Coffee Shop Culture

My dear Captain Leslie Richardson (author of Vagabond Days in Brittany) never mentioned anything about Vagabonds being addicted to coffee. However, he was a British gent and therefore drank copious amounts of tea, therefore I can only assume he was unaware of the existence of coffee. This Vagabond leans more towards the French tradition of slurping dark caffeinated coffee-bean goodness at all hours of the day. I know many of you unenlightened are gasping in horror, and while I do not discriminate on your lack of taste (I kid!) I do not understand those that have never tried coffee. I, myself, have many friends that enjoy the smell of coffee, but are unable to adjust their taste buds to the robust flavor. This just isn’t something to which I can relate for I’ve been imbibing this heavenly ambrosia since I was a little scamp…(insert flashback wavy lines). My father, for some unknown reason, has always been unable to enjoy coffee unless it is piping hot. He would carry his mug around with him in the morning as he got dressed for work, and inevitably about half way through, the coffee would become lukewarm. This was the moment my sister and I waited for all morning; as soon as the delicious liquid reached that point, my father would hand his mug off to us kids. As though we were all part of a strange relay race, my sister would take her fill and at that rapturous moment the mug of now ice-cold coffee would pass off to me (no lie, these are very fond memories). A few years down the road, living in my grandparent’s farmhouse, everyone would gather around the table for the holidays and it was often left to me to make the coffee. I never realized it was for the “grown-ups” and more than once left my poor uncles coffee-less as I made sure to fill my mug first. Then, the fateful day arrived that as a spunky teen I discovered a coffee shop and I was pretty sure that it was better than Disney World (end of flashback wavy lines). Yes, coffee has been the staple of my life, the thing over which I have made new friends, and improved first dates, the thing which relieves my headaches and always elicits a contented sigh. I have yet to find a coffee shop at which I do not feel at home. As soon as I walk in and smell that roast a’brewing I cannot contain my excitement! I love to peruse the menu of assorted tasty goodness and choose the beverage that perfectly fits my mood of the day. Do I want iced or hot? Latte or espresso? Drip or macchiato? Decaf or super charged? If I do end up joining PeaceCorps, one of my greatest fears (aside from getting caught up in some kind of unrest) is that I won’t have access to coffee. I’ve been to three different countries, and in each one I’ve managed to order a cappaccino! There is something about coffee that bridges the gap between cultures. Bringing people together over a cup of joe just signifies that Vagabonds the world over were meant to be coffee drinkers. After all, if we cannot  come together over a beverage, what hope do we have? Yes, coffee is definitely the tool of a traveler. When arriving in any new city, my first goal is to become acquainted with the best coffee shops around. Getting to know the baristas, the soundtrack, and the regulars of your local coffee slinger can give you an introduction to a city that can not be found elsewhere. As a Vagabond in a new city, I’m going out to get caffeinated!

Road Warrior (Part 2)

We awoke sore, still groggy, and quite ravenous. After completing our toilette (fancy huh!) we gathered our things, checked out of the glorious Super 8 (read sarcasm) and climbed back into the car in search of sustenance and an internet connection to re-plot our course. We made it to a Starbucks, since they are so easy to find, and I settled in with some coffee and a croissant to share while we figured out our next move. I had originally planned for us to spend half of the day in Colorado Springs to visit Garden of the Gods, however, I would soon discover that my plans were doomed to fail. With the aid of wi-fi, we confirmed our directions and located a Denny’s and the Garden. As we eagerly walked into the diner I was as giddy as a school girl. Yes, I was hungry, but most importantly I was eager to walk around the Garden and delight in the natural sculptures created by years of wind and rain. We stuffed ourselves like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey while talking over our plans. My companion, far more intelligent than I, mentioned that we had so many more miles to go, and only two more days to cross the last 3 states. It slowly began to dawn on me that I had horrendously miscalculated the time this expedition would take! My hopes of seeing Garden of the Gods were dashed, and my traveling companion, quick to lift my spirits, reminded me that we were still going to drive through the Silver Thread (a scenic highway) and we would get to see it at a wonderful time of day if we acted with haste. So, we climbed back into the car and began our journey anew.

We had such a difficult time getting over each rolling hill, and could only manage going 25 mph due to the weight of the car and trailer, and the ever climbing elevation. After almost over-heating we finally made it to the Silver Thread. We parked the car, so it could cool down and it give us a chance to stretch our legs and enjoy the view.

The temperature began to drop as we marveled at the beauty around us that can never be captured by a lens. After absorbing as much of it as possible, we got back in the car and kept going up and up. Through twist and turns we spotted marvelous mountain views and diaphanous clouds; climbing higher and higher we cheered the car on to reach the peak. Leaning forward, as though it would help, we traveled slowly all the while turning our heads to catch every sight. Suddenly, we were at the top (which strangely had no view) and began the slow journey down into the valley. After fighting the climb for what felt like hours, the car was once again close to over-heating. Luckily, a small snow storm had just begun (right where we stopped to get a picture of the valley), so we donned our jackets and got out for a jaunt in the snow.

