Woke Up and Smell the Coffee / by Courtney Mehlhaff

A couple weeks ago, I ventured out on a very blustery, snowy afternoon to meet a friend for coffee. He chose a small, independently owned shop near his house that I'd never been to before. 

I arrived first and approached the front counter, where a tall, not unhandsome graying gentleman stood sorting through some receipts. 

"Good afternoon, miss," he said without looking up, in a thick accent I couldn't quite place.

I said hello and was surveying the menu board when I noticed him give me another glance -- or, rather, a thorough once-over.

"Who are you? I've never seen you before."

The inquiry rode such a fine line between accusation and genuine curiosity that I couldn't help laughing. "Well, this is my first time here."

"Oh! Welcome!" He threw his arms wide, and it was clear that behind his demanding tone was simply an owner keeping tabs on his regular customers. He asked was I hungry, did I want a meal or a snack, would I please check out all their wonderful pastries (one recipe was his grandmother's), what could he get me to drink?

As he rushed efficiently to fill my every request, the questions continued. How had I found the place? Where did I live? What were the roads like outside?

I replied that they weren't the worst I'd ever seen in a snowstorm, but they weren't fun.

"I just got back from Tennessee," he said.

"And how was the weather there?" I asked.

"Oh, you know, like heaven," he said. "But I don't think Tennessee is for me."

I agreed. I didn't know why he'd been there, so I didn't tell him that, as a general rule, I try to stay out of the Confederacy. "I don't think the heat is for me."

"Well, it's not just that . . . " His eyes lit for a second on the Black Lives Matter and All Are Welcome Here buttons pinned to my purse strap. He gave me a careful stare over the top of his reading glasses. "They're forty years behind down there."

Then he handed me a frothy mocha and a thick slice of banana bread, served with a side of truth.