My pal, Blue, and I love our coffee breaks …. For years now, a couple of times a week, we’ve left the recycled air and tasteful (read: dull) decor and subdued chatter of the office for Thanks A Latte, a little coffee shop across the street. It was warm and bustling, and the combination of coffee and baked goodies smelled lovely. The servers were friendly, and there were always a few seconds of banter before we were on our way, clutching our steaming, fragrant coffees. Between sips, we traded slices of our lives. Joys, frustrations, interests, gossip …. We would arrive feeling fussed and tired, and leave revived. Whatever was dragging us down just didn’t seem so heavy in the light of the accepting smile and openhanded understanding of a friend. Just last week, we stumbled through a blizzard to get there, joking that we should make a video of our pilgrimage and offer it to the shop as an advertisement. This week, though, we know that the advertisement won’t be necessary: Thanks A Latte is gone. We went there Monday afternoon, and were shocked to see that the doors are locked. Nothing remains of the coffee shop – the counters, shelves and signs have all been removed. We went to a deli in the same mall, and bought coffees there instead. Our break happened anyway – but alot of the conversation was about the loss of our little coffee shop. There was no warning. One day it was there, the next day it wasn’t. The experience brought back memories of other places that have disappeared, and the sad reminder each time that our personal landscape isn’t forever, not even the parts we cherish.
There was a charming little restaurant, just down the street from the office, where Ryan and I occasionally went for lunch. It was called The Cottage & A Kitchen, and it really felt like that – the rustic warmth and simplicity of a cottage, the gourmet offerings of a talented chef, all in one adorable yellow house. It was there that we settled on the name of our first daughter, just two weeks before she howled her way into the world. One day, we saw boards over the windows. At lunchtime on sunny days, we used to like strolling to a hole in the wall called Cosmo’s for soup and a sandwich. It was busy, never more than one table available at any given time, and the guy who made the sandwiches was a wonder. It was the order-taking sandwich-making equivalent of juggling ten balls. He called everybody “boss”. No matter how many people were waiting for sandwiches, he never looked overwhelmed or annoyed, and his sandwiches were perfect every time. Then, newsprint appeared in the floor-to-ceiling windows of Cosmo’s.
We go to Montréal every November for a romantic weekend away, to celebrate the anniversary of becoming an item. Our first weekend there, we ended up at a place called Pizzédélic. We loved it! The deep red walls, the low lights, the shared pitcher of sangria – and, of course, the delicious pizzas. A window table allowed us to watch the endless stream of Montréal nightlife, a rich experience for people who love watching people. We went there year after year – until one year it was gone. We have other dinner options, and our Montréal weekend is no less wonderful, but we miss our pizza joint. Then there was the Nickels we always went to for Saturday’s brunch …. We would take the Metro to Côte des Neiges, and wander down the street in the bracing November wind, always stopping at a Christmas tree lot to breathe in the fresh, sharp scent of its wares. Just a few feet away was our Nickels …. but not anymore. After eleven years of brunches there, we arrived for a twelfth, and found a McDonald’s in its place.
During our many road trips, we’ve come across gems that we still talk about. We’ve returned to a few of them over the years …. In the bucolic town of Ellsworth, Maine, there is Jasper’s, a slightly run-down motel attached to a wonderful lobster restaurant. In Boca Raton, Florida, there’s Café Bellino – a darling Italian restaurant where we enjoyed the wine, the food and the atmosphere in 2005 and again in 2008. In 2002, on our very first road trip, Ryan and I found Casey’s Café in Chamberlain, South Dakota. It still sells twenty-four kinds of pie, and the best damn cheeseburgers I’ve ever tasted. Donna’s Diner in Newcastle, Wyoming, where we encountered red-and-white checked curtains and matching tablecloths, and a gum-snapping waitress who called us “honey”, is still there. Its humble wooden sign still tells people where to exit if they want to stop in.
The Sirloin Saloon in Rutland, Vermont, a real steakhouse’s steakhouse, was enjoyed by us twice. Once as two adventurers wandering across the map together, and later as a family of four, returning just to see if the real thing was as good as our memory of it. It was. Of particular interest to our daughters was a taxidermied bear wearing a hat …. We went back one more time, a little later, only to find that it had closed.
The saddest disappearance, though, is of a motel and restaurant in Rouse’s Point, New York. We like to hit the road for some-place-in-New-England every May 2-4. In 2006, we did just that, but with a difference: it was our first road trip with a baby. All was well, spirits were high – and then it started raining hard, the car died, and Fiona started to cry. There we were in a downpour, surrounded by the kind of darkness you only get in the country, in a conked-out car with a wailing nine-month-old, somewhere in upstate New York. We placed a call to CAA, soothed Fiona and worried. A tow truck showed up after a while, dropped our car off in the parking lot of a nearby garage, and brought us to the Anchorage Inn in Rouse’s Point. The people there were so welcoming! They found us a crib for Fiona, and set it up in our room. The onsite restaurant was closed, but they reopened the kitchen and made us toasted ham sandwiches and fries. The next day, the owner’s daughter drove all three of us to the garage to deal with our car. Years later, we were on another road trip, this time as a foursome, and decided that we would spend our last night on the road at the Anchorage Inn, and have dinner at that restaurant. It was not to be. We arrived to find the charred remains of our restaurant, and a new motel where the old one had been. The motel was ok, but it was now owned by a sullen man who seemed interested in nothing but money, and patrolled the grounds of his precious pile of cheap building materials for most of the night. We were sitting outside our room, having one of our three-hour conversations over beers, when we were approached by a man on a bike. He had been stranded at the motel one Thanksgiving, and had been invited to share the festive meal with the family who owned the restaurant. He wanted to know what had happened to his restaurant …. We told him what we knew, and he rode off into the night. Sometimes, you really can’t go back again.