Santa Barbara’s ‘Coffee Talk’: friendship strengthened, bonds formed, community shaped & comfort found

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There were 50 tight stiches, in a zig zag across the left side of her face. They created lasting scars that new friends were bound to ask about, while sharing stories and nursing a second cup of strong, black coffee. Going down on a mountain bike trail, in a remote part of California, where the ambulance could barely reach her, the cyclist’s arm was scraped all the way down to the bone. She’d cracked not only her skull, but also her hip, and it was 2 weeks before she could stand up. The reconstructive surgeon advised her to take down all of the mirrors in her house, as she slowly healed, in an attempt to lessen the psychological struggle she would face.

All this physical and emotional injury was on top of an old scar from a dog bite she already had on her face. Her beloved pet’s teeth ripped through her cheek, and the canine was subsequently destroyed, at the insistence of family members. He’d “snapped”, both literally and figuratively, while she was playing with him, the way a young child does.

“My God!” the middle aged friend across the table exclaimed, “I’d never be able to get on a bike again, or own a dog, for that matter.” The cyclist’s scars were fully healed, yet they were clearly visible from the next table over. Her stories had every bit of my attention. Before the conversation turned in a less traumatic direction, she explained that animals and bikes were still a part of her life, and adventure was something she hoped her own children would always enjoy.

She smiled at her friends, took a bite of her gourmet Blueberry Cheesecake flavored Cupcake, and walked to the counter at Crushcakes & Café, to refill her mug.

It’s over coffee that friendships are strengthened, new bonds are formed, community is shaped, and the comfort of companionship is found. Not far down the street is Goleta Coffee Company, another local coffee spot on Turnpike Ave., in Santa Barbara.

This isn’t Starbucks or Dunkin’ – this is the homespun locale, covered in neighborhood memorabilia, where the locals come every single day. There is a diverse group of “Regulars” gathered around small tables out in front of the place. They keep the pace of retirees, at 8 a.m. on a Thursday morning. They are relaxed and in no hurry, sipping coffee, sharing the local papers, laughing, chatting, and greeting other “Regulars” as they walk into the coffee shop.

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They are sharing stories of their families, sports rivalries, and plans for the upcoming weekend. Bagels are toasted and slathered with thick layers of cream cheese, and the coffee is steaming. These men are, once again, in no hurry to move along to whatever the day brings next. I’m tucked in a corner, in the window just inside the open door, so I can enjoy the comradery in the air. I get the sense that I’d be welcome to join in one of the conversations, but am having too much fun watching the people interact.

One four-legged member of the group sits at his owners feet, hoping for some crumbs, and jumping to his feet to greet whoever will shower him with a little bit of extra attention. Another pup is inside, strutting about as if he owns the place. His name is Tito, and he wants to meet everyone, to show off his comic book hero’s bandana.

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On the cluttered walls inside are nailed license plates, street signs, posters for local sports teams, businesses, and event promotions. A constant stream of customers moves through a quickly moving line, and I notice that despite the diversity of the group (Young, Old, Hip, Conventional, Businesswoman and Academic. . .) there is an easy, casual chatter between the customers. There’s a community bulletin board with little room left bare, and these folks are the community!

When I make it to the register, and am handed a 20 oz. cup to fill from the lineup of coffee choices, the servers tell me that these “Regulars” are there each and every day. . . 7 days a week, for several hours. Some get there as early as 6 am, when the coffee shop opens, and then return again later in the day, for several more hours. This explains their ability to greet most of the other smiling customers by name.

The gal behind the counter explains that she once calculated it out. . . by bringing their own mugs the coffee is only $2 x 365 days a year, plus another refill to go. . . $1,460 in coffee for the year. . . each . . . somewhere between 25 – 35 of these guys. . . that’s a solid $36,500 – $51,100 brought in by the gang. I’d call that money well spent.

As the day wears on, I have to admit that I can’t survive on coffee alone; a girl’s gotta eat! I decide to check out a colorful Mexican restaurant called Del Pueblo Café, where the tacos do not disappoint. I indulged in fish and shrimp, beans and rice & chips and salsa. The food was delicious, but the artistic atmosphere made the restaurant even more appealing. Books by local novelists, poets and journalists were on display on a wooden shelf in the entry way, and customers were encouraged to read.

The work of local artists was featured on the walls, and available for purchase. As described on the restaurant’s website, “the cozy yet lively ambiance is what keeps our customers coming back. Art and culture is also very important to us and our walls provide local & Latino artists a space to showcase their unique talents.”  There is intense color, talent and emotion all around; what a striking showcase it was!

I don’t want to give the impression that California does everything on a local scale, but the family run businesses are there if you take the time to look for them. LA definitely has its share of Starbucks locations, and Santa Barbara has its neighborhoods that are the stuff of 1980s daytime soaps, lavish indulgence & designer coffee. Starbucks has some pretty serious competition, however, in the 1,000 locations of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, founded in 1963 and headquartered in Los Angeles.

In L.A. you might find yourself near the sprawling complex of Park Le Brea Apartments, not far from the California Museum of Art, and in need of a quick jolt of caffeine. “History. Legacies. Traditions. There are few places in this city that house these attributes so elegantly. This unique community honors the past with a reference for its classic architecture, while blending a rich list of amenities, current features, and breathtaking views.” The upscale neighborhood includes shopping at the specialty boutiques and fashion chain stores of “The Grove” outdoor mall, next to which you’ll inevitably discover the historic Farmer’s Market.

Row after row of produce, sweet treats, restaurants and unique shopping welcome you. Despite the large scale, these are mostly Mom and Pop stands. Everywhere you look there’s a hot mug of coffee in the hands of customers, on a Saturday morning when the market opens at 9 a.m. I smile a little to myself as I join them, breathe in the smell of coffee, take my first (very much anticipated) sip, and realize that my world is a happier place because of it.

Come along on the next adventure!

~ Kat

Related Links:

Crushcakes & Café:  http://crushcakes.com/

Goleta Coffee Company: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Goleta-Coffee-Company/114214958602915

The Coffee Bean: http://www.coffeebean.com/

Park Le Brea Apartments: http://www.parklabrea.com/

Del Pueblo Café: http://delpueblocafe.biz/

The L.A.. Farmer’s Market: http://www.farmersmarketla.com/

Santa Barbara TV Show: https://www.facebook.com/santabarbaratvseries

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