Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Knoxville, TN

The Mamma Mia! National Tour has been trucking around the sweet, sunny south, starting in Athens, Georgia (go Bulldogs!), moving on to Atlanta, GA (she said, as she fanned herself), and then stopping in Knoxville, TN. And, let me tell you, Knoxville was pulling out all the stops to live up to my ideals of southern charm. I've never breathed in so much smoke in bars, or been unsolicitously greeted on the street the way I did in Knoxville.

Did my first coffee come with a biscuit? Yes. Yes it did.
I feel much shame.

Just Ripe (pictured above) was a nice breakfast stop, not too far from our hotel, and minimally stocked with gluten free crackers and $9 chocolate bars and locally grown radishes that you KNOW you only buy so that people will see them in your bag as you walk out of the store (don't you lie to me). For some reason, though, I couldn't keep myself there for very long. Maybe it was it's grocery-store atmosphere, or its sparse seating area, or maybe it was because the baristas were actually relatively pleasant. I had to get somewhere hip. Somewhere cool. Somewhere where the servers treated you like shit.

Mmm! The delicious taste of verbal abuse!

Old City Java was ready to offer me that thin, scratchy blanket of ambivalence and disdain, that we all cherish in our hipster coffee joints. Getting to this place from the main section of downtown was like crossing the train tracks into a scary shantytown. Suddenly, the streets (which had turned to cobblestone - why?) were deserted. OCJ had been recommended to me, and I was determined to find it, but I worried that I might have to invest in a burning garbage can to get me through the night. Then, like the sun rising over the mountains (am I overselling it? Maybe a little), the oasis appeared, replete with the privileged and put-upon youth and their brave and bold fashion ideas. 

Coffee shops throughout history have acted as halfway houses for the bored and painfully cool.

Am I going too far with the jabs at hipsters? I think maybe we all are. They're an easy target, and it's very acceptable to hate on them as a group. But what's to hate, really? They're creative in their garmenture, and arbiters of artistic tastes. Yes, frequently they are unpleasant, and can be mistaken for transients, but maybe we, their mocking public, are responsible for that in a way. I can hear them crying "If you don't want us to act like assholes, stop treating us like assholes!" Something worthy to think of for everyone you meet.

Maybe this is an opportunity to re-examine how we treat each other. We don't rag on the suit-and-tie set you see rushing in to Starbucks, hassling the barista and tipping the .03 cents change they got back - well, I don't rag on them out loud. I do have recurring dreams about ripping their heads off their necks and bathing in their still-warm blood. But why, then, should we feel so free to mock our tattooed, under-bathed, and raccoon-tailed (I saw two people at two separate times in Knoxville wearing a raccoon's tail on their person. That... that has left an impression on me) brethren? Because it's easy? Because it's a popular opinion? Fuck that. It's not that tough to be nice to people, and I'll be the first to admit I've wanted to shave half my head for a long time. And if I ever did have the nerve to do it, I'd want to be utterly nonchalant about it, too. 

My last question, and then I swear I'll let you go. Is creating foam art, like, the easiest thing in the world? 

Maybe this one's not really "art", but I like to pretend it had intention.

I was a barista for three years, and I never mastered the craft of 'latte art'. And I thought there were competitions and stuff for this. So why is it that every college drop out who lives with their mother and works at the coffee shop can carve me a leaf or a heart or a... strange tribal thing... in my latte? Should I respect the artisan, or is it equivalent to pouring your cup of ramen into a bowl and claiming you "cooked dinner"? I ask you, internet, this question - sincerely curious - is this like painting, something that takes patience and skill, or like whistling, that some people can do and others are just fucked for life and can not do?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New York City, New York

It's a helluva town. I know, I know. So does that make it sacrilege to drink Starbucks? Not even a little bit. Pretty much every corner in the city is a quality people-watching spot, and you'll be hard pressed to find more, um, "interesting" people anywhere in the world. So I'll visit the green mermaid a time or two. Undoubtedly the classiest person I've met in any New York Starbucks was this puppy I met on 35th and 8th.

She just be chillin'. Waitin' on that salted caramel mocha.

But there are so many more beautiful nook-and-cranny spots in this city! And I don't think I ended up in ANY of them! Nope, our show rehearses in midtown, so most of our day is spent in that loudest, smelliest, most cramped part of Manhattan where homeless crazies are practicing their best lines, praying to get listed on Overheard In New York (and best of luck to them all). 

I did get to visit with some friends at Caffe Benne. Anyone familiar with this place will know that it's no better than Starbucks as far as it's weed-like growth, popping up all over the place. What it DOES have in it's favor is a catchy little jingle that plays every hour (which someone was paid to write - I repeat, someone was paid to write this - I don't understand the business of jingles). But in the style of New Years Resolutions, I've decided not to self-shame over my acceptance of commercialized coffee. I'll drink my hazelnut lattes and be entirely satisfied that they taste the same as every other hazelnut latte I've ever had, because the lovely, slightly rude, and tremendously bored barista simply followed the directions on the side of the espresso machine. 

