Tuesday, January 13, 2004

*Rant Alert*

What is the deal with printers? You spend a little, you get crap. You spend a lot, you get crap. All I need is a dependable printer to print text. That's it. Not some disposable junk that I end up tossing out every year.

*Rant over*

The Hockey in Belize item aired last Saturday on CBC in Canada. It is now archived at http://winnipeg.cbc.ca/dnto/. Go there this week, load all the selections, and then drag the 7th item to the playback line. And hit play! Magic!! After a week, you'll have to dive into the archives.

I've been doing some more writing... here is a first draft of a tome on Coffee in my neighbourhood. Please excuse any grammatical errors.

Los Angeles is the City of Angels. Vancouver is the City of Beans. Coffee beans. Proof?
Vancouver is the home of the street corner with two Starbucks outlets on opposite
corners. And there are a dozen more within a few city blocks. If you don’t like coffee,
welcome to latte hell!

If the growth of downtown coffee shops keeps growing like it has, there soon will be
entire city blocks of Robson Street with nothing but Starbucks and Seattle’s Best. And
there will be the niche versions too: Starbucks Kids (Bubblegum Latte) and Baby Blenz
(strained carrot cappuccino).

But a short distance from the golden sidewalks of Robson Street sits a street known to
locals. A street with more coffee shops than I have pairs of underwear. An eclectic street
that is the ultimate melting pot of have and have not. Commercial Drive.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I lived in Kitsilano. But not being buff or owning 13
fleece vests, I moved east. Good thing I didn’t buy all that fleece – it seems yoga wear is
the new fleece in Kits.

I now live is a much poorer postal code, though by Vancouver standards this means a
nice house is only worth $500,000. Think I’m kidding? There are homeless people
sleeping in the park across the street while I pay over $1500 a month in rent. My park
neighbours may be on to something.

The Drive, as its known here, features the best and worst of the city. Since moving to
this part of the city a couple of years ago, I have a love-hate relationship with the
neighbourhood. I love the stores that sell food products from around the world. I hate
the faux-hippies and their bongo drums. I love the fact that you can be yourself. I hate
the panhandlers. I love the different languages I hear while walking around. I hate the
street corner drug dealers.

More than anything I am fascinated with the vast selection of coffee shops and their
clientele. On The Drive, the place you choose for your Joe says a lot about who you are.

The coffee retailers on "The Drive" run the gamut. For the past while I have been looking
more closely at the coffee joints in my neighbourhood and the people who frequent them.
Here’s a short guide:

The Original: It may not be the most traditional, but it is the most authentic feeling –
Joe’s. Joe’s sits there on the corner, massive Portuguese flag on the awning, serving up
what is commonly known as the best cappuccino in the city. Fact or urban myth, it’s
hard to tell – but it is good. And it is always served by Joe, because Joe is always there.
In fact, this could be why we call a cup of Joe a cup of Joe.

Sometimes Joe smiles. Sometimes he’s gruff. But the product is tasty and the shop has a
decor that comes straight out of the 50’s. Joe’s is the type of coffee bar that will be here
long after the others have come and gone. Joe’s is a true original.

The Italian: On one block, two Italian heavyweights square off. On the east side, Café
Amici. On the west side, Abruzzo Cappuccino Bar. Abruzzo has Italian football on the
tele. Amici has old Italian men hanging outside talking football. Abruzzo has tables
outside, usually taken by people with dogs. Amici has old Italian men talking about

I wonder if there is a division of loyalties regarding what coffee bar to go to. Especially
amongst the old Italian men. Do they sneer at each other across the street? I get the
feeling they do. The coffee in these places is as traditional as it gets.

The Funky: These are my favourites. They’re not as traditional as the Italian. But they
serve up great brews. They have cool art on the walls (that changes monthly), and a
varied, but constant clientele of repeat customers. I have spent much time within the
walls of Turk’s chatting with people or working. The music is eclectic and they call you
by your first name. The furniture, however, is of abandoned house quality. Maybe it’s to
keep folks from staying too long. Four hours is about all I can manage.

Another similar spot is JJ Bean, a few blocks away. Great selection of coffee and snacks.
Muffins that have been poured haphazardly into pans so that dozen have become one.
All kinds of sweet stuff temps the buyer as well, especially when waiting for that quad-
shot Americano Misto to come up.

And there is Continental Coffee as well. It seems to have the corner on the most travel
worn folks, and the faux-hippies. I’m not sure why, because it seems to be similar to
many other places. But I guess you just fall into a groove. It could be that the hemp store
is only a few blocks away. Another great feature of Continental is that there is a
Starbucks across the street. You can sit and gaze at those evil corporate bastards who
oppress us all by drinking their eggnog lattes. Or, that’s what one of the faux-hippies
suggested one day.

The Corporate: Just one word here: Starbucks. And I am surprised that there are two
outlets on The Drive. And a Blenz has opened up as well, between the two ‘Bucks.
I snicker when I walk by Starbucks and peer in the window. Not because I’m being a
snot (ok, I am), but because I want to grab the people inside as say, "Don’t play it safe!!
Expand your horizons! Try one a real coffee bar!! Live on the wild side!!" But I don’t, I
just feel sorry that they are missing a real organic experience.

The Get-In-On-This-Coffee-Thing: These are the many, many small shops that have
elected to sell coffee in addition to groceries, rolling papers and cigarettes. This coffee is
of the same quality found in any gas station, 100km from the nearest espresso machine.
It is low-grade caffeine for emergency use only. I think some of it must be months old.
Probably useful for stripping floors and warding off evil spirits.

The Newcomers: Not just the chains have noticed the brown sea of The Drive. There are
new independent coffee retailers opening up all the time. They are ok, I guess, but don’t
really have the flavour of The Drive. I think most are owned by people who woke up one
morning as said, "Let’s open a coffee shop."

So, despite all the media accounts that portray the east side of Vancouver as nothing more
than a collection of heroin addicts and prostitutes, there is more to the east side. It’s home
to those addicted to caffeine, like me.

I’ve been thinking, if Hollywood has its maps of star’s homes, perhaps its time to sell a
map of Commercial Drive coffee houses. I might be able to make enough money to keep
me in beans.




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