Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One Morning at Winning's

I am sitting at a long, wooden table in Winning's Coffee Shop on Harvard, near UNM, in Albuquerque. It’s a Wednesday morning. The room is packed with an eclectic mix of students, ghetto-dwellers and, like myself, visitors from across town.

It is a cold, overcast day outside; the diffuse light offers a glowing softness through the front face of windows and hanging ferns.

Bradley is standing near the corner, adjacent to the coffee roaster, selling his books. Bradley comes here several days every week and, with an assistant, unloads piles of book boxes from his old vehicle, carefully opening and arranging them in rows along the angled counter.

A young man stands near the left end, sporting a brown pull-over knit cap and hoodie jacket, thumbing through the bargain books set up on the bar stools. A young woman, probably his girl friend, is along side. Bradley offers short quips of advice, relevant to whatever book is being looked at. “That’s a classic. There’s a first edition up here, too.”

At the other end of the angled counter are two men in coats and hats. They’ve been intent on several boxes of books, and now they’re engaged in a seemingly intellectual discussion with Bradley.

The older man stands listening, thumbing a paperback. The younger man can’t decide between several books he’s selected. Bradley wears a carabineer of keys, clipped to the front collar of his sweater.

At the other end of the long, wooden table that I’m seat at are three college-aged people – two guys and a gal – who are discussing, among other subjects, what they have planned for the weekend. The girl needs a bed moved; Nick’s van may be available. “The A-Team van,” the other two jest. There’s a discussion about going to the new Rambo movie. And talk about some friend who plays in a band at Winning's in the evening.

Meanwhile, the two men at the book counter finish their conversation with Bradley. The younger one has purchased two books, while the older has one. Bradley makes change from a red and black Velcro wallet whose color matches the “Bradley’s Books” banner hung on the window behind the counter. The older man neatly folds the bills and inserts them, end-wise, into a compact, leather, squeeze-open wallet, the kind one would find in a Land’s End catalog.

There is a collection of student art, photo-collages, along the gallery wall. Some pieces are neatly framed behind glass, while others are crudely wrapped in what appears to be plastic wrap on white foam core board. You can tell who has a scholarship.

One of the restaurant staff busses the tables. “Is this yours,” she asks, pointing to a soggy plate of what appears to be scrambled eggs with green chile.

“No, I’m not that hungry” I retort, pointing to my scone and coffee.

I feel stilted, not comfortable enough to pull the X-370 Minolta up to my face, adjust the aperture and focus, and squeeze off a shot. Like I haven’t earned the right to somehow invade the space of an adjacent customer’s table. Which is a strange thought in retrospect, considering how much of my fellow customer’s privacy I’ve already invaded with these off-the-cuff latent observations. As if I’ve already taken their picture – a word picture – whose image is formed in the camera obscura of the mind.

I’m ready to leave. I’ll go somewhere where there are fewer people, and make landscape images and street shots. It’s been a good morning.

Outside on the curb I turn around and take a shot of a smoker seated at the sidewalk tables. “Are you a Fed,” he asks?

“Yes” I reply jesting, and smile.

He mumbles incoherently.

I drive off.


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