As a writer, coffee is a large part of my daily life. I drink a bottomless mug of coffee on any given day. By all statistics, I should probably have had several coronaries by now, but coffee and me have always gotten along just fine.
As I sit here with my current mug, I take this time to reflect on what coffee means to me…
Coffee marks my coming of age.
BC (before coffee), I was a boy. After coffee, I was a man.
My parents weren’t really coffee drinkers. I remember taking a sip or two from my grandfather’s cup at random Denny’s restaurants alongside the highway during our long car rides to my grandparent’s house when I’d visit over the summer. He drank it black and when he wasn’t drinking that mud at Denny’s, he was slamming it back out of his thermos, which he always had in-tow. I didn’t much like it then. My grandpa didn’t do a very good job of ‘selling’ it to me. He made it seem cheap and industrial.
As I grew into the ‘young impressionable teenager’ stage of my life — somewhere around 12 or 13 — I had neighbors who lived across the street that caught my attention. They were cowboys. Like, real ones who owned land with real horses out past the county line. They’d cuss, spit, fart, chew tobacco, smoke things, and wear interesting things like dusters, brush-popper shirts, roping boots, and Stetson hats.
In our suburban neighborhood, they stood out like irreverently sore thumbs. They were a family of four. Both parents were truckers. The two boys, Jason and Scott, were a few years older than me, so they were cool on multiple levels.
They intrigued me. My family and I were everyday suburbanites. My dad was a computer programmer and my mom was a… Mom. The cowboys represented a sense of adventure. An air of reckless abandon that I never knew before. They were uncensored, interesting, and rebellious.
Every day, after school, I’d hang out with them. I was the kid. They did their best to teach me how to rope fenceposts, fistfight, and communicate to truckers on a CB radio in the back of their 1973 Dodge Dart.
The cowboy life struck a chord in me, but I could never go all-in. One time, Scott offered me some of his dip. It was Copenhagen. He had me reach in the can and grab a hunk of that moist, grainey tobacco, “C’mon, kid, get three-fingers full,” he said, noticing my hesitancy. I crammed it between my lower lip and teeth, immediately feeling its effects before promptly covering the sidewalk at my feet with puke minutes later.
That was it for me trying to be a badass cowboy. I could never grow the confidence to wear cowboy gear to school. I could never do most of the cool, unruly stuff they were doing for very long — just wasn’t in me. Soon, the cowboys and I realized we were oil and water and we parted ways. Looking back, this turned out to be fine. Both boys ended up doing time for dealing drugs and the parents got divorced.
But something about the cowboy life was rich in my DNA. I still roped the fence occasionally and listened to country music non-stop. So there I was one afternoon after school watching the weekly country music video countdown on CMT when a Folgers commercial came on. In it, cowboys rode the snowy range in thick leather dusters herding cattle. Afterwards, they huddled around the campfire drinking — you guessed it — Folgers coffee.
Folgers coffee. Hmmm. I realized my mom had some in the cabinet tucked away for ages. I shuffled through to the very back of the shelf where I saw it. It was the instant crystals. Perfect, I thought, easy to make and no expiration date. I warmed up a mug of water in the microwave and scooped in that virgin heaping teaspoon. The dark brew smelled amazing.
I took a sip. It was a little bitter, so I poured in a healthy dose of whole milk and a heaping teaspoon of sugar. Stirred it up. Took a sip.
Bam. That was it.
Although I never learned how to ride a horse or developed a number of the habits cowboys do, I was a man. I was more of a cowboy than ever — just like the guys on TV riding the range and bullshitting ‘round the fire.
I never became a real cowboy, but to this day, whenever I pour a cup of coffee (yes, I take it blonde and sweet, as always — and I’m still totally down to drinking a shameless cup of Folgers instant when the mood strikes), I’m taken to a certain place inside. A place that warms one’s soul and adds a sense of complexity and adventure to life — a perfect accompaniment to any creative endeavor.
Since that day, I’ve been an ardent coffee-drinker. And if that’s as close to becoming a cowboy than I’ll ever get, well, that’s good enough for me.