2-14 The Coffee Song“The Cofee Song” by the power trio “Cream”.
There is a song that was originally supposed to go on the LP “Fresh Cream” by . . . well . . . Cream, that always gave me a melancholy but hopeful sort of feeling. The song, simply “The Coffee Song” is a tale – an actual story – about a message in the corner booth at some unknown cafe at a railroad station. The sort-of hook says:
We sat here together just to pass time. You said how the coffee tasted so fine.
So, I didn’t have the horrible pangs of regret that the song portrays. I have to say, it’s one of the few moments during that portion of my life where I didn’t screw things up so badly. I honestly, up until that point, would have been the guy who had that conversation, sat all night in the corner booth and maybe even have been personable and enjoyable. What I would have done then, though, is analyzed the situation to death and actually messed it all up.
What I don’t think people realize is that Andrea and I didn’t start out in the whole “love at first sight” kind of relationship. We actually weren’t that friendly at all. I can say, without embarrassment and with complete confidence that from my perspective I figured she was the typical California girl. She was blonde, extremely attractive, wanted to be an anchor, wanted attention and I acted like there’s no way either of us could possibly like each other. But given what you now know about me – how I was a geeky, shy, quiet to the point of unlikable guy – I really was infatuated with her and knew full well that she wouldn’t give me a second glance, and it ticked me off. A lot.
I remember the day that changed, though. We were covering some community meeting together. She was reporting, I was her photographer for the story. We were stuck in a community room in Council Bluffs, Iowa, waiting for the rest of the people to come into the room. The meeting, as was inevitable in Iowa politics, was late even getting started. We were all hungry and the only food was a small vending machine in the hallway. They wanted, at the time, fifty cents for a Hershey bar. I made some grumpy (me? grumpy?) comment about how expensive it was and to my astonishment she agreed!
“You know, I remember when these were a dime,” I said quietly to myself.
“Hershey bars. They used to be a dime. I was really little, probably 7 or 8, and my Mom used to give me a buck or two to go to Shellhammer’s grocery down the street from our house. I’d get the loaves of bread she wanted with it and there was always ten cents left from the bread and I’d buy a Hershey bar with it. I’d get about halfway home with the box of bread, sit on the curb, open the candy bar, and eat it before heading the rest of the way home.”
Andrea had an annoyed look on her face. (I remember this. You can look at the screen incredulously all you want, but friends will tell you I have an amazing brain for the most ridiculous of miscellany.) She shook her head, and just said:
“You’re crazy. A Hershey bar was never ten cents. As long as I can remember, NO candy bar was ever ten cents.”
“It was in O’Neill, Nebraska.”
That was the key, believe it or not. My hometown.
“You’re from O’Neill?”
I honestly had no idea why being from O’Neill could ever have connected with this girl. She was from California. She was a blonde, liberal, hard partying, well endowed, beautiful girl. There’s no way she could know about O’Neill.
Here’s where you need to know something. At it’s peak, or the peak of my life there, O’Neill’s largest population was probably 3,700 people at most. It existed and was well traveled because US Highways 281 and 20 met in the town. It was a crossroads for campers, travelers and shipping for the Northern part of the state. But if you’re from California and don’t have relatives in O’Neill, your only indication that O’Neill was even there was if something tragic happened or a tornado touched down.
“My best friend is from O’Neill.” I continued to look at her. I knew a lot of people, but for someone like her I doubted I’d have moved in the same circles. But she mentioned who it was and I was stammering.
“Yeah. I know her. I went to High School with her, as a matter of fact.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this. It was a particular moment, a fixed point in time that you can actually feel the changes as they happen. The room got immediately smaller. We were talking about our mutual friend/acquaintance. I saw this woman in a new light. My whole attitude was shifted. In fact, I forgot all my preconceived notions about who she was. The thought that she’d look at me with disdain or even a tinge of disgust just disappeared. She was looking at ME differently, too. I could tell.
“I have to know more about her (Andrea’s best friend) from when she was a kid. Are you working late? I am going out with a bunch of friends tonight . . . ” . . . which was the line I’d been waiting for. Start to ask if I want to hang out then find a reason to drop me . . . “. . . but can we have coffee after work? You can meet all of us!”
I wasn’t doing anything. Well, wait, that’s not true. I DO remember that I was supposed to rehearse with the cover band I’d joined. Let’s face it, though. I could hang out with a bunch of stoned-out, too-loud, ’80’s-obsessed musicians who walked around in the hazy fog smelling of ditch weed or I could hang out with a beautiful, blonde, funny girl.
Ummm . . . yeah. I’m a musician, but I have my priorities.
We met at a place called “M’s Pub” in Omaha’s “Old Market” area. (It’s still there, by the way. If you’re in the mood, get their linguine with pesto and grilled chicken.) We were only supposed to have coffee. I couldn’t resist, I ordered a piece of flourless chocolate torte that had a vanilla sauce of some sort. It was amazing, went with the coffee and it was rich beyond my wildest imagination.
“I can’t eat this all, you want a bite?”
She apparently couldn’t resist, either, because she had a bite . . . or 3. We drank our coffee and talked about her best friend. I went to school with her, got closer to her through Andrea as well, and had an amazingly wonderful, friendly evening. Her mother had lived in O’Neill during WWII as her father fought in the war…just down the street from my Grandma. She wasn’t cold or off-putting, she was talking to me like she’d known me for a long time. She told me she had relatives in Norfolk, a town on the way to O’Neill, even asked if I could drive her there over the holidays. She hated driving alone. I’m not an idiot, of course I agreed, but that’s another story, and I thought she’d forget.
We didn’t have a date. There were other people there. We had coffee. We talked. We laughed. It was the first time I’d been anywhere with people and a beautiful girl singled ME out. She looked at me and we acted like we were the only people in the room. Her friends were leaving, pulling at her, telling her she had to go. She was halfway out the door as I stood up to pay the check. It had been an amazing, fun night, but I figured this was how it would end, with me alone again.
Then I turned around and she was running up to me.
“Thanks for the coffee. This was fun! You should come out with us again!”
She gave me a big hug.
She’d really been sort of aggravated and annoyed that we were working together and dealing with me, but part of that, I know now, was that I hadn’t made myself anywhere near pleasant to her, either.
It’s not in my lexicon of first dates because . . . well that was months, maybe even a year before we actually went out.
But then the Cream song came on my Spotify account and it threw that memory back into my memory synapses. For us, the lyric was really true.
We sat here together just to pass time.
I marvel at how this almost became the melancholy story, the crazy “what if” moment for both of us.
But never before had the coffee tasted so fine.