It’s a Saturday afternoon and the sweetest summer breeze in days billows the leaves on the vines draped along the old red brick mortar exterior of the coffee house where, a hundred-odd Minnesota summers ago, railroad people struggled to stay cool. The patio displays mostly couples tables of heavy durable plastic and thick, brown wicker chairs under old shade trees.
The past week’s weather, in degrees, was made of a string of hundreds. Pavements buckled. Lake water felt like warm milk. Dogs begged for indoor comfort and cats sun-bathed with expressions that said “kill me now; I’m in heaven”.
The old railroad folk worked long days, languishing in daily chores while etching out a menial living, on this very same plot of land where new people drink freshly-made iced tea or a latte mixed with steamed soy milk. There’s an aura of comfort round these new people, people who are seemingly at peace with the new weather and life itself, and without the need to verbalize it. Instead, they drink. Breathe fresh air. Share one another’s company while attempting to forget the struggles of modernity.
A middle-aged woman surfs the web by way of music, with eyes closed, meditating, perhaps in search of her inner self. Her male companion reads from a hard copy book. He appears more perceptive than intuitive. An engineer perhaps. Someone who trusts numbers and formulas.
Another couple, much younger, yet in the early stages of couples-who-like-alike, is seated at a table near the white-picket fence. Similarly off-blonde hair and round pasty faces with blushing cheeks and pale empty eyes. They each sip from a cup of iced coffee, his elbows resting on the table, displaying his control of all things, and she resting against the back of her chair, allowing him to believe he is in control of all things. They’re as quiet as though all is understood, pre-determined, and youth and patience are their best friends.
An older couple are seated on the porch with their elderly son who pecks a way on a laptop. There’s a sense he appreciates this time with his parents, appreciates his father’s nervousness while watching him check his Blackberry every few minutes, and appreciates his own patience for his mother’s undoubtedly terminal preoccupation with trite, yet innocuous, observations.
The sounds of passing vehicles side swipe the tranquil air. Most cars hum along while others roar for attention, as if they were Paul Revere on steroids. The steady traffic is a far cry from the long ago train whistle that sent panic through the resident wildlife in the nearby woods while alerting the locals of travelers and goods just arriving.
Now an over-dressed woman of both sophistication and worldliness saunters onto the patio. She paces, unable to sit and relax, and, instead, gives the impression that every moment of the day needs to be filled with vitality. She’s not alone. Her voice is loud, disruptive, as she speaks into a cell phone, making the world appear much larger than the little patio at the little coffee house. It’s self-centered moments like these that make others forget the things they’d like to remember.