There was a considerable walk from the parking garage into the main city. The other lots in town all showed full in the app on Joe’s phone. He had planned to go to a friend’s gallery opening later that day and since it was last minute the lots were all full for the day. Any other time he would have pre-ordered his parking spot from his phone a day or two before. Since this placed him in town two hours before the event he thought it would be nice to go to a few shops along the way.
Joe was met with an uphill climb from his parking garage towards the eastern city borough. Since he was dressed for an art gallery show and not a three mile hike, he had worn his thinner shoes which caused the bones of his feet to feel every pebble along the sidewalk. Not only that, but a stout wind was making his climb all the more difficult. Pushing against the cold air as he walked the icy breeze cut into his face, burning his cheeks. Had he checked the weather beforehand he would have brought a scarf or gloves at the very least. Joe wore an old double breasted pea coat that without the wind would have kept him plenty warm. The cold crept around his bare neck despite the upturned collar, and into the cuffs of his sleeves, forcing his hands into his pockets.
Cutting around a small forest of inappropriately planted trees along the sidewalk, he could see the first stop he planned to make for the day. The mom and pop coffee shop, a relic from days ago that still managed to stay in business. Joe thought it was likely the place was a front for some illegal operation, as some independent shops were.
He didn’t’ care, they had good coffee and it wasn’t $10 a cup. Making a hard left through the glass doors of the old building his face greeted by the delightful change in temperature. Warm air wrapped around him and through the open areas of his jacket.
An old man called out to him from the counter, “Hey there Joe, what will ya have?” He asked, greeting him. Joe walked up to the front counter and looked over the handwritten chalkboards. Another sign of a shady business, no digital menus meant no online records of prices or anything else for that matter. He looked the menu over, the usual seasonal garbage of spiced coffees and drinks that were mostly milk and syrup. The ingredients not fully labeled save for a very dodgy calorie count, told him they were also stuffed with illegal levels of sugar. He looked down the list and found what he was hoping for, the seasonal blend of coffee from a Rwandan co-op he could read but not pronounce properly. Much of the modern coffee was grown hydroponically and really needed the syrups and milk to make it drinkable.
“I’ll have the Aba with a splash of cream, Mr. Moretti.” Joe said. Mr. Moretti nodded to him and said it would take a minute to get the kettle going as nearly everyone that morning had been getting the cheap stuff. Joe thanked him and made is way to the two long communal bench tables. Given it was only ten in the morning, not always a busy time for a coffee shop, there were still regulars seated in their favorite sections. People who had nothing better to do than sit there all day, he figured. Joe never talked to them or asked why they were there, they were just always there, like the old books on the bookshelf, dusty untouched board games – pieces mostly missing, and the ever rotating group of paintings on the walls. These paintings were done by local artists or students and always came accompanied with their tiny mission statements at the bottom, text too small to read, that explained the random splashes of color or reason for having spent a week painting a picture of a shoe.
Joe liked to sit under the window so he could see and write in his journal. Many people kept them given the privacy of having something that wasn’t online, but required a handful of classes on handwriting to make it legible. Typing classes started in the second grade and most people put their children in summer programs to learn to write by hand, right along with swimming lessons and violin practice. He sat down at the glossy wooden bench and waited for the hostess to bring him his coffee. Before he could open his notebook he watched as another young man entered the shop. Dressed in a short cuffed satin jacket, covered in patches from at least three dozen popular TV shows and cartoons all of which looked incredibly expensive. Despite this jacket of many patches he was dressed in cheap jeans that were a few sizes too short, exposing his dirty white socks and worn leather shoes. His light brown hair was long but no care was taken to brush or wash it, leaving it wet looking with grease and completely mangled. What struck Joe as odd was how clean shaven he was, despite clearly not having bathed or showered in some time. He seemed to be having a small debate with Mr. Moretti at the counter but after a few shakes of the head and a nod, he pointed at an item on the menu.
After the young man finished ordering he walked towards the two long tables. Joe watched as he walked closer and closer to him, despite there being several feet of open space to sit he sat down on the opposite side of the table from him. There were two elderly ladies seated further towards the front of the cafe which were having the most thrilling conversation about strawberry preserves Joe hoped this guy would also be interested in. The second table had three older men at it, all spaced out for their own personal comfort, as was the etiquette in a coffee shop. If someone was already at the table you moved down to give them space or sat a little further away if they weren’t a friend. Unfortunately this guy appeared to make a beeline to where Joe was sitting. The young man greeted him, his name was Torvis, a name which Joe assumed he made up or was using from the many children’s cartoon characters on his jacket. Joe winced at the smell of him as he sat down. Not the smell he expected of an unwashed person but the clear odor of cat dander and urine. Joe coughed into his fist and shifted further down the bench.
Torvis looked over at Joe and began to complain about the lack of matcha options on the menu. Joe nodded and continued his note taking in his journal. “It’s 2043, who doesn’t carry Ibuki Matcha in their tea shops?” Torvis asked.
Joe tried again to ignore him but it was clear the question was intended to be answered as they were the only two at the table and in such close proximity. He shrugged, “Well it is a coffee shop.”
