Tag Archives: Anne Hughes Coffee Room

Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Coffee is for Computing

When I moved out of my parents’ home at age eighteen, I went with a mini Mr. Coffee machine, a cloth coffee filter, and a few chipped mugs and plates. That was about it for kitchen gear, but they were my precious resources. As somebody who’s always felt starved for resources, I clung to these things. I wrapped them in sheets of newspaper and packed them carefully and carted them off with my PC, my clothes, my Bob Dylan records, and the stereo I purchased with my last paycheck at Thrift World.

But it seems I’ve placed emphasis on the wrong set of resources. The most important items in my tangential adult life were my PC and printer. In fact, very few people went to college with computers in those days, and so my PC became a way to create a less tangential life. I was instantly connected to the whole of humanity because I had something others wanted. Despite its importance as a connective tool, I don’t remember that much about it. It was a 286; I remember that much. It had Wordperfect. It had a cardboard strip of the F key codes at the top of the keyboard, which served as a reminder and a help to others who used my computer. However, I had the F codes memorized just as I had the Qwerty memorized. I was a pianist who played only in the key of F.

One day, the girl across the hall demonstrated all the amazing word processor functions on her Apple machine. I was a little awed by the layouts, but I couldn’t force myself to covet what she had. Later, my roommate bought herself an Apple of some kind, as well, which meant that the three of us were a triangulation of technology that most people didn’t yet have at their young adult fingertips, even if their parents owned computers. Maybe owing to my early generosity with my machine, mine was the most sought after. Or perhaps its popularity was simply an inverse to Apple’s unpopularity.

As a misanthrope, I tend to find myself living the paradox of wanting to connect with others and then hating it when I do. Over the course of that school year, the times heralded change. While class registration was still handwritten on slips of papers and turned in–by hand–to the registrar, and while research papers could still be printed neatly on lined paper, most people craved the ease that technology offered. Hence, I had a steady stream of computer friends. I would often enter what should have been the inner sanctum of my room, only to find somebody sitting at my desk, clacking away at my keyboard.

Frustrated, and filled with the angst of the passive-aggressive, I would return to the shared living area of the dorm suite and brew some coffee if I happened to have any left in the paper bag. I didn’t yet understand what good coffee was. No, I take that back. I understood how delightfully bitter-smooth an espresso tasted at Coffee People or Anne Hughes Coffee Room, but the stuff I brewed tasted terrible and was so strong it shimmered with a green layer of oil. But that was fine by me; that was my aesthetic at the time. I would sip my coffee to calm my nerves, maybe eat a packet of noodles, maybe cue the record player to Tangled Up in Blue to drive the Dylan-haters away. Why I couldn’t politely invite these people out of my room is still an unsolved mystery.

When they did exit, carrying their floppies or printed sheets away with them, I would sink in my chair and bask in the glow. I would clean the paper debris, all those side strips with their punched holes, wad them and throw them in the bin. Typing words calmed me. Typing gave me charge of a world where I was invisible and powerless. Pretending for one moment that I was T.S. Eliot waiting to happen, or that Dylan Thomas’ ghost had infiltrated my mind, gave me hope. The combination thereof wrought perfection. The multisyllabic Eliot obfuscations combined with the insanely buoyant Thomas images created a push and pull of turmoil in my steely soul.

Drink the coffee bought from the bin at Thriftway. Drink the whiskey the Physics majors left when they drifted in and out. Type. Type. Force yourself to believe in creativity, that it’s a force your ordered mind can encompass. Fall apart. Fail a test. End the year with a near-perfect GPA. Run away scared. Take your computer with you and pretend you’re a bohemian who basks in the glow of a machine. Jerk espresso. Pour drinks like an automaton. Burn your hand; burn your mind.

Rewind. Some nerd wrecked the 286. I don’t know exactly who did it, why or how, because I was away for the weekend, but from the time of its doom until I married, I wrote poems on slips of paper, not really settled in this truly bohemian method of spilling my thoughts. After I married, I again possessed a computer, an 8088 DOS machine. I remember a little more about the character of this computer because, if I had a day off from the espresso shop, I would stare at it until my eyes hurt, at peace with my Wordperfect and F keys. Yes, it had many annoyances, but I was at peace with them.

At this point, I don’t know what kind of person I’d be without my computers. Currently, I’m working on a tiny netbook with a Linux operating system. I hate to admit it, but I don’t much care as long as I have a machine to work on. I appreciate the neat simplicity of Linux. I appreciate it, and I can’t force myself to care as much about it as I should. My favorite kind of set-up, hands down, is one in which I have multiple screens to work from–no matter the operating system–because who needs tabs or alt-tabs or multiple workstations on one small screen when everything you’re reading and writing can be on its own individual screen? I dream of a wall of screens, or one enormous screen with multiple workstations. In fact, the thought is making my heart race with untamed desire. The need for portability has, sadly, rendered this dream unusable at this time in my life.

So much for poetry, for becoming something I’m not. Somehow, I don’t feel all that sorrowful that I didn’t become a bohemian. Yet, at the same time, I wonder what would have happened if I’d never had the 8088 to replace the 286, or the series of laptops and netbooks that came thereafter. Would my coffee be weaker? Would I still spin Dylan vinyl on a cheap record player? Would my chipped plates still suffice to serve the world I, at one point, wanted to connect with? I don’t know, but I’m sitting with a screen on my lap, and it’s late, and I can already foresee tomorrow morning, when I’ll drag myself from bed, turn on a computer, and make strong coffee. And I’ll hope my life isn’t as tangential as it was yesterday.


Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: The First Awakening

Do you remember your first hit of espresso? For me, this moment occurred in 1991, the year I graduated from high school. My memories of this time in my life are somewhat scattered and kaleidoscopic, and this is mainly due to the intensity of my ruminations throughout my senior year. I thought so deeply about the world I’m surprised my head didn’t explode. But that would have been terrible because, although I made light of myself as a disembodied mind in The News of the Day, I was the essence of disembodied mind at seventeen. I tended to imagine my head rolling along, dragging my body behind it.

In addition to my pretentious habit of reading the dictionary and smattering my stories and personal ditties with multisyllabic words, I also pretended to believe–to the point that I actually believed–I could hold conversations with animals, and most especially birds. At bus stops, I would lower myself to the sidewalk until I was eye to eye with the pigeons, and I would advise them to praise God with their voices because God would listen to them, no matter their smallness and somewhat lowly status in the city of Portland. Unfortunately, the pigeons never obeyed me, and so much for my career as an animal hypnotist. As for the multisyllabic words, they were the effort of a lazy gardener who dropped them in handfuls of seeds, such that they grew in alliterative clusters–meaning, if I was reading through the Cs, all the big words began with C.

My daily travel, that allowed for advising pigeons and reading the dictionary, as well as singing to myself and reading Great Literature, involved the 57 bus from Hillsboro to downtown Portland, where I switched to the Max train. I proceeded to ride the train all the way to 122nd Street, where I switched to the 71 bus, which carried me to Portland Christian High School. After school, I repeated the same tedious process, although my thirst for adventure often led me to take another bus [the other bus stop was all the way across the street!] to a different Max train station. Also, in my quest for independence, I often exited the train in downtown and failed to catch the first bus back, instead, opting to slip to Powell’s Books on Burnside. Other downtown stops included Pioneer Square–for people watching–and the library, which is an old, building with stairs that lead up and up and up!

But, this time, Powell’s Books is the crux of my awakening, and not because I discovered scandalous, spiritual, or enlightening literature deliciously awaiting me on the packed and dusty shelves. I didn’t devour books. Because of that, delicious doesn’t count as an adjective. I did read multiple books without buying them, though. I would crack their covers and read a new chapter or a new essay. I read through most of Annie Dillard’s books that way, but if you happen on Annie, tell her not to worry because I bought most of her books later, when I had money to spend.

As anti-climactic as this may sound, my awakening occurred in Anne Hughes Coffee Room. Did I ever tell you I had a brother? That’s odd, because I don’t. I have a red-haired sister. She’s beautiful and kind and wears a lot of freckles, but she’s no brother. Rather, she has that thing that redheaded girls possess, that near fatal allure to the opposite sex, and the lovelorn boy of the moment rented a room in my parents’ house. And he–no great surprise–treated me as his little sister.

Yes, he was my brother of the year. His name was Rue, and he was a young biologist who played the guitar, drew exacting symmetrical patterns, and counted spotted owls. He was a San Franciscan and brought his San Franciscan ways to Portland, including his propensity to drink expensive micro-brewed beers. Most important to my life, however, was his taste for gourmet coffee and espresso.

On a lark, one day, he attended my high school as a guest. He took the bus-train-bus with me, bringing his guitar in its battered case for good measure. In photography class, I took portraits of him in his pill box, Guatemalan fabric hat while he sat in a chair strumming his guitar. After school, from what I remember of my memory grab-bag, we hiked over to Powell’s on Burnside. The Powell’s trip may have landed on a different day, but for the sake of my reckoning, allow it to rest on this late spring afternoon.

We carried our respective magazines and newspapers and books we had no intention of buying into the cluttered backroom once known as Anne Hughes Coffee Room*. The coffee room contained a throwback, earthy atmosphere that in no way resembles a modern Starbucks. It was earthy in its essence of old wood counters and deep coffee smell, dust and newspaper fragrance, leather and wool-wearing customer odor. Rue offered to buy me a drink, so I casually said I would like an espresso, in the same way a novice drinker might sidle up to a whiskey bar and ask for a shot of Jack while attempting to maintain the aura of hardened-by-life expertise.

And so began my life of espresso drinking. I don’t know how to explain my instant love for the concentrated, bitter-rich coffee with golden crema on top. It simply happened. I drank a double shot, and suddenly my mind buzzed with an unknown silence. Even Rue was taken aback by my non-jittery state of being, so unusual for me. In that space of Powell’s, filled with the leather-shoed and wool-jacketed people crouched over their mugs and papers, my mind connected with my body, and the rapid movement of my thoughts stilled.

I sat upright, and I don’t know what ideas I conjured while I watched the windows turn black against the night. I knew that I knew nothing. I knew that my ideas were as blank as the windows. And I still know nothing, even as the New Mexico dusk fills the air, and the lights of the distant city stretch across the horizon. I’m far away from Portland. That’s what I know.

*I’ve bought many books at Powell’s over the years–just in case the bookstore police come after me. Also, I have no idea what Anne Hughes Coffee Room looks like these days, or if it still exists.