You Have to Dig for It

Life, One Sip at a Time

Ocean Beach, for the uninitiated, is a sleepy little bohemian community that, by all appearances, has been forgotten by time. Either that or it exists in an alternate universe accessible from Interstate 8 and Sunset Cliffs Blvd.

Which, come to think of it, may not be far from the truth.

But, it’s where we live, my beloved and I. And we quite fancy it.

Underneath the towering Mexican fan palms that march in stately procession down Newport Avenue toward the shoreline, you’ll see an odd collection of street musicians, Deadheads, antique stores, political activists, and artists. There are also tattoo/piercing parlors, beach themed bars, head shops and an International youth hostel whose residents are often indistinguishable from the pervasive homeless population.

What else would you expect from a place that was once known as the Haight-Ashbury of San Diego, right?

Dogs are a big deal in OB.

They even have their own beach.

Most summer mornings find the narrow streets and pre-WW II bungalows enveloped in a mantle of fog, which we locals insist on calling a “marine layer.”

I’m not sure why.

I mean fog is fog. Why not just call it that?


One recent late June morn, hoodies in place, my beloved and I left our house and walked to one of our favorite coffee places.

The regulars were still there. And I must say that the folks who frequent this particular coffee shop are about as diverse a clientele as I’ve ever seen.

Businessmen; surfers just in from a sunrise session; golfers stopping in for a cuppa’ Joe before hitting the links; young mothers with toddlers in strollers; street people hoping to get a “refill” in the cup they’d just dug out of the trash somewhere; and rounding out the crowd a smattering of tourists.

There they were, standing in line together and displaying a surprising collegiality for those of such dissimilar social and economic backgrounds.

While my wife went in search of a table, I joined the queue, sandwiched between a woman in her late fifties (if appearances are to be believed) and a stylishly dressed fellow conducting important business on his cell phone.

The woman was dressed in a white tie-dyed, full length peasant skirt topped by a teal cotton pullover, her long, gray hair hanging down her back in an intricate braid reaching nearly to her waist.

She seemed, well, cranky.

I say this because when it was her turn to order, she spat instructions at the unfortunate young lady behind the counter as if she were an underling.

“I want my coffee EXACTLY 140º! Not one degree more and not one degree less. And I want it fresh. You can give the dregs to these other people in line.” And here she gestured dismissively in the general direction of the queue. “And leave the lid off. I want to make sure my instructions have been followed because if they haven’t, I’m not paying for it! Are we clear, missy?”

One of the other employees screwed up her face and mouthed, “Missy?”

To her credit, the young lady taking the order replied evenly, “No problem, ma’am. Will that be all?”

Sadly, it wasn’t.

“No, that won’t be all! I would also like one of your ridiculously overpriced pastries. Not that I enjoy them, I just need something on my stomach before I drink the coffee.”

“No problem. What kind would you like?” said the young lady sweetly.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Just pick one and give it to me.”

The barista moved over to the pastry display, picked up the tongs and reached for a cinnamon roll only to have the woman shout, “No! Not that one! Give me that other one. That one. That one right…oh, for Pete’s sake!” At this point she brushed rudely past me and began stabbing her finger against the window of the display case saying, “That one! That…whatever it is right there!”

The barista calmly, patiently placed the banana nut coffee cake into a paper sack and carried it back to the register.

“Anything else, ma’am?”

The woman sampled the coffee, pronounced it to be “adequate,” paid for her order and moved starchily off toward the condiment table.

I raised my brows and said, “Wow!” before asking for a medium coffee with room for cream. “Oh,” I added. “And make sure to include the dregs,” which drew a laugh from the barista.

As I approached the condiment table I could hear the woman muttering.

She turned purposefully and stalked toward the counter nearly colliding with me in the process and offering no apology.

Apparently, the source of her displeasure centered on the fact that there wasn’t any raw sugar and that their coffee was, “Simply undrinkable without raw sugar!”

I dipped my hand into the deep stainless-steel container that housed the sugar and felt a layer of packets at the very bottom.

The same barista, with the woman hot on her heels, came over to check out the situation.

I held up three packets and said, “You know, sometimes if you want the sugar…you have to dig for it.”

The barista stared at me.

I stared back at her.

She said, “Whoa! Just like life.”

I smiled and nodded.

The woman seemed completely baffled, exclaiming, “What?”

The barista looked at her. “It’s like life. Sometimes if you want the sugar, you have to dig for it. Get it?”

The woman stared at us as if we’d just sprouted horns and cleft tongues.

And stared.

And then stared a bit more.

Finally, her fierce countenance softened a little and a small, embarrassed smile fought its way into place.

“It’s been a long time since anyone found any sugar in me. A very, very long time. You see, I…well…there’s no excuse for me.” She sighed deeply. “I apologize for my behavior, young lady.”

“Apology accepted.” After a brief pause she continued in an exaggerated whisper, “And you’re right…the pastries are overpriced.”

This brought a genuine laugh from the woman.

It was a great laugh.

I left them talking and made my way over to where my beloved sat.

She looked up from the morning paper, saw me grinning and said, “What?”

“Amazing what you can learn at your local coffee shop,” I replied.

“That being…”

“Sometimes if you want the sugar, you have to dig for it.”

She pondered for a few seconds before saying, “Huh. Isn’t that the truth. You just come up with that?”

“Yeah, but I had some help.”


4 thoughts on “You Have to Dig for It

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