The Mission

A friend suggested we meet at a newish coffee shop. Their beans are goose pimple good I was assured. Vancouver being Vancouver, life being life, kittens being little cats, we didn’t meet up.

Curious, and as more of a no go than an aficionado when it comes to the exotic roast, I decided to give it a whirl on my own and add the extra steps to my imaginary pedometer (the real one munches too much phone data and pegs me as an athlete when in fact I'm on the bus). 

Vancouver coffee skewers bitter. It's not just the decaf (yes, caffeine days are allowed for experimental whims), it’s a complaint I've heard from outsiders for years. So much so, I've given up being defensive seeking the perfect indie coffee house for visitors and now send them to mega Canadian donut chain Tim Hortons.

Tim's may have dispensed with the idea of doing anything cool with lighting, but they do profess to know good coffee. For hipsters, let's call it rustic pour over, for the rest of us who remember a world pre-Starbucks (1997 England), filter coffee.

New Place coffee was bitter — in a good bitter Vancouver way I related to my friend later. Smooth for sure… and bitter. But hey, I only drink decaf, so what do I know.

Bitter extended beyond the coffee to atmosphere. Not a little bit of attitude, but Snow Queen Ice Palace minus 273 degrees Kelvin take that Matt Damon on Mars attitude (that movie wasn’t very realistic btw, Matt should have been able to see at least a dozen Ikeas from Mars).

My eyes were frost bitten before I uttered a word.

Despite copious mirrors at home reflecting my every sense of self, I had forgotten how I looked. And whilst the last eight months of injury woes has left me resembling a sack of potatoes, I'm convinced my face wasn't covered in welts.

It doesn't help either when customers have ear buds fit snug into their external acoustic meatus and their faces deep into what-nots. What else are staff going to do but talk to each other and pass judgment on the sack walking through the door?

Still, it’s one step above London where Café Nero offers up real Italian coffee served by actual rude Italians.

Determination surged. I vowed not to let another coffee shop go down. How many more coffee shops must become silent offices? If I had to work in such an office I would have "left" work years earlier before I did.

People will talk I tell you, they’re not food, they’re humans.

If I could elongate my body I would dress full French mime artist and mime across the glass fronts of Vancouver coffee houses to see if anyone would notice (and not call 911).

But first, I plan to walk the streets and go to restaurants with a 42” TV, pretend to take pictures, and talk to it.

I leave the coffee shop with a myriad of thoughts and this determination not to be beat in the ice palace. All is not lost Frodo Baggins, I tell myself.

There was a chink of light. When I spoke I noticed a change, a possible thaw, and cheekily went thick with the Brit accent – you should have heard me say, quoi-sant (croissant). I kept a straight face.

Four weeks later, I’m off for the third coffee encounter and can’t remember the visit in between (probably because it was reminiscent of several bad high school experiences rolled into one).

It was a pleasant afternoon; spring in the air, sampling heather honey baklava, exchanging greetings with a woman in tight pink pants and a pair of ice skates slung over her bare shoulders. It was fifty-five degrees out.

If that didn’t rock the old man amble, then a woman wailing something unintelligible to a large fluffy toy dog in her arms did.

The wailing was loud, constant, distressing, and by the looks of everyone she passed, funny.

Us humans do this when we can’t place an oddity in our experience, especially when it’s too big to bash with a shoe.

From behind the woman appeared topless with faux-fur piping around her neck, pushing a cart with a fan wheel in pride colours placed with precision. It was quite a feat of multi-tasking.

I approached the coffee shop half-smiling to the jaw-dropping reactions on patios while contemplating states of distress, how we can function in them, and how asking this woman if she was okay would seem idiotic.

When our city finally converts to being an extension of the 90210 zip code, where will people go?

Granted, if it’s down to pushing a cart it won’t make a difference if you’re on marble or piss-ridden sidewalks, but how and where will the rest of us learn to fail if we’re not wearing Gucci shoes? What will happen to our stories?

Ta-Dah is an album by the Scissor Sisters. And can best describe what happened next.

I entered the Ice Palace to discover it had become the Seven Dwarves Cottage. Warmth exuded across the counter.

Playtime. Gaps appeared between words. I pointed to the medium cup size, but forgot to say what I wanted in the cup.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… that I ordered caffeinated.

We entered into light, mutual self-deprecating territory, topped off with finicky. Finicky, what a great word. Neurons were firing, inspiration taking hold.


When has someone ever used that word while taking a coffee order?

The best part? 

Leaving the coffee shop and realizing for all my determination and perseverance, the change had nothing to do with me. The decaf was bitter as ever, but the non-curly quoi-sant flaky and delicious.