Torvis made a flippant gesture with his hands, “It’s just so uncultured, you know, in Japan…” He rattled off for several minutes about his trip to the country a few months ago and how much better nearly every aspect of life was there in comparison. Joe didn’t believe he had traveled much further than his mother’s apartment. Before Torvis could make it to his seemingly made up story about dating a woman he met at a ramen shop their drinks arrived. The waitress was the daughter of Mr. Moretti, about Joe’s age she was one of the reasons he liked coming to this place. She was a good waitress, not putting on the fake act most others did in order to appear overly excited or happy to see you. Her name was Alice and had long black wavy hair which she kept in a thick braid while working. Alice once told him she was named after the little girl from Alice in Wonderland because it was her father’s favorite movie as a kid. Joe only responded in saying the name suited her, keeping the fact that Lewis Carroll had written the book to impress a pre-teen girl to himself. Alice placed a large tray down on the table which contained both Joe’s single cup of coffee and a porcelain menagerie intended for what appeared to be Torvis’ tea. Joe thanked her for the cup and Torvis looked up at her with piercing eyes as she carefully moved a teapot, cup, saucer, spoon, bowl of sugar, and finally a fancy brown paper tea bag.
Watching Torvis react to her bringing him his tea make Joe realize she was the reason he was there too. Joe thanked Alice out loud and tapped the tip button on his watch in order to distract his overtly rude staring, the payment for the coffee being automatically deducted when he walked in via wifi sensors. The shop also took cash if you were low on Bits and you had your automatic payments turned off, hence the older crowd it attracted who generally distrusted the use of such technology. Torvis thanked Alice as well and smiled at her as he watched her walk away. The moment she was gone he looked down at his tea in disgust. He dropped the bag of dry shredded tea leaves into the pot to let it steep. “I was hoping the tea would be fresher than this, but for $8 I really can’t complain.” Joe nodded to him and took a slow sip of his own coffee. Alice knew he liked it just drinkable and would wait to bring it to him when it wasn’t boiling hot. He wasn’t going to mention that to old cat-pee-Torivs and tried to enjoy his drink while he could.
More people were starting to enter the coffee shop ordering basic coffees to-go which was easy at the self service area along the opposite wall of the tables. One could walk in grab a to-go cup and pump one of three types of coffee, add their own syrup, cream, or sugar slap a lid on it and walk out. The automatic draft functions on their phones would take care of the rest. Stealing wasn’t really a thing anymore with sensors capturing your physical signature and billing you after the fact should your account be empty or the signal corrupt. The interior of the coffee shop was just an act of kindness on the owners part to maintain a vintage style cafe. Joe continued to write in his journal as Torvis dipped the tea bag up and down in the pot before the alarm on his phone went off. He pulled it out, placing it on the small saucer. Torvis then took his phone and pointed it at the tea, “I should have known, 180 degrees, I should have checked before putting it in here.” He said, scoffing at the number. Joe pointed out again that it was just a coffee shop. Torvis took a sip and winced, yet continued to drink it. Joe figured the tea was fine and the guy was just exaggerating to be contrary. “What kind of notebook is that? Torvis asked him. Joe flipped the cover over to look, as he had bought it online from a no-name paper shop.
“Um, it says Cornflower Paperage.”
Torvis nodded, as though he knew what that meant. “You should try the Japanese papers, they are so much better for writing with and the ink doesn’t bleed.”
Joe took a sip from his coffee, “The Japanese paper is $200 a notebook. No-name paper from Montana will have to do.”
Torvis nodded again, taking a long sip of his tea, “What kind of pen is that?” He asked.
Joe had to stop what he was writing again to answer, this guy was starting to get on his nerves. He looked at his hand to read the wording on it, “Um, I don’t know, bud, it came with the notebook. Look, I’m trying to get some notes done before I have to go.”
Torvis backpedaled, “Gomen! I was merely attempting some light conversation.” He said.
The use of Japanese by this clearly-not-Japanese kid made Joe wince. He took another sip of his coffee and sat it down. “Ok then, what pen do you recomend?” Joe asked, knowing that he was going to burst if he didn’t tell him about some Japanese pen.
“Oh!” Torvis lit up, “Only the best pens are made by the Japanese, you should get a Pilot Falcon. Did you know that Neil Gaiman used to use them to write with?”
Joe had heard the name but couldn’t place who it was. He glanced over at his phone which had pulled up an ad for the pen. It was priced at nearly $1000. “Oh sure, I’ll just go grab one of those on the way home then, since you say it is so nice.”
This caught Torvis off guard. “Why yes, they are made of Japanese steel. The best steel of course.”
Joe smiled at him and finished his coffee. He picked up his notebook and put it in his jacket pocket, preparing to head out to his friends gallery event. “Of course.” he said, and walked to the entrance of the cafe. Before leaving he went over to the baked goods cabinet and pulled out a boxed banana nut muffin. Mr. Moretti waved goodbye to him as he exited the manual glass doors. The change in temperature cleared his head of Torvis and his ruined note taking session. His coffee now keeping him warm in the frigid wind and cold he continued onward towards the art gallery a few blocks north. In the distance he could see one of his friends waving at him to hurry along.