Coffee: A Quick Study in Walkability

The most pressing issue was that we had no coffee for in the morning. Monday morning. I don’t know how other people live their lives, but in my house we don’t face Mondays without ample caffeine.

I read the paragraph. I shook my head and read it again. 11 year olds don’t talk like that! This sucks. Maybe the whole thing sucks? Sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick. What am I doing? By the end of a one-hour editing session, I’ll be the first to admit that my self-talk isn’t always on point. I will also admit that I briefly thought about throwing my computer into a lake. Fortunately, no lakes are readily available in my intown Atlanta neighborhood—so I set myself to the next task: coffee.

Not like I wanted a cup of coffee right then—although I kind of did. The more pressing issue was that we had no coffee for in the morning. Monday morning. I don’t know how other people live their lives, but in my house we don’t face Mondays without ample caffeine.

The lack-of-coffee issue was complicated by the no-car issue. As in, I don’t have one. A rugged and rather-adorable 1988 Ford F-150 named Larry does live at my house. But I can’t drive him. He’s finicky about going into gear sometimes, you see. Thank you, but no thank you. Besides, Larry was sitting at the MARTA station, where Simon & Jane had gone to catch the train to the soccer game.

I briefly considered my options:

  • Wait for Simon to come home from the game and then ask him to drive to the store to get coffee. That seemed super-sucky. He’d wrangled the kid at a professional sporting event, back and forth on public transit… it just seemed a little cold-hearted to hit him with the need to run errands when he got home close to 9 p.m.
  • Ride my bike to the store. But it was getting dark. And all the roads were wet. And it was cold. I scratched biking off the list, too.
  • Walk to the store. This seemed like the most valid option. I can certainly walk in the dark. But the grocery store is 1.6 miles from my house. I have walked it before—but I don’t love the jaunt over there. And did I mention it was cold & rainy?

I quickly realized that walking was my best option (notice that not getting coffee appears NOWHERE on that list). So, I started brainstorming places closer to me than the big grocery store. There’s a coffee shop that I love on Memorial, but walking up Cherokee to get there feels like it’s straight up a long, endless hill. Usually, I’m totally cool with it. But I just wanted something easy. That didn’t feel easy.

The coffee shop at the bottom of the first dip in Cherokee doesn’t sell coffee—or at least I didn’t remember them selling coffee. And they were closed by the time I pulled my act together.

Finally, I remembered that there’s a little eatery/store on Boulevard (about a mile away). It’s locally owned. Love that. And I knew they had bagged coffee—but you can be damn sure I called ahead to check before I hauled myself over there. Sure enough, they did and I set out to get it.

I got there and quickly discovered that what they had was coffee from a locally owned sustainable micro-roaster.

Now, let’s just stop right there and let me say a few things:

  • I like to shop local.
  • I realized when I went to this store, I’d pay more for coffee than I’d pay at the grocery store.
  • I love coffee more than most things, so I am not really complaining about this, so much as observing.

I bought a bag of coffee. It was $14.

Holy shit.

I am so grateful that I have an extra $14 to spend on coffee. I am. And I love that I supported not one but TWO small businesses with that transaction. Really, it just never occurred to me that the closest place to get coffee might cost twice what I buy coffee for at the grocery. And yes, it is far superior to what I buy at the grocery. But I kept thinking about the folks who don’t have a car. Like ever. The choice between a very long, cold rainy walk or paying premium price for coffee was not lost on me.

My neighborhood needs more corner markets where folks can buy staples easily. Not boutique markets aimed at gentrifiers. Real, affordable food for everyone. There’s a place for boutique and niche markets. But there’s also a real need to have accessible marketplaces that are walkable and filled with real food.

(Also, I realized this morning, as I was enjoying my micro-roasted coffee, that if I had walked two blocks further, I would have gotten to CVS—which probably had (not nearly as good) cheap coffee that I could have bought for a hefty mark-up.)

This lesson about food accessibility is just one in a long line of gut-punch lessons in compassion I’ve received these last two months while I’ve been carless. I am grateful for what I’ve been given (especially for my delightful cup of coffee this morning). But I’ve become ever-mindful of the people who have less than I do. That’s been a beautiful, wrenching gift.


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Wait. Do I Want to Wait?

Isn’t it wild when the mundane gives you a glimpse into what you’re really about?

Isn’t it wild when the mundane gives you a glimpse into what you’re really about?

Jane & I walked to school this morning (thank God we live in a place where I can walk & ride transit, because currently we own zero cars that I can drive). On my way home, I saw the bus go by. I knew I had 20 minutes until I needed to catch the bus downtown.

20 minutes. That’s forever if I’m standing at the bus stop waiting. It is decidedly NOT forever if I have to get home, finish getting ready, corral my stuff for work, and make it up to the bus stop. Although I have a history of slow-loris-like behavior, I was super-speedy today. Totally on the ball. As I grabbed my to-go mug of coffee, I pulled up the MARTA bus real-time tracker and saw that I’d be cutting it close. So I booked it up to the bus stop.

I stood there for about 5 seconds, which was about all the time I should’ve had before the bus got there, and I whipped out the tracker again. Yeah. The bus was gone. It’d arrived 4 minutes early. 4 minutes is no time at all, unless you’re trying to catch a bus. Then it might as well be an eternity.

So, I faced the ultimate transit-oriented question: do I wait for the bus or walk up and catch the train?

I dig the bus. There’s a kind of warm familiarity to riding the bus (even though I’d never done it until I moved to Atlanta about two years ago). I like cruising along through my neighborhood & into downtown without having to fight the traffic. The bus puts me in really close contact with humans—and the fact is that I like people. But I’d have to stand at the bus stop for 20 minutes. That’s 20 minutes of thinking “I should’ve peed before I left the house.” 20 minutes of wondering if I unplugged the toaster oven. It’s 20 minutes where my anxiety, which usually doesn’t bug me, runs completely amok.

So, the train? That’s a 1.4 mile walk. Up hill. But, I don’t mind walking. I feel more connected to Atlanta when I’m trekking through the neighborhood, saying hey to folks, getting a feel for daily life. And the train runs every 12 minutes. So there’s no real waiting around.

In favor of constant motion, I walked up to the train station. Because, for me, easier is rarely better. I’ve finally learned most of the triggers for my anxiety, and so now I have the power to avoid them. And walking through Atlanta—and Grant Park in particular–is one of the best anti-anxiety measures I’ve found.

But there’s something even bigger at play here. Since moving to Atlanta, I’ve become a doer, not a waiter. I’ve begun to embrace my own power to make things happen. And it all begins with movement—movement towards a goal or movement toward a train station. Waiting around hasn’t served me well. I never once wowed myself by standing still. But movement got the first draft of my novel written. Just waiting on dreams to happen, standing still, well that’s more anxiety producing than waiting for a bus.

So, I’m choosing movement when I can.