My three-year-old daughter and I wandered into Homer’s recently renovated coffee shop this morning. We had just dropped off my other daughter at kindergarten. It was raining on the two-and-a-half feet of snow we’d gotten over the weekend, turning it to gray slush, and the coffee shop seemed like a good place to tide over for a while until she and I went skiing later in the morning. I desperately hoped it was snowing in the hills behind town.
The coffee shop is an airy, high-ceilinged place. The walls are freshly painted a sunny yellow, and the two-story façade is almost entirely glass, all south-facing. Track lighting illuminates the space even on dark mornings. When I entered the space last fall, soon after the renovation, I felt as though I’d landed in another town, a city even, a place where sleek concrete countertops and well-designed lighting were commonplace. For a few weeks, I couldn’t believe such a place could exist in our town.
But I got over it quickly. Every time I visited, I saw the same people, people I know from having lived for 16 years in a town with a population of about 5,000. This morning, the regulars were all there. There was the dental hygienist-turned-reality TV star sitting at a table with my former landlord. A neighbor who is also a dad of one of my daughter’s schoolmates was there. He was a lead in the musical I took my girls to at the high school theater last weekend—a rewriting of The Wizard of Oz that took place in Alaska and was, really, quite clever. A guy who used to work at the bank and now does something else that has to do with money was there with his toddler daughter. She shares my name so whenever he calls her, I look up. I saw a friend’s husband, who, she says, must get out and be active to stay happy, whether that means hunting bear, searching for cast-off moose antlers, picking wild mushrooms, or surfing the bay’s cold winter waves. And a guy named Steve was there too. I think he works construction, but when he’s not, he performs as “Monique.”
I guess you have to count us as regulars too. My daughters and I seem to get there at least once a week. The baristas all know my name well enough to charge my coffee to the right account. I only know the name of one of them—the gal who had to be flown to Anchorage by medevac a month or so ago due to a massive infection from a bad tooth. A handwritten sign on the coffee-shop counter invited folks to contribute to an account set up in her name at one of the local banks to help her take care of medical expenses and deal with lost income.
When I moved to Homer in my 20s, I was shocked at how small and familiar everything was. I’m from the suburbs outside the nation’s capital. We didn’t even know the names of the people who lived across the street. But when I came here, I bought pastries and soup from a friend who was one of the owners of the local bakery. The couple that ran the computer store were the aunt and uncle of one of my students—he had moved down from Anchorage to live with them. I played pickup soccer in the evenings with my boyfriend’s boss. Everywhere I went—the post office, the supermarket, the bar—I ran into people I knew.
At age 25, wanting to meet new people and have crazy nights out from time to time, I found the closeness oppressive. I longed for anonymity. Now, usually, I find it charming. Although I still joke that I’m going to invent a disguise one can wear to be efficient while running around town doing errands. Then no one will notice you, ask you how you are, or what you did in last weekend’s snow.
My daughter and I never did make it out to ski. The rain never let up, and a friend came in to the coffee shop and sat down with us, and we chatted.
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