Denver Café Chronicles—Joe Maxx Coffee Company

Mission: Every week I will visit a new café/coffee shop in Denver. The daunting part of this plan is that I intend to write, blog, at each one. My idea is to have 2 segments. The first part, “the fact,” of the blog will be my experience at the café, a review if you will, how I’m feeling, what I see, etc… The second part, “the fiction,” will consist of a fictional story that I come up with while at the café. I’ll be grabbing onto my surroundings, the vibes, and my feelings to inspire a short story.
the fact

The Santa Fe art district is looking fresh. Despite the dirty snow piled up on the side street parking spots, this Sunday morning is pretty, cold, and bright. Walking into the Joe Maxx Coffee Company I push onto the right side of the door, no budge. A quick sweat of panic sweeps over me as I think to myself, “dammit Emily, you didn’t check to make sure they are open today.” I pause for a moment then push onto the left side of the door and it sways open. I’m definitely one of those people who acknowledge my awkward moments, but alas, no one was around to hear my ramblings. It’s pretty empty in this coffee shop this morning, with the exception of a table of middle-aged women loudly talking amongst each other.

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Before I grab a drink, I head to the back of the shop to have a look around. It’s small, and the windows are shaded from the bright morning. The walls and floors are dark brown, and there are old rugs under each table. I choose a spot in the back corner on a couch that you would find at your friend’s grandparent’s house. I take off my coat and oversized blanket of a scarf and place them onto the couch. I go up to the front and take a moment to look over the menu. There are specialty coffee items on the menu like a White and Dirty, Spiked Lemonade, and an Affogato which is a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned with a fresh hot shot of espresso. So tempted to order this ice cream based drink, I decide it’s too early for dessert, so I order the Kolache Latte which is a hazelnut latte topped with honey, whipped cream, and pecans—perfectly on the brink of desert. I ask the barista if I said it right, to which another barista standing near him corrects my pronunciation. I also order a slice of pumpkin bread. When he hands it to me he says “this is a massive piece of pumpkin bread.”

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“Oh, awesome.” I excitedly reply. And it was in fact, a massive piece of moist pumpkin deliciousness piled onto a small glass white plate. While the milk for my Kolache Latte is being warmed and foamed, I look around at some of the funky art hanging on the brick walls. Music is being played, I’m assuming, from the plugged-in iPod laying on an old turntable. The barista calls out my coffee drink, and I go back up to retrieve my gooey looking over whipped cream drink in a to-go cup. Hurriedly, I head back to my spot and place my drink and pumpkin bread on the coffee table in front of the couch. I marvel for a moment at the toppings on my hazelnut latte. I’m also definitely the kind of person that has to eat all of the whipped cream off my drinks before I do anything else. I think it’s ridiculous letting it pathetically melt into your hot beverage without enjoying the creaminess of its intended state. 

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So, here I am, slurping up the honey-topped whipped cream, which is making my lips gooey and messy, and I couldn’t be happier. I lick my lips of the thick honey, and resume scooping the rest of the whipped cream off the top with the fork I’m using for my pumpkin bread. When I finally finish off all the good stuff my drink is down to half full. I dive into my bread and eat about half of it while I look around the shop noticing how every corner is being utilized for something—decoration or purpose. The corner directly in front of me to the left has a small old wooden TV table with one of those old black and white TVs that have two knobs for changing channels and an antenna. “Cool,” I think as I shove a giant piece of bread into my mouth. I don’t even mind that the bathrooms are across from me. The “all gender restrooms” are hip with art, white bath tiles, and uneven brick walls. I even stand up and walk over into one of them to check it out. “Cool,” I say out loud this time. The one thing I always remember when I check out a new restaurant or business—the bathrooms, if they’re worthy. I’m all about cool bathrooms.

