Farm Store #37
My very first stop took me to what must be the regionally popular Weigel's, with an amazing flow of people coming in and out at all hours. If there was cappuccino culture to be found, it would certainly be here, I thought. Emblazoned on the store's sign outside was the motto, "The ORIGINAL Cappuccino." Yes, this had to be the place.
Inside it was a-bustle with activity. I threaded my way to the cappuccino machine, drew a cup of the "mocha" flavor, and took a seat at one of the handy tables near the front windows. I was soon joined by another coffee aficionado, just as I'd hoped.
"Whatchoo want, man?" the young fellow asked.
"Why, I'm here for the cappuccino," I said. "Hey, how bout that Sartre fellow, eh? Crazy stuff!"
"Looking for some coke? I got you some coke."
"Oh, no, no," I protested. "I'm really in the mood for a warm drink. Cappuccino!"
He gave my upraised cup a scornful look, snorted, and left to talk to someone else. I felt confident we had bonded, and was optimistic for future discussions.
* * *
I've long been intrigued by the sign in Gus's window: "Join ME for Cappuccinno." While the misspelling is kind of endearing, it was the life-size cardboard cutout of Dolly Parton that really caught my eye.
Sitting down at the counter, I was alone except for a young couple in black leather and contrasting hair dyes. On the wall were autographed photos of big stars, like Crystal Gaylebut they were all dedicated to a guy named "Chuck," not Gus. Strangely, I didn't see a cappuccino machine anywhere.
Chuck soon came out, and I proudly made my order:
"A large cappuccino, please."
"A cappoh! Gotcha!"
Chuck quickly reached down into a cabinet, grabbed a cardboard box, and pulled out a small plastic tub of powder. Dumping the contents into a cup, he poured in some brownish hot water from the coffee machine, and squeezed on some whipped cream. Voilà!
The punky couple gave me a disdainful look, and I could only slink out abashed.
* * *
"Now Serving Cappuccino" declare the large signs out front, and I was ready to partake. And I soon discovered that the Pilot Corporation was deadly serious about its cappuccino endeavors, equipping its stations with jumbo-sized machines big enough to sate the coffee thirst of your average Italian region. What's more, the cappuccino flavor-to-water ratio was much higher than I'd yet had. Having no fellow cappuccino lovers to relate this wonder to, I struck up a conversation with one of the employees.
"We sell a lot of cappuccino," he admitted. "Yeah, we've created our share of addicts."
I asked him where the machines came from. He paused, puzzled.
"I don't know where these things came from. A crew came in, put the machine in, and that's all I know. I think we bought all the machines now, though, so we own em."
The mystery behind these devices runs deep, even among those who serve their product.
* * *
First there were McRibs. Then McPizza. Now, McCappuccino. While it's certainly an acceptably bland facsimile sure to please McDonald's constituents, it apparently isn't conducive to inspiring conversations about romantic vs. realist literature, try as I would.
Most interesting, however, were the declarations of HOT! HOT! HOT! imprinted around the lip of the cupno doubt to avoid future McLawsuits. Or maybe I was getting a little McCranky.
* * *
Another gas station, another cappuccino machine, another cup. I was beginning to wonder what, exactly, I was ingestingand whether or not it had been thoroughly tested on laboratory rats by the Food and Drug Administration. My hands were shaking, and there seemed to be a slight buzzing behind my left ear. Perhaps, I thought, it would be best not to know.
Delta Express had its very own corporate machine, the "Mapco Cafe Express," which promised to deliver the "Finest Coffee in Town." Why, it was "Guaranteed Right." I poured myself a Swiss Mocha. Meanwhile, the buzzing grew louder, seemingly entering my heador was it the machine itself? The buzzing, oh, the buzzing
"How are you today, sir?" the attendant behind the counter asked, seemingly taking up a third of the station's constricted space. Could the walls be getting closer? Or was I expanding?
"What's it to you?" I growled. "Heretake my 75 cents, the 75 cents for the Finest Coffee in Town. It's worth every penny!"
"You might try switching to decaf," the woman said, but by then the buzzing started to physically vibrate my head, and
* * *
"A Rich & Creamy Coffee Drink," the little machine promised, also advising hesitant drinkers to "Indulge Yourself."
"Yes, yes, let me indulge myself," I whispered. "I can afford it. What's the harm?"
I clutched the Formica counter, desperate to satisfy my urge for more cappuccinomore! I had to have another! And it was then I realized that this new coffee trend was perhaps no cultural explosion, but rather merely an addiction. It was nothing but a kinder, gentler caffeine; fancied up, perhaps, but caffeine nonetheless. And we who drink it, drink alone.
I ordered a cup of regular joe, cracked open Dharma Bums, and joined my café culture of one.
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