After playing around, we were on the road again. It was beautiful, though stressful, as we finally made it all the way down through a small village (very Coal Miner’s Daughter-esque) and started back up and out. It was now dusk, and my traveling companion drove slowly as we passed all kinds of warning signs (some of which were incomprehensible). Just as we began to think we wouldn’t encounter more hardships we spotted some deer. Even slower we continued, but here is something not all of you might know. One can keep from running into deer, but one can not keep deer from running into you. Sure enough, a young buck walked straight into the car as we were passing his small herd. We both saw him just in time to know that a collision was inevitable, so I simply closed my eyes, and hoped that he wouldn’t jump onto the windshield. I heard a loud thump and a resounding crack. With pounding hearts both my companion and myself assured each other that there was no real damage, and it looked like the only thing broken was the side mirror. Continuing on, we once again came close to running out of gas as we made our way through the lonely mountain highways. Luckily (someone was looking after us) we made it to a gas station soon after the warning light came on where the attendant warned us to stay away from the deer. We began laughing riotously and explained that we had already eliminated one. With a kind and knowing smile, he welcomed us to Colorado and wished us a safe journey. On and on we drove, stopping for the night just inside of Utah. From there, we drove on through Salt Lake City, where we once again had to cool down the car. Afterwards, the journey just became an exercise in patience…but finally, right at midnight…we saw the lights of Reno. I was in no hurry to take up the title of Road Warrior any time soon.

Girl Scout Dropout

I’ve camped a lot in my time. Not much as an adult, but enough to know that I generally enjoy a good outing in the wilderness. I suppose something about the great outdoors, the nature, the raw beauty, is attractive to my vagabond nature. I remember going camping with my family when I was a child. Don’t you love how easy it is for kids to go camping?! It’s the parents that do the work, while the little scamps go exploring or swimming or poking things with sticks (not that I ever did that). So, it’s always the memories of camping that seem to be the best, where the whole family is frozen in Pleasantville-like wholesome fun. Camping as a teenager or an adult is a whole different story; it’s not better or worse, just a different experience.

The last time I went on a camping trip as a child, I was there as a slightly older helper to my mother who was acting as a chaperon for a grade school camping trip. Since my mother worked in the school district, I got to be a “counselor” quite often. I never minded; it was like getting to go on extra field trips. I can’t remember why we were camping, I just remember drinking Tang, and braiding the girls’ hair in the morning. Then, we had to hike our way out. Now, to be perfectly honest I’m one hot mama, but I’ve never been what one would call…thin. So I didn’t think hiking would be tons of fun, but oh was I wrong! I led those girls out of camp like a freaking forest ranger(I guess I was born to be a leader)! We had the greatest of times, me joking with them all the way, occasionally dropping to the back to encourage the slowest girl. That was probably the best camping trip I had before reaching adulthood.

A few years ago, I went camping with my good friend Puzzo. Boy, was that a different experience! I had just as much fun, but now that I had to actually set up the tent and build a fire, well the flames weren’t the only thing that flared. Actually, building the tent wasn’t that bad. We pretty much attacked it and made it look like the picture. None of that “connect joint A to joint B” crap for us! Heck no, we were gonna do this on our own. Luckily, we had the tent built and everything inside just in time for a monsoon to hit. We decided to go swimming anyway, since wet is wet. We returned from the lake to find half of our things as wet as we were! Apparently, the tent wasn’t exactly level, and the rain hadn’t let up at all, creating a miniature lake on top of the roof. No worries! We set up a clothes line in the tent and hung things up to dry with the help of the fan (hoping not to get electrocuted). Then, Puzzo straightened the roof from the outside while I pushed on it from the inside. As one might guess, the water dumped all over Puzzo (it happened to me later too), but we both just burst out in laughter. We changed into dry clothes, turned on the radio, and pulled out the drinks and the cards! Later, the rain finally stopped, and then…the cicadas attacked! Jeez, but those things are loud! We stayed up talking late, and eventually dropped off to sleep. Our next adventure was in trying to build a fire. You see, when wood is wet, it doesn’t like to burn. Who’dve thunk? So, it was about 3am the next morning before we got one going. We were so excited, we partied like primitive cave women..dancing around the fire (this had nothing to do with the beverages) and cooking up masses of hotdogs…on sticks! We had a grand old time, but were quite ready to leave by the third day. Ahh yes, camping as an adult is very rarely as magical as when one is a child. But, one day…this vagabond will get the magic back. Happy Camping!

