My favorite coffee shop closed recently. I must have driven by at least three times to confirm that Wendell, the proprietor, had not turned on the open sign. I miss the plastic dinosaurs. I miss the chocolate chip pistachio cookies. I miss Wendell’s insistence on feeling whatever he needed to feel—which often meant he was grouchy. I miss the coffee too.
I can chart my life in the cups of coffee I’ve had at Latitude 59 over the last five years. First, I was working at the high school theater as a technician. I’d go to Latitude before shows to get my last caffeine fix of the day. Around that time I gave a student old stage flats to use as large canvases; each flat was at least 6’ feet tall. Wendell gave that same young man his first art show with those canvases. It was so exciting to watch the student have his artistic life validated in that way.
Around the same time I’d go into Latitude on Saturdays to work on essays for graduate school. And because I was cheap and wouldn’t buy my own Internet, I also submitted all of my work online from his tables. When I submitted my graduate thesis he brought me out a glass of raspberry wine he had hidden in the back.
Then I was working at the Shelter, a five minute walk away. I’d get to the shelter in the still dark winter morning, and I wouldn’t be ready to face, well anything. I’d relieve the night advocate and when the front desk person showed up, I’d let her watch the crisis line while I got us coffee. Wendell always kept us well stocked with food vouchers to give to people at our discretion.
Once I watched a little girl spill her hot chocolate. I knew her mom didn’t have any more money to buy another drink, but I was afraid I would embarrass her by offering to get her another one. Wendell glanced over and made a new hot chocolate just appear.
Then I was a new Mom. Terrified. I’d only ever held a baby on occasion. Wendell would bring me cups of soup for me to sip on while I nursed on his couch. Morgan hated the car the first four months of her life. She would scream and shake and spit up whenever we went to town. I would go into Latitude, shaking a little and ask Wendell what he thought I should do. He’d smile and say, “she’s a baby, that’s what she supposed to do. That her only way of telling you she doesn’t like it.” He always normalized whatever motherly thing I was angsting about.
The last time I was in Latitude Morgan crawled all over his carpet. She played with his dinosaurs. She ate her breakfast. There was a sign up that said Latitude would be closing Saturday, but I just figured Wendell was taking a much deserved long weekend. I never thought of saying good-bye.
I think Wendell is moving on so he can spend more time with his own granddaughter and family. I admire his courage to close up shop and move on, instead of staying and being unfulfilled. I’m not going to say good-bye here because I’m sure I’ll see him around from time to time. I will say: Wendell, thank you again for all the acts of kindness you bestowed on our community. I’m happy for you even though I’m kind of lost without your wisdom and your grouchiness.