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While I’m up I continue to walk around the small space of the back of the coffee shop. There’s an old piano with a bench covered in itchy looking fabric. Where sheets of music are meant to be, there are business cards placed along the ledge. I almost pick up one of a woman who connects to spirits, but then decide there are no spirits I need to reach out to, so I leave it for someone who really needs her services. I do, however, pick up a business card of a woman who claims to be able to “facilitate my self-healing” and also a card from the Colorado Ballet where their slogan on the bottom of the card is “Drink Beer, Dance, Conquer.” Smiling as I take my new finds back to my area, I sink down into the couch and pull out my laptop.

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the fiction

Billy laid his forearms on the sticky wood glazed bar of the dark dance hall. A Johnny Cash album played quietly from the turntable in the corner. Despite the warm bright morning, the hall was dark and cold. Before his first dance class, Billy liked to get to work early and have a bourbon at the bar. He’d been leading dance classes for 20 years, and just two years ago he bought this place from an old man whose wife had just passed. The old man was happy to hear Billy’s plans for the place. “Babe loved to dance. She would be happy to see this dump of a bar used for dancing.” Billy remembers the old man saying this, looking off into the distance for a good 30 seconds, and then handed Billy the keys saying, “Good luck, son.”

It took Billy three months to convert the old bar into a dance hall. He put in new wood flooring and painted the brick walls a deep red color. He put in a wall of mirrors across from the bar.  He left the old bar there, he liked it. Even though he couldn’t sell booze, he kept a stash of nice bourbon under the counter and would often drink either by himself or with some of his regular patrons after the late classes.

This morning was no different from any other morning. Billy offered morning classes every weekday starting at 10 AM. The people who attended the morning classes were mostly of the older crowd, and his favorite. They would come in loud, always laughing about some conversation they all had while walking together to the hall. Someone would bring in pastries or biscuits, and Billy supplied them with coffee. They would all sit around the bar and have a cup of coffee before they would start. They never got to the actual dancing until 10:30. He would pour the first cup of coffee as they were stepping into the door promptly at 10, and set down a new full cup at each seat of the bar. Each of them greeting him with either a loud “Billy!,” or a nod and a “mornin, Bill.” There was a good mix of men and women, most of them single. All were friends, and all met at Billy’s Hall.

For the morning classes, Billy changed up the dance every week. These people came here for the social aspect of the hall rather than the actual dance, so they didn’t mind the inconsistency of the dances. They actually seemed to enjoy learning new dances, laughing together as they misstepped. Today Billy was teaching swing dance, one that he’d done many times with this morning group.

This morning’s topic of conversation was about the new neighborhood community garden being built a block over. They were all talking about the plots they had already bought, and what they planned on planting in them. As each of them talked about the vegetable or flower they were planning on growing, everyone chimed in with what they would do with the plant—going on tangents on each topic.

“Oh, my grandkids LOVE watermelon, I’m going to grow that too!”

“Ooo I’ll bring in some homemade tomatillo salsa every week. Who likes spicy?”

“My father used to make the best fried green tomatoes…”

Almost in an uproar of volume, the group would excitedly chime in with responses.

Billy sat at the end of the bar, sitting on his stool behind the bar sipping on his black coffee. Smiling, he listened to each person’s response and offered his own comical spats. The sound of coffee cups hitting the heavy wood bar, the rusted stools swiveling, and the clammer of the group gave Billy’s Hall a character that he never expected but, now, oh so appreciated. Billy enjoyed what this group made this place out to be.

He looked down at his watch. “Alright, people, 10:30,” Billy spoke loudly over everyone. In almost a single sweep everyone was out of their chairs, coffee cups left on the bar.

Hot Tamale

She sat there, staring at her newly painted wall. This color made her feel good, happy. The boldness of the color made her feel strong. Despite the murmurs from her mother about how it’s “too much,” she smiled, happy with her decision.

She got up from her bed, the wood floors were cool, the air heavy. Summer nights in this house were hot and humid. Old windows allowed little air flow. Only a breeze of chilled air whooshed out from her mother’s bedroom. The window air conditioning unit made the air smell cold.

