Two thousand miles from Harvard Square, I’m having coffee this morning at a Starbucks in Casper, Wyoming. When I lived here, the very idea of a Starbucks was enough to provoke strong opinions pro and con. Now there are three – one on the west side of town, this one on the east side, and another in a Safeway supermarket. Casper is booming, feisty as ever, and windy as usual. I love it here.
Yesterday I hiked through snow and mud on Casper Mountain with three old friends to a cabin where we grilled steaks and shared lies, anxieties, hopes, and satisfactions as we pass, each in our turn, the milepost of turning 60. When this group of friends first began meeting 20 years ago at Darlene’s and my home at the foot of Casper Mountain, there was no plotting of retirement strategies and not much comparing of aches and pains. We used to pride ourselves on our terrible taste in food – Ritz crackers with Cheese Whiz and fake caviar were a favorite. For yesterday’s reunion I brought imported Carr’s crackers and a half pound of tasty Stilton cheese.
It’s been 10 years since Darlene and I moved from Casper to downtown Denver, so I recognize some of the people here but have no clue how I know them. Was that guy sitting at the counter from the gas company where I worked, or was he a neighbor? We lived in an area poetically named Bloody Turnip by a developer who had difficulty getting any money out of his original investment.
Compared with Darwin’s Ltd. in Harvard Square, this Starbucks has plenty of seats available. Most customers buy their coffee and scones to go. Of those who linger at a table, no one reads a newspaper with their coffee. Unlike most Starbucks that I’ve frequented, this one doesn’t even sell papers, not even The Casper Star-Tribune, which recruited me in 1981 from The Providence (R.I.) Journal-Bulletin to start an energy magazine.
I asked the family in the photo if I could take their picture and they agreed without any fuss. This is a difference. I can’t imagine approaching a denizen of Darwin’s asking if he or she would pose for an iPad shot. Too weird. But Orval Johnson and his wife Elisabeth and their daughter Ondriea, 3, were glad to oblige. They are visiting from Rifle, Colorado. Other signs that I’m not in Cambridge: University of Wyoming caps, shorter men’s haircuts, and lots of tanned faces. So far, I haven’t seen any cowboy boots, and there is only one pickup truck in the parking lot. I had both when I lived in Casper, plus a fine gray Stetson, the better to live my boyhood Massachusetts dreams of being a cowboy. This amused the locals and did little to hide my identity as someone from “Back East.”
A better spot for my Great American Coffee House Blog Tour would have been Casper’s proudly independent caffeine emporium, The Metro at 241 South David Street in downtown Denver, but they’re closed on Sunday. The Metro has comfy furniture, rotating exhibits of local art, and fast WiFi.
Darlene just called to let me know brunch is ready Chez Tom and Tish, who have hosted us at their welcoming home this trip, so I’ve gotta go. Enjoy the coffee!