na foine ting

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I thought Jack Skillingstead (which really is his for real name and not the Jack of our present Jack's House, which is an entirely different Jack) deserved his own post, instead of my just replying to his comment.

When I first met Jack online on the Asimov's bulletin boards a few years ago, he was one of the writers people were talking about the same way they talked about China Mieville and guys like that. New, innovative, exciting stuff, which in the sort of plodding continuum of mainstream science fiction we just don't get as often as we should.

I haven't talked to Jack in ages (my fault, not his), and today I went and checked out his sexy new website where you can read "Rewind,", which I love, and some of his other stuff.

Jack writes in an honest way that winds up being a lot like he is. Real, unapologetic, interested in the underbelly of life and unafraid to report on it in a way that can be lighthearted, brutal and compassionate all at once.

I've had the pleasure of reading one of his novels, which was amazing. New, really new stuff.

So, hi, Jack, and email forthcoming. Sorry for the radio silence and it's damn good to see you.


It's a chicken and egg thing.

I can't decide if finding hockey meant the rest of my life could finally settle, or if finding games was part of a general return to order; either way, things feel better today. I've had my first cup of coffee in a week, a hard core little brew made more so by the fact of a very slow drip through grounds that I swear were snarling imprecations at me as I poured them into the moki pot. Somehow the moki pot lid was lost in transit, so I had to improvise; that and the fact of the gas range made for this very, very slow brew process, which in turn resulted in coffee that climbs out of the mug and tries to throttle you as you grab the mug handle.

My hands are shaking. Really, shaking.

Coffee 2, Kate 0.

Chris, I think the real difference between you Brits and we Yanks in the whole space race comes down to coffee versus tea. Really. If you all drank coffee there'd be a Union Jack in the Sea of Tranquility, a Harrods in downtown Bonn and they'd still be driving left in the Cote Ivoire.


Driving across country, there's a dearth of espresso.

Which is like saying in the Sahara Desert there's a dearth of water.

I am not, repeat not counting the terrifying 'auto mocha' machines at the truck stops, which as far as I can tell no one touches. Ever. On the road, one drinks trucker coffee, which tastes ghastly but as far as staying awake goes does the job as well as anything else unless you want to upgrade to No-Doz or cocaine.

But once you leave Utah and the Bad Ass Coffee Roasting Company, you enter a no man's land that might not end until you hit upstate New York if it weren't for one intrepid entrepreneur and his Little Red Espresso Shack off Highway 80 in Green River, Wyoming.

It's like a mirage. You've been driving through days of flat, bland scenery, eating flat bland food and all the service stops are starting to blur together. You can't remember which Chevron was which, and really the only way you know which state you're in is by the cities on the freeway signs.

And then, there it is. Every service stop sign has the same logos on them: Subway. Burger King. Chevron. Flying J.

Except one. It goes by at 85 or 90 miles an hour, so you think you somehow misread it.

'Little Red Espresso Shack.'

What, what?

But by then, the sign's past. It's gone.

You swerve off the highway at the next exit, sure you were mistaken. You haven't had espresso for three days. Impossible. It's a hallucination brought on by trucker coffee and too many bags of french fries.

But there, at the bottom of the off ramp, is another sign. You sit and read it, over and over. Afraid it will disappear, or the letters will turn from Little Red Espresso Shack into W E N D Y ' S, right there. Someone honks. The letters remain, and the arrow points left. You go left, and there it is. In a parking lot, a shack about the size of two phone booths put together. Red.

When you drive up, the old guy manning the booth leans out and gives you an assessing squint.

"You're from the West Coast, aren't you?" he says.

You stammer. He points to the menu. It has words you haven't seen for over a thousand miles. Americano. Borgia. Mexican Hot Chocolate, for Christ's sake.

You point. He nods serenely.

Tom Tucker owns the only espresso stand on Highway 80 in the middles states. He wasn't doing well until he convinced the highway people to put a sign up for him. "Took me almost a year total," Tom told me. "First they ignored me for three months. Then they said I had to serve food."

Here he points to the other menu, on the other shutter of the kiosk. There is one item.


"Got some microwave jobs in the freezer in there. I haven't sold one of 'em yet," he says. Once he had food on the menu, it took another few months for them to tell him he needed to have seating. "Got a seat now," he says. On the freeway side of the kiosk is a concrete bench. "Seating," Tom confirms with a gesture.

And sure enough, four months later, he got his two highway signs.

Tom does a rocking business now.

"My daughter owns a coffee house in Oregon," he told me. "A nice big coffee house on a downtown street. My per month is about twice what hers is." He grinned. Tom gets most of his ingredients from Salt Lake, and the rest from the west coast. He has the hardest time getting the Mexican Hot Chocolate, which I told him he could probably order online straight from Ibarra. He said he'd check it out.

He made me a huge Mexican chocolate mocha, and sent me off with an admonition to drive safely and stop by next time I was driving through.

I said I absolutely would.

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Did you note Rock Springs, WY, for any reason? No, I didn't think so. But, that's where I'm sitting right now, with a day off because the maintenance train doesn't need any water...
Brilliant. :D

Er, if you tell me you want white on black, I might just poke you in the eye.

with my finger, yes. (I'm going to blame this on the medicine later.)
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