As I sit in a coffee house in Amman, Jordan, working, I am given to reminisce on my history with such places. A history that goes back 24 years.
In 1994, I was fifteen years old. Lucky kid. The nineties (aka the best decade) were just a less sloppy, less overdosed version of the 60’s (my second favorite decade, at the time).
That year, my mother and step-father had moved me to a rural town, Washington Twp., MI. It was anything but progressive. Limited art classes at the high school and a heaping amounts of sports. Not my scene. My brother also enlisted in the army, so I didn’t have the older sibling to drive me to freedom. He did leave his car, though…
That same year, a close friend, Corinne Elizabeth, had also moved. She, however, moved to a place much more my scene, called Royal Oak. At that time, Detroit was off-limits (too dangerous) for exploration, so Royal Oak and its grungier sister-city, Ferndale, were prime cities in which to experience our teenage years.
Somehow, my amazing uncle, Dennis Ball, helped talk my mom into letting me drive my brothers’ car down to his place. He lived near Corinne. I know the car needed some work, that was the reason I gave for driving it down without my license, but I’m not sure it got any. What it did do was take me to freedom, and to my first coffee house.
Corinne and I get in my brothers’ car (Ford Escort station wagon) and she leads me to a coffee house called Gotham City Café. It’s open 24-hours, which is a dream, as we were all vampires in 1994. There is youthful art on the walls, thrift store furniture, bad coffee. It’s a total dive. The first night we visit, she invites her friend, a guy named Victor. Victor ends up coming home with us on this night. We sleep on the basement floor, in sleeping bags, with the zippers facing each other. In the wee hours, we share my first kiss.
Coffee houses equal love.
Recently, I read an article in “Time – Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health,” entitled A Social Network, by Jeff Pearlman. In this article, Jeff discusses how he discovered “home” in a coffee shop. This concept really rings true for me. Since that first kiss, I haven’t been long away from a coffee shop. Another place comes to mind.
My first regular coffee house experience wasn’t quite a coffee house. It was at a regional restaurant chain which also offered bottomless cups of coffee. The logo is a large boy in red and white checkered overalls who tends to be holding a big burger on a plate, high above his head. Maybe you are familiar. Or maybe you’ve been someplace similar.
From age fifteen to eighteen, you could find me and a group of friends in this chain restaurant many days a week for hours per stretch. We might as well had worked here (and many of us did, eventually). The food was not the reason we were there, though.
It was a place in which we could stretch out, sketch, read, write fantastic poetry, discuss all our deep ideas, mull over our loves and feuds, and just Be. And consume endless amounts of coffee while smoking whatever cigarettes we could get our hands on. Oh how we loved the bottomless cup.
(Coincidentally, I ended up falling in love with the assistant manager, Matt. He was quite older than I, but that didn’t stop me. And, it didn’t stop him from flirting with me.)
There were other restaurants that had open doors, 24-hours a day. These ended up being regular haunts through high school and beyond.
But, coffee houses were evolving, as we were. Down the road from the first coffee house I mentioned (Gotham), a new place had opened, going by the name Xhedos. This would be my third (and fourth) important coffee house experience. Xhedos would play two very different roles in my life. The first experience that had an immense impact on my life was the open mic that was regularly hosted here.
After attending as an observer for a few sessions, my friends, including Cheri Clair, talked me into performing. I’m not sure what I looked or sounded like. It was a sensory overload to be on that stage. My heart pounded, and my eyes wept, and I thought I was dying. But, I didn’t die. I played at least one song. A cover of “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” by Sinéad O’Connor. This started a 12-year love affair with songwriting and performance.
Ten years later, coffee houses or coffee shops were becoming a stronger presence in the area. They were becoming more serious about the product, with a couple local coffee roasters starting to make a name for themselves.
I was working nearby as a line cook when the owner of Xhedos, Caleb, approached me and invited me back to his shop, after hours. He read my birth chart and decided he must hire me. Much schmoozing later, I was Caleb’s employee and managing the kitchen. A close friend and co-worker, Sean, and I would work closing shifts and then spend hours playing on the piano and on the empty stage.
The cafe ended up changing hands, and changing focus. Good times were still had, but I ended up leaving for my first and only tour as a musician. You better believe I was playing coffee houses, coffee shops, cafes.
It is quite accurate to say that coffee shops have changed my life and that I wouldn’t be who I am today without the vital home they offer.
Thomas J. Ameloot is a writer, traveler, business owner, coffee trainer and sensory specialist. He loves to eat everywhere he goes. He travels for work almost all of the time but is happy to call Asheville, NC, home, along with Detroit, MI. He is the current owner of CoLab Cooperative, but is looking to create a true cooperative of this effort.