Choices

Over Christmas, I enjoyed the rare chance to spend five days and nights at the family place.  I’d originally planned to come down for a night, join in the exchange of gifts and the Christmas feast, spend a little time with family, and check up on Mom.

As it worked out, my sister was happy to have me stay longer at Bermuda Hundred – feeding the cats, watering the tree, that sort of thing.  It gave me a chance to stroll around the place – to take in the timeless beauty of the James and the ancient view of Shirley Plantation across the water; listen to the sounds of the winter birds; and check the progress of some young trees I’ve planted in recent years.

It was interesting, too, not to be in a town for a few days.  For the past eighteen months, since I turned over Mom’s care to my sister, I’ve lived in several towns.  In 2011, I spent the month of May on the Oregon coast, June and July in Williamsburg – working at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival – and August back in Oregon.
In the fall, I found a nice apartment in Carytown, but – as it wasn’t immediately available – I rented a room from a nice lady in Ginter Park.  I moved into my Carytown digs just in time to be a part of the New Year festivities.   

Last summer, I moved here – to Staunton – in order to begin my graduate studies.  Four towns in just over a year.  

One of the remarkable things about living in a town is that you have so many choices of coffee.  And I’m not talking about all the frou-frou coffee drinks, which have turned so many Americans into latter-day versions of Sally Albright – Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally.  

Not for me the syrups and flavorings, dairy and non-dairy whiteners, and multi-syllabic faux Italian terminology.  I’ve always taken my coffee strong, black, and as caffeinated as possible.   

I’m just talking about the amazing variety of brews you can get.  Different beans.  Different roasts.  Different blends.  Even without adulterating your coffee, the options are endless.

When, that is, you live in a town.  When I lived at home, taking care of Mom, I survived on those little sleeves of instant coffee.  Hazelnut.

But when I got to Cannon Beach, Oregon, I was two blocks from a wonderful little place called The Sleepy Monk, which ground its own beans.  

In Williamsburg, I would hike every morning to Aroma’s, just around the corner from the Duke of Gloucester Street, to sip their Magnus blend and study my lines.

Flying back to Oregon, I spent a couple of days in Portland and discovered Stumptown – which should be as popular as Starbucks.

In Richmond, I fell in love with the Gayo blend at Ellwood Thompson’s.   And here in Staunton – where there are four highly-competitive coffee shops within blocks of the Blackfriars Theatre – I’ve settled on the café in the back of Cranberry’s, a little health-food grocery where Lester will hand you a mug with which to enjoy “Lesters’ No. 7” blend.

It would appear that we live in a world of what Shakespeare called “infinite variety.”  Yet last week, I took some of my Christmas loot and headed to Target to buy one of those compact, ingenious Keurig single-cup brewers.  

Wherefore this folly?

In part, to save money.  Ninety bucks for a personal brewer isn’t chump change, especially when you figure in the cost of the little K-cups.  But when you compare that with a single cup at a coffee house, it works out that – at just one cup a day – my brilliant new personal brewer will pay for itself in about two months.

And that’s not counting the time saved by not leaving home.

Even better than that, there’s the range of choices.  Much as I enjoy Lester’s No. 7, it’s a treat to be able to brew up a cup of Tully’s breakfast blend – my favorite Seattle coffee.  The closest Tully’s I know of is in Boise – but I can buy a dozen K-cups at Martin’s, right here in Staunton.

As with so many things in our newly technological age, there are just so many choices.

As I begin a new year of this hoary old column, I’m pretty sure I’m going to focus more on the theme of choice.

Choice is among the great, defining issues of the age.   Choice can be incredibly liberating.  It’s positively great to be able to start the day with exactly the cup of coffee you want.  

Choice can also, at times, become overwhelming.  Ask any high school senior applying to colleges.  

We live in the Age of Choice, and we’re all struggling to adapt to the advantages and disadvantages of that fact.

Something I have chosen to ponder as we begin the thirteenth year of this new millennium. 

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