It was because of the coffee that I knew we were close to New York. And it wasn’t about the type of coffee or the taste – because we’d stopped in yet another Panera off the highway exit ramp offering the same kind of coffee as the last Panera off the exit ramp.
It was how I got my coffee that told me I was near New York. New York City. I’m not talking about the state because there is no discernible difference when you cross state lines. It’s all about the City.
I gave my order to the Panera girl. Double espresso. I waited, expecting as usual to have to repeat the order at least once then to have to wait patiently as she picked out the right button on the cash register then to pay then to wait another three minutes or so while she moved to the espresso machine to carefully slowly tease out the coffee from the machine.
But it wasn’t like that. I ordered and she didn’t ask me to repeat myself. Instead she rang up the order and moved with lightning speed to the espresso machine. She was a little thing and as she moved she called out, “I’ve never made this before,” (try this scenario on anywhere else but New York City and you’ve got at least a ten minute wait for your coffee twiddling your thumbs and biting your tongue while the learning process is somehow carefully and painfully managed) and the manager, a little stocky Italian guy with arms like a hairy gorilla, appeared magically at her side. “It’s easy,” he said. “Just do this that and that,” he told her while pointing at things on the machine. She nodded, did what he said, and he turned to me. “You want it here or to go?,” he asked rapid-fire (it sounded like “youwanhereorgo” and my heart sang. I loved this guy. He spoke my language. “I’m going to take it to go,” (I’mgointotakego) all rapid fire patter between us, and I wanted to hug him from the sheer joy of the dance that got that coffee for me in just about half a minute rather than the three or four deadly, dull, boring minutes it takes ‘outside the city’.
It was because of the coffee I knew I was near New York. It felt great to get coffee in my language. Exultant, even.