Friday, February 15, 2008

Another Morning at Winning's

“Can I love the world? I like it an awful lot, but do I love it?” The voice of a loud, high-pitched man rises above the din at Winning’s Coffee Shop on Harvard, near UNM, in Albuquerque. Rustling shoes creak on the old hardwood floors. The voices of various conversations merge with the whoosh of the espresso machine and tinkle of silverware on china. Some vaguely esoteric background music is barely discernible.

Outside, at a table on the brick walkway, sits a young student dressed in black beret and worn brown flight jacket, smoking cigarettes and reading a hardcover book. A rust-colored pigeon pecks scraps of debris off the brickwork at the young man’s feet.

To my left is the corner counter where Bradley is again selling his books. Today they are stacked in neat piles along the floor and countertop. “I just returned from a trip to Phoenix,” informs Bradley. “Non-fiction is on the top.” The books are packed in produce and wine boxes. Riverside Star grapefruit. Rancho Del Sol lemons. Almaden Mountain Burgundy table wine. Franzia: America’s Best Selling Wine.

The guy behind the counter brings my plate, after asking a few other patrons first. “I forgot to write down your description,” he apologizes, setting the plate down in front of me. It’s a funny system, I think, where you order at the counter and they have to remember what you looked like to find where you’re seated. The personal touch of a college-district coffee shop. More personable than being assigned a number, like at the Frontier Restaurant a block up Central, but perhaps less efficient.

A middle-aged man hunches over a laptop at the adjacent table. “Healthy in Paranoid Times” reads the sticker affixed to the back of the screen.

At Bradley’s counter a burly, ragged man engages him in a discussion about Philip K. Dick and “Bladerunner.”

My plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns is finished, sitting now on the far corner of the table like a lover scorned after the heat of passion.

Outside at the smoking tables a young woman in red jacket, red-framed sunglasses and blue hoodie applies hand cream, wildly gesturing in circular arcs through the clear air while in seeming deep conversation with a fellow patron.

“Are you ready?” shouts the high-pitched man, across the room from the guy with the laptop. He steps outside for a smoke, leaving his laptop on the table inside, its screen partially folded down like an abandoned seat at a sports stadium. The loud guys slips outside, humming a tune under his breath. They stand talking together in the cool morning air.

A young man, sporting a knit hemp cap, metal-studded belt and green T-shirt with the message “I Carry No Cash” is haggling with Bradley over a paperback. “I’ll hold it for you, if needed,” says Bradley.

At my table, adjacent to the empty plate whose fork sits pointing toward the exit, next to the empty coffee cup, is a stack of two copies of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I’ve picked up one for a friend, the other for myself.

Outside at the curb the parking meter is ticking down the minutes, while across the street the parking enforcement officer is slowly trawling the block for fresh victims.

I gather up my things and head to the door. I’ve put extra coins in the meter, my small gift to some student in need of a warm cup of café culture.


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