"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The first time I tasted coffee was in the middle of the night in the middle of Texas in the middle of my sophomore year in high school.
Dad, my brother and I were driving from Albuquerque to Beaumont for grandmother’s funeral. Mom had flown down earlier. Dad took us out of school Friday to drive from high, dry New Mexico, to low, wet East Texas.
It’d be a long trip today, but in the days before the Interstate it was an ordeal. The sun was going down behind us as we inched across the Illano Estacado of West Texas.
Somewhere in central Texas--sometime after midnight, when my eyes wouldn’t hold up any more--that’s when we stopped for coffee at some nameless truck stop. We had an old 1954 Chevrolet station wagon--bigger than today’s mini-vans --and we put the back seat down and had a pallet back there. Younger brother was sound asleep and Dad and I were having trouble keeping our eyes open.
We stopped and I had my first cup of coffee. The taste woke me up. Waitress wanted to know if I wanted cream and sugar--and being a man, I said “no.”
To this day I want black coffee; in fact, I can’t take all the fancy stuff that these upscale coffee shops brew for the with-it crowds.
Although it’s about a beautiful woman, it’s no accident that the one rap song I like is “Black coffee, no sugar, no cream.”
After the coffee, and after my turn at driving, I lay down and tried to go to sleep, but couldn’t.
The first hint of dawn silhouetted clouds as we listened to WWL in New Orleans, and zoomed through the night on deserted highways. Dad had the window down. Damp air rushed in. The dim dark shapes of the big piney woods, ground fog and the strange voices on the far away radio station kept my attention, and the coffee kept me awake.

Decades later, I’m rarely without a coffee cup in my hands. I drink so much coffee that when I die they won’t have to embalm me because my veins will be full of caffeine. I can drink coffee anytime and still go to sleep without any trouble.
Friends know, and gifts are often coffee mugs. My favorites are from the Nome, Alaska newspaper, The Nugget, sent by a student; from the late, great Tulsa Tribune: one from Oxford University, a gift from a faculty friend; one from Larry McMurtry’s Archer City, Tex., bookstore, Booked Up; one from Maryland, “I’m Crabby,” a gift from one of my children; and the ones I had made for my newspaper The Waurika News-Democrat.
But they don’t catch dust on shelves. They catch coffee.
You can always tell the favorite mug because it rarely gets washed. Like the old iron skillet--taste improves with age.
It’s funny how the taste of something--and the wonderful odor of coffee--can bring back conversations, happiness and tears.
Coffee keeps my memories awake.
It brings back camping trips, times around a campfire, college days and late night studying, playing chess or Scrabble--special people at special times in special places.
Coffee in town is meeting a friend in a coffee shop on Saturday morning or sharing coffee after a meal in a restaurant. Or over a game of chess, or in a bookstore.
In the country, it’s watching the stars come out as you sip on the last cup before climbing into the sleeping bag. In the morning the first thing to do will be to fire up the Coleman and get the coffee on; then plop the bacon into the iron skillet. Then you can tend to “necessary” business while enjoying the aroma of coffee and the sizzle of bacon frying.
No wonder I love coffee.

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