Some may come and some may go
And we shall surely pass.
“Get Together”—The Youngbloods
The next morning my wife and I had the same argument we have been having since we go married: it’s always over breakfast. My favorite places for breakfast are small cafés, dive-diners, and lunch counters where I can watch a short-order cook make my breakfast right in front of me: two eggs over easy, toast and coffee. I’ll go for a local coffee shop where someone gets up early in the morning to make cinnamon rolls, scones and bagels. Nonetheless, I get dragged to these high-class, “viola, Madame” places that make me want to do terrible things to the waiter with a fork. I’ve worked in restaurants and I know that a bowl of oatmeal shouldn’t cost fifteen bucks; I don’t care how many sliced strawberries are on the damn thing.
My wife noticed that I had this particular quirk when I made a major scene at one of the hotels at Walt Disney World. We were there with my daughters, and the hotel was offering an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for twenty-five bucks a head. I went nuts:
“I’m not going to pay you $25 for a couple of eggs! You’re out of your mind!
Oh, sir, you can also have pancakes, yogurt and fruit.
I still won’t be able to eat $25 worth of food. Where do you get off charging so damn much? Eggs run about $2.50 a dozen; a loaf of bread will run you two bucks. A pound of coffee goes for around 12. According to my calculations, breakfast shouldn’t cost more than five bucks, and that’s with the labor.
Well, sir, you could order a la carte, but it will probably cost you just as much, maybe more. Our Denver omelet runs 19.95, juice is six fifty, and coffee is extra.
Just bring me a coffee.
Would you like regular or espresso?
What does espresso run?
For a single shot, that will be six dollars.
Six bucks! I drink four-double espressos. I could invest in Starbucks at this rate! Thank God, I’m not drinking Bloody Marys!
Well, if you want Bloody Marys you can have as many as you like if you order the buffet. They’re complimentary.
Give me the damn buffet!
So, to avoid scenes in these hotels, I got up early and found a local café. I had two quads and a scone, and I was set for a couple of hours. Then, I joined her to watch her eat her twelve-dollar yogurt parfait and juice. I also found another coffee joint called looked Peet’s Coffee and Tea. The place started in Berkeley back in 1966. Alfred Peet grew up in Europe and could never understand how Americans could drink industrial roast coffee. For him, it was like drinking raw sewage, so he started trafficking the good stuff, high grade beans from South America and Asia. Back in those days, coffee fiends had to go to a donut shop for cheap, illegally brewed coffee. It was dangerous. Unscrupulous brewers would often use car radiators to cook up a batch, or they would dilute the beans, anything to cut corners.
The smuggling first began when a few travelers came back from South America with a couple of kilos. The operation later expanded to boats and airplanes. Peet’s long boats were stopped a few times by the Coast Guard down by San Diego, but the sailors had never seen good coffee before and didn’t know what it was. So, they let the boats through. By the Hills Brothers inspectors were on to him, he had half of the Californian coast turned on. Peet developed a reputation for never watering down or cutting his stash, and built a strong, loyal following. Like the mob bosses of old, Peet lived under the radar, kept a low profile, and outlived most of his competition—the coffee rackets is a tough business. Once the city of Seattle made the stuff legal, everything went up for grabs. They started selling it right on the streets and through drive through windows, and with low-fat bran muffins. After the Starbucks punks took over; you could get the good stuff everywhere. They didn’t have the heart to knock off old Peet, though; they left him with his own little territory in the Gourmet Ghetto, and he keeps to himself these days.
We had organized our days for sightseeing. First on the agenda was taking the girls to see the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Instead of hippies, the place was full of skateboarders. There was still a lot of tie-die shirts and psychedelic art. Our plan was to start at Buena Vista Park and make our way past the Victorian mansions, the Magnolia Brewpub, and the former headquarters of the Symbionese Liberation Army toward Golden Gate Park. I recalled the first time I had ever heard of the SLA. I was taking a course from a Marxist political scientist who referred to them in the same breath with the PLO, the Algerian NLF, the Colombian FARC, the Salvadoran FMLN, the Sandinistas, the ANC, and the Zapatistas. My first reaction was where the hell is Symbia and who’s oppressing them? It was only later that I found out that its leaders were a bunch of low-rent wackos who got their start by sticking up prostitutes in Oakland.
To be continued…