucks beans for Christmas, now used as a paperweight metaphor for good intentions as I cannot abide “The Devil’s Cup.” If you guys are ever in Vegas, it’s yours.

  3. To paraphrase the words of the immortal J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, “Don’t just drink that coffee, drink the heck out of it”.

    Coffee propels much of my day; cup after lovely cup of what Frank Zappa affectionately called “Black Water”.

    I also have succumbed to the siren-song of Starbucks, frequently meeting friends there and conducting business meetings as well.

    Charlie’s certainly brings back memories of many cups of coffee and philosophical conversations! And the first-ever remote broadcast of “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee” which took place at Charlie’s (I believe that it was celebrating the 5th year of the show!)

  4. i want to hug you. yay too a man unwilling to spoil a coffee with two squirts of raspberry, i salute you!

    don’t have the heart to get starbucks, albuquerque being such a small town i picture my old waitresses crying when i order my americano anywhere else. i miss houston late nights when i could still smoke most everywhere i grabbed a cup, but gosh do i feel the youngun when people bring up the hay day before conglomerate caffeination of the masses.

    still, i am an adult now. my parents allow me to have my own cup in their house and my definition of hospitality is hearing “we’ll see you when you get here, i’ll start a pot on,” over the phone.

  5. The Kettle was on Spencer, there’s also one on 225.
    I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was about 22 years old. I was living in Pasadena and working at Ford’s Chemicals in what amounted to a big aluminum ice/sweat box. My Mom’s house was on the way to work and on most mornings I would stop by and visit. One particularly cold day, in the interest of keeping warm, I loaded up my Co-Pilot with coffee and laced it heavily with milk and sugar, making it more like cocoa than coffee. Thus began my affair with the dark mistress. I soon graduated to just milk, no sugar then moved on to how I drink it to this day, black and strong. When I started working for Texas Sportcard in Deer Park I fondly remember sipping my coffee while listening to “Wake Up And Smell The Coffee” on my Walkman. I seldom buy retail coffee and usually trust in my handy grinder and french press but I do indulge in a latte on the rare occasion. I try to avoid Starbucks but when I do go there I like to annoy them by using the words “small”, “medium” & “large”.

  6. I too dislike calling a small coffee a ‘TALL’. Don’t visit Starbucks very often, I can do better with my Maxwell House French Roast Decaf. Just use double the recommended dosage.

    Granddad always had a pot on the stove when I was a young kid in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Guess that’s what taught me that if you can see the bottom of the cup it’s too weak.

    Article was a great read….

  7. Great post, Jay!

    My dad used to leave the last half-inch of his coffee in his mug and let me drink the rest. Yeah, probably not sanitary, but it made coffee kind of a father/son bonding ritual.

    Today, I actually have more my mom’s taste in coffee. My dad likes it rather weak, she likes it dark and pushy. That’s my preference, too. When I first discovered Starbucks, which tastes burnt to a lot of people, I thought I’d gone to heaven.

    Now, if only they had free Wi-Fi. Oh wait, if you are using Vista on your notebook, they do!

  8. We go to Java Java now with Henry, they have a very crazy high-chair.

    Two things:

    1. I am glad that you are coming out of the closet as a Starbucks addict. I too am guilty of that, even with my anti-gentrification propoganda reading self, my buy local sticker on my car, and my membership to the Central City Co-op. I’m still hooked on the Starbucks, it is yuppy crack.

    2. I didn’t know you were in the Navy. It all makes sense to me now with your ” yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” demeanor.

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