Tired, she turned into the bathroom. It smelled of toothpaste and bathwater. The bath mat was damp on the ground. Her hair felt the humidity. She looked in the faded mirror, and splashed her face with cold water. It felt good, so she did it again. Eye closed, she grabbed for the towel hanging beside the sink—water dripped off her face onto the floor. She held the towel to her face for awhile, rubbed her eyes with it, and hung it back up. Her reflection showed a red spotty girl. Eyes puffy, skin shiny, she was ready for some sleep. Exhaling, she removed her contacts, a ritual that had become an annoying habitual bed time routine.

She walked back into her “hot tamale” red room. The room glowed like a quiet candle. Eyes blurry, she spotted the outline of her glasses on the dresser. Placing them on her dewy face, everything came into focus. Her room felt new. Now, opportunity is not a characteristic typically offered from a tiny cramped bedroom, but indeed, that is what she felt from it. The color. The god damn crazy hot tamale color—it was what she wanted. In that moment and in every moment after that she loved that color. 

She turned around and flicked the light switch off. She stood there for several seconds in the dark. Letting her eye adjust, she felt her way to her bed. Feeling the coolness of the sheets, she threw the covers to the floor. Throwing both legs onto the bed at once, she exhaled, laid her head back, and closed her eyes. For once, in a long time, she immediately drifted off into a dream. She could feel herself sinking into her bed, her pillow, as she drifted further. Darkness took over the colors of her awake mind. But soon new colors emerged as her reality slept.

The girl who wakes up

Once there was this girl. She sat up all night because her mind would not stop minding. Minding about what, she didn’t even know. But, she knew enough to know it felt good. Good to be there. Right there.

Zooming and looming, her thoughts laid across her face. Sprawled in carelessness. Who is to judge her, she didn’t care.

Wild, she felt. Uneasy, she felt. Electric, she felt.

Steadily, she will eventually fall into sleep. Content with her last thought; enough to let herself go. Just for the moments where she can lightly dance on top of her reality.

The morning chiming hums her to life. She gets up, and heavily walks to open her door. The outside breeze wraps around her. Her warm, safe, and lonely ebode gets wooshed up and twirled around.

 

From the Storyteller’s Daughter

You taught me to laugh with life. You taught me silliness. You taught me to have big goals. You taught me to live purposefully. You taught me that being me is exactly how I should be. You taught me that I deserve the best, and nothing less than a King.

You taught me all this with more than just your words, but with your actions–how you live your life.  I learned from watching you. Watching you be kind and helpful. Watching you take on projects bigger than yourself and thrive. Watching you make a positive impact on your community as well as everyone you meet. Watching you teach. Watching you be a father. Watching you is an inspiration.

You choose to live your life full of color. Not many people can truly say that for themselves. To me, you always go above and beyond. You are the best of the best in my eyes.

You are a storyteller. At home, in class, and on stage. Your stories are personal and told with awesome gusto. It’s always like the first time you’re telling it. Watching you speak is thoroughly enjoyable, but watching your audience is almost better. People want to hear you speak, I can tell. Eyes are full with excitement, and smiles are ear to ear. You touch people’s hearts and speak to them with a bigger message. All storytellers have something to say, but  you emanate a special aura in the room the way you do it. It’s hard to explain. It’s one of those things you understand when you witness it in person.

Your stories are so great because of where they come from–experience. You experience life at a much larger level than a lot of us, and your stories enable us to see life like you do for that moment. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s serious. It’s always beautiful in its own way. Your view of life is one of my favorites. Your view of what I am capable is what pushes me every day. You believing in me is something I cherish, and don’t take for granted. You make me want to be great–to do great.

Today is your birthday, and we get to celebrate your greatest story–your life. Along with everyone who feels they’re lucky to know you, I want to wish you the happiest and best birthday yet! Because every year gets better than the last, daddy.