Coffee Shop Loyalty Card

Back in the pre-pandemic era, I spent my weekday mornings at one of two coffee shops: 1.) Plowshares Coffee Roasters on Amsterdam Ave. between 125th and 126th streets or 2.) Dear Mama on the ground floor of Columbia University’s Jerome L. Greene Science Center at Broadway and 129th St. 

I have been working remotely—that is, not at an office building—for four years now. As you have probably learned from your own remote-working adventures during the global health crisis, it helps to have a routine and a place to go each day, lest you think to yourself, around 2 in the afternoon, Have I brushed my teeth today? Or said any words?

So I went to Plowshares or Dear Mama, both of which have an industrial, glass-and-concrete aesthetic. Frankly, I prefer cozily tumbledown coffee shops with mismatched, secondhand furniture and a menu of vegan baked goods that look and taste like those peat briquettes the Irish use to heat their homes. 

But I don’t know of any establishments like that within walking distance of my apartment.

The other customers in those days were college students, retirees, parents with small children, and people pecking at laptops like me. In my experience, that’s your standard daytime crowd at a coffee shop, unless you happen to be in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where about 80% of the tables will be occupied by Bible study groups. 

I know this because my mom lives in Fayetteville now (I grew up in nearby Springdale), and when I stayed with her for a longer-than-usual Christmas visit a couple Decembers ago, I’d work during the day at a coffee shop on Dickson St. And let me tell you, that place was stuffed with caffeinated Christians from opening to close. 

They’d have their Bibles on the tables in front of them while they sipped their lattes and soldiered through awkward conversations about the condition of their souls, and I’d wonder, What type of hideous sins must you have committed to think atonement requires hashing out the Book of Nehemiah at 8am on a Tuesday?

For me, it would need to be a grave offense—none of that venial or sin-of-omission stuff. We’re talking the bearing of false witness at least, possibly with a side of coveting thy neighbor’s ass. 

Right before the world shut down in March, I earned a free coffee at Plowshares by filling up my buy-9, get-the-10th-cup-free punch card. 

Actually, since the card has two rows of punchable spaces, by the time it’s completely filled, you’ve bought 18 cups and gotten 2 free. And apparently that’s not all I got for free, because according to the card, each purchase was supposed to come with only one free hour of Wi-Fi—a miserly rule I ignored on a daily basis. And no, I do not consider this mild theft a violation of the Lord’s commandment against stealing, so you cannot make me go to Bible study. 

Unfortunately, I have not been able to use the replacement loyalty card since the plague arrived, and so the card remains entirely unpunched to this day. I have been making coffee at home instead. 

There was a time when I never would have brewed my own, for I was, when it came to coffee, strictly a social drinker, as drunks in denial like to say. I toiled in a cubicle back then, and I’d slurp the bitter stuff for an excuse to get away from my desk and chat about the previous night’s TV shows with the gals in the typing pool. 

But at some point coffee drifted from the diversion column to the reason-for-living file. In fact, on bleak mornings when I’m lying in bed and feeling especially reluctant to face the day, I’ll think, Well, at least there will be coffee.

That’s probably what drives the attendees of all those crack-of-dawn scripture klatches, too—not the power of Jesus but the power of java. 

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