Cameron has me very well trained. Every morning on the way to the bus we stop at a coffee shop. He looks forward to it – blocks away he will announce, “I can see it! I can see it!” He knows there will be a hot chocolate there for him, and he knows that if he behaves himself and holds my hand for the walk there will be whipped cream and sprinkles on the top. He practically dances into the shop. And so starts our morning of social interactions.
The coffee shop has its regular visitors. Businessy types, medical types, and others I can’t identify all breeze in, get their caffeinated drinks, and head off to their work. Many I recognize and we exchange good mornings and comments about Cameron, but few stand out.
Cameron seems to think little of those customers – he knows who’s in charge. He’s all about David in the mornings, the manager. David is a warm and welcoming man, who always seems thrilled to see us. He’ll present Cameron with stickers sometimes but mostly it’s all about chatter. If it’s not too busy he’ll take Cameron behind the counter to watch coffee in the grinder or look at the inside of the display cabinet, or take the time to talk with both of us. He’s open about his past relationships, showing depth and insight, and his love for his partner is evident in his expression and voice as he talks of the present.
There are members of the customer crowd who stand out.
There’s Roy, an older man, there on the same chair every morning. Except when it looks as though someone got there first, in which case he’s in a different seat and not looking happy about it. That’s his territory. He says hi every morning, seems a little shy and awkward, and like he wants conversation but doesn’t quite know how to manage it. Most mornings he’s drinking water out of a coffee cup. Occasionally he’ll ask me to spot him a loonie for coffee. I have once, but realized quickly that this could quickly get expensive, and gently refused after that.
Santa makes regular appearances. His grizzled appearance and clothing has made me wonder if perhaps he’s one of the many people who sleep in the doorways up and down the main road we live near, but I have no idea. Why Santa? He could easily be the old elf in disguise – especially when you see the brightness of his blue eyes, and recognize that the wrinkles around them are from long years of smiling. When Cameron is having a difficult morning, Santa is often right there, and it seems that just a moment’s glance is enough to turn frustrated cries to giggles or earnest chatter.
The Army Nurse makes sporadic appearances. When she’s there she’s usually camped out right by the window, reading a newspaper, spouting random outbursts vaguely related to the news or the conversation around her. Imagine MASH’s Hot Lips in her retirement years, with a hefty dose of dementia. She usually has a once-brightly-coloured scarf draped over her shoulders, fixed with old pins and badges with nursing and military insignia on them. My favourite of her outburts has been, “We make our beds like we make our books, sir – in order!”
As we leave the coffee shop, Cameron toting his favourite morning toy (a clean straw), he yells a big bye-bye to everyone, and normally gets a hearty response. Off we go to the bus stop, where the next character is often there to greet us. Bob is the cook for one of the frat houses, and while he’s friendly to us and always happy to talk with Cameron, it’s clear that he’s pretty bitter. Bob is a chain smoker, but is aware enough at least that he refrains from being obvious about it to Cameron. Cameron noticed just yesterday, and had a priceless reaction, “Heeeyy! That’s a cigarette. YUCK!” What he didn’t notice was the bottle of booze visible in a pocket inside Bob’s open coat.
Our coffee shop is located in an inbetween zone, the border between areas of very low income and very high. Naturally, it attracts some eccentrics as well as the ‘regular folk’. They all – eccentric or normal – flavour our mornings, and Cameron is unaware of their oddities and differences. Okay, maybe not unaware, as he steers clear of Army Nurse entirely. But if nothing else, all these people greet us with smiles in the morning. That makes a big difference, and sets the scene for a good day.