Come on, mon petit hipsters, don't pretend you weren't hungry.

Remember when I told you that my original bag was tea? I'm definitely trying to re-establish that. And New York City was there for me all the way. 
Need it fast? Argo Tea (your Starbucks of the brewed leaf) - once, at the Argo in Columbus Circle, a homeless man told me I had great legs. I'm not going to lie to you, it made my day. 
Want it good? Bosie Tea Parlor in SoHo. Every time I go there for a liquid dinner (my favorite kind), I end up closing the place down, and without fail the counter girls have always offered me free pastries as they close up. I hope I haven't just given up one of my great secrets. Listen, don't just show up at 9:45 and expect free brioche! I invested four hours of tea-talk for those little crumpets. Back off. 
Want to get all sugar-plum-fairy about it? (I knew you did.) Alice's Tea Cup on the Upper West Side. Now, more than likely, instead of fending off tutu-ed six year olds waving wands and not actually drinking anything stronger than hot sugar water, you'll actually be butting elbows with aging socialites having a leisurely salad lunch, or drinking tea with a tiered sandwich service, which they laugh over, as you stare from your corner and see only a $60 price tag on their plates. This being said, the tea is good. And I've got an Alice affinity, I'm not ashamed to admit it. So friends and I get all gaga every once in a while for ceramic cups - I'm telling you, it makes your tea taste so much better, to be drinking out of a tea cup. Just say it out loud. "Tea cup". It's onomatopoetic in a way. It forces your speech out with strength and delicacy. 

One of these scones was going to be saved for breakfast the next day.
I'll let you decide what actually became of it.

Now, I get it. You've been to the city. I'm not telling you about anything you don't know. But I'm not gonna argue - I believe successful establishments are just that: successful. And for good reason, whether it be marketing or product or both. Good for them. Now the choice is ours.

One last thought I'd like to share - I've never really been that person to embrace the fall. Maybe it's my Californian upbringing, where seasons are more like a concept that an actual change in weather patterns. Fall to me was always construction-paper-leaves stapled to a classroom wall, not warm fires or hot cocoa or any of that tactile nonsense. So generally when friends' pupils go all dilated at the sight of the season's first pumpkin spice latte, I scoff. Because IF YOU LOVE PUMPKIN SO MUCH WHY DON'T YOU JUST DRINK IT ALL YEAR ROUND?! 
Well, this happened last week:

If you order it by just saying "PSL", you've gone too far.

So, to add to my list of New Years resolutions (which, I understand, I'm making in September, but so be it), I thought I'd try to embrace my inner fall-fanatic. If you bring some blankets and meet me by the fire, we can draw those little hand-turkeys. Cause it's all or nothing, baby.

Monday, September 1, 2014

In The Beginning

It's been about a year. Of this show. This show is Mamma Mia!, but that's not terribly important. There were other shows before it and there will be others after it. It's been about four years of touring - of no permanent residence, of snow drifts and sleet, of cold and lonely truck stops with only podcasts to keep you warm. But I'm making it all sound pretty dour. It's also kind of fun. Not as fun as you may imagine. So stop imagining - you're glamorizing my tedious and heart-hardening work. But, I mean, being on tour, you do get to see the world. And that's not bad.

Unless you're like me, riddled with anxiety and an inherent fear of people.

That's kind of bad.
But what makes it better? Coffee. The world loves coffee. And, therefore, I love the world. And after four years of procrastinating (by the way, if you're ever in need, coffee is an excellent enabler of procrastination), I thought I'd start documenting the world as I see it through various local and chain coffee shops.

Let's start with a look back on some of the best coffee shops I never blogged about.

Detroit, MI
I wasn't even a coffee drinker at this point. It was strictly tea for me. And not only did this cute little nook in the Fisher Center, directly across from our theater's box office offer tea by the pot, but they spelled our name (correctly) in the foam. Yeah, that definitely makes your favorite barista's little swirly leaf pattern look like a brick of shit.

Peoria, IL
Sometimes the hunt is fueled solely by a need for wifi and heat. And, often, you'll accept one without the other. Thirty - Thirty gave us our daily dose of hipster charm, as well as a stellar Security Bear that guarded you as you perused your ex's facebook (without even a hint of judgment). I think my second latte of all time was had here. Where was my first? That is lost to the annals of history, friend.

Los Angeles, CA
At this point, I'm a professional coffee drinker (that was fast), and I returned home briefly ready to slam Intelligentsia with the best of them. But my favorite of them all remains Urth Cafe, a brilliant spot to people-watch, mostly for people who desperately want to be seen. LA Pro Tip: walk around with dark glasses and no makeup, looking harried and hassled. You have a 78% chance of being mistaken for a celebrity. Or at least a celebrity's assistant. 

This one place in Philly.
Honestly, I was too hung over to note the name. But god damn it all if they didn't save my life that day.

So here's to another year of this. And let's collect the good with the bad. The snobby pour-overs with the Starbucks (don't pretend that your gold card doesn't have its own special pocket in your wallet). We're off to see the world. And we're gonna need a little fuel to get around with.