Adventures in Pozole

Attention Vagabond readers! I’m about to blow your mind! Have you ever had Pozole? No? Que lastima! What a shame! Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup comprised of oh so many delicious ingredients! But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me set the scene, an occasion that warmed my heart and uplifted my spirits, and reminded me that I am happy to be doing what I am doing no matter the hardships I encounter. I was invited by a tutor with my program to the birthday party of one of the children of his students. To be honest, I was quite nervous. I hadn’t yet had to speak Spanish very much and was anxious that I would say or do something wrong. I was introduced to the wife and was happy to discover that I had met her before. She and I chatted and we talked with the children (laughing that their 2 year old cried whenever the tutor tried to talk to him). The godparents arrived, and he spoke broken English with the tutor while I chatted in Spanish with the godmother. Eventually, more families came, giving us sideways looks, and we helped set up the tables and chairs. Brad (the tutor) stuck close to his student Federico and the godfather, while I chatted with Maria (Federico’s wife) and the godmother. She kept offering me a taste of the soup, or a drink, or some chips, and gave me a questioning look whenever I declined. (I have discovered that most of our students think it strange if you decline something they offer.) Finally, the godmother told me to go sit next to the men because her husband spoke some English. We chatted, I made fun of Brad (in Spanish which he doesn’t speak) but he got the gist and was happy to be the subject of laughter. In a mix of Spanish and English the godfather told stories that made us laugh in between large spoonfuls of Pozole, which they taught us how to eat. Federico said that Maria was going crazy getting things together for the party and hadn’t sat down, so I went to tell her how wonderful everything was and how delicious the food had been. Brad played with the children while I talked with the godmother. We left the party far sooner than everyone else. I kissed each cheek of the godmother, and told Maria again how wonderful it had been. The godfather thanked me for keeping him company, and as I walked out the of the door, Maria took me by the arm, smiled, and thanked me for being there, but she was so serious that she said it twice. With teary eyes, I gave her a kiss on the cheek and said goodbye to the children, laughing again as the youngest ran away from Brad. I felt the happiest I had felt since moving to Reno. Later, I was told that Pozole was like a traditional chicken soup to us gringos, and that I should feel really cool to have been part of the celebration. This Vagabond was home….

Pozole, is hard to describe. There is a tasty broth, slightly spicy and oily, but that doesn’t make up the soup. The major components are a kind of exploded corn, which I guess is hominy, and pork roast. The soup (which is really a stew) is ladled into a bowl and topped with radish, onion, cabbage, lime juice, and for the brave of heart, chili sauce. It is definitely a meal in and of itself.

Check out this link for a great Pozole recipe:

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/posole_rojo/

Road Warrior (Part 1)

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The day had come, and I was on the road (again….Just can’t wait to get on the road again…sorry, I’m easily distracted.) So, it was 9 in the morning, and my traveling companion and I were beginning what would turn out to be a slightly harrowing journey across 5 states in 3 days. Of course, we were unaware of the hardships to come; the somewhat minor grievances and the laughable frustrations would rear their ugly heads soon enough. I was nervous and excited to leave St. Louis, my home of 9 years. St. Louis, a place where I had learned so much, become a different person and met wonderful people, made an indelible mark on my life and forever changed my path, for better or worse. But I, vagabond that I am, had had the traveler’s itch for quite some time, for 9 years in one place is far too long! Yes, I had started on a new adventure, and I thought we were Road Warriors! To be honest, though, the first 600 miles were extremely…boring. The first 2 states we crossed were Missouri and Kansas, and while Kansas had some beautiful rolling plains to offer, Missouri had absolutely nothing. Let us skip ahead to the dark night. We were still in Kansas and I wanted to stop, but my traveling companion wanted to forge ahead just until we crossed the Colorado state line. With a shrug of my shoulders I continued (not yet having a break in driving, after all, I was a Road Warrior!) and on that note we continued down the next stretch, not realizing that we were leaving civilization behind. While my companion conveniently slept, I kept going down the dark, deserted Hitchcockian highway, my eyes shifting constantly to the ever-dropping gas gauge. With every group of lights, glowing like beacons, my hopes would rise, and for every group of lights, my hopes were dashed by Chernobyl-like factories. Finally, my companion awoke and realized the fix we had found ourselves in. We drove on in silence, our imaginations getting the better of us, until I could drive no further and we stopped to switch places. For the next hour we drove, now just waiting to become stranded. I had to face taking a bathroom break, at 1:30am, in the middle of nowhere. As soon as I stepped out of the car, the wind picked up, twisting me about, and the temperature dropped what felt like 15 degrees…I concluded I was being tested and toyed with, like Hercules was tested by Hera. Finally, I reached the bushes and assumed the position…where the wind promptly knocked me down…twice…but this Road Warrior just looked on it as a funny story to share, and I hurried back to the car to defrost my fingers (and inspect my clothes for dampness). We drove on with bated breath until we finally reached a gas station, which looked as though it came straight out of a zombie film (I love zombie movies) complete with a plethora of seemingly abandoned cars. The wind continued to throw me around, and my fingers could barely move frozen as they were, but the gas tank was full and we drove on, laughing now that the immediate danger was over. Finally I could sleep…just as the rain started. During my slumber, my companion drove through a howling, tornado-like storm complete with impenetrable rain, and now we were facing dense walls of fog. I woke with a start, and gave a shout at the veritable clouds around us. Like a dream, we drove through the haze until we rolled into Colorado Springs at 3:30am. We were exhausted, tense, but quite honestly, thankful to be alive. We stopped at a Super 8 (big mistake), took our things to the room and got ready to sleep. I laid my tired body down on the bed…and it promptly collapsed! We both began to laugh, the kind of laughter that comes from absolute exhaustion.

To be continued…