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Back Buzz - December 12, 2002

[pumping heart] Borders Books & Music Cafe, 2110 North Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, California, USA

Seeing as how I'm in temporarily exile from my home in Yorkshire and forced through financial considerations to stay at my mother's house in Suburban Long Beach, I've found the closest source for an emergency espresso is Borders Books & Music. Situated in the terribly unexciting Los Altos Shopping Center -- in the heart of Los Altos, Where Nobody Walks -- this bookshop is a refuge from the computer dealers and take-out chains which surround it. The cafe is nestled away in the north corner of the shop against glass walls and doors which open out onto a shaded patio. Here you can sit and enjoy the view of the Los Altos Shopping Center car park, with the stunningly forgettable façades of Sears, Circuit City, and CompUSA visible in the distance.

Yes, this is the pure suburban espresso experience.

The first time I stopped in for a drink I'd been in the country only a week and was still reeling from culture shock. After purchasing my single macchiato I received my first American change in ages. After being accustomed to 1-pound and 2-pound coins, suddenly I found myself with an armful of paper notes and these strange-looking coins: quarters, dimes, nickels...yes, it was all coming back to me! Why does America insist on such confusing names for its coins? Why not call them 25-cent pieces, 10-cent pieces, and 5-cent pieces? Why must we always insist on confusing the rest of the world? Why, why, why?

Okay, I'll stop whingeing and get back to the coffee. My single macchiato was served in a big double-cappuccino-sized cup, a very heavy-duty construction suitable for those who live in highrises and drink their morning cappuccinos on their balcony. With a cup like this they can balance their cappuccino on the ledge, and if it happens to slip off and fall eight or ten stories the cup won't break. As to the coffee itself it was okay, but just not terribly exciting. For one thing I don't think it was probably tamped hard enough.

There is a sign on the wall which restricts cafe customers to one hour of sitting only, and no sitting and studying with outside materials is allowed. Is this because of the close proximity to Cal State University at Long Beach? In my part of Sheffield, which is full of University of Sheffield and Hallam University students and faculty, if a student wants to sit in a cafe or pub studying she or he is perfectly welcome to do so. So if a Long Beach Borders customer purchases $500 worth of books and then sits down to spend another $12 drinking eight macchiatos, after 60 minutes will they be required to stand to finish their last $9 worth?

But alas, this is Southern California, where bar patrons can't drink their drinks outdoors or smoke their cigarettes indoors. Nothing makes much sense here, except for Mexican food and margaritas. But Woman cannot live on Mexican food and margaritas alone, although I suppose some would try...

As I sat sipping my macchiato I was waiting to meet a friend who was due to arrive in 10 minutes. I'd been there for 40 minutes already, so I had 20 minutes left. If my friend ended up being more than 10 minutes late, would the Borders staff come and forcibly eject me from my seat, possibly spilling my last sip of macchiato in the process? Would I be compelled to battle to the death to defend my right to finish my espresso? Oh well, at least I know in the ensuing struggle my durable cup probably wouldn't break...

Speaking of stupid regulations reminds me of two short e-mail exchanges with my Bay Area friend .The first is from two years ago about English law:

Earlier this week, as I was sitting in the salon having my hair coloured and cut, I read in the Daily Mail that it's legal to murder a Welsh person in the town of Hereford as long as it's on a Sunday, it's within the confines of the cathedral courtyard, and you are using a longbow at an approximate distance of 12 yards.

Murder is legal in Hereford? Is it necessary to register your plans in advance, or can you just show up and put an arrow through whomever happens to be on hand? That would make it risky to attend church services, I'd imagine.

Oh, I don't know...might thin out some of the flock.

...and the second was more recently, on the subject of clowns:

The news from Maryland and Virginia about the serial sniper is further evidence that the European perception that America is full of gun-toting lunatics is correct. That would be pretty frightening, since the usual advice about being aware of your surroundings isn't going to help fend off a bullet from afar. The other day a friend told me about some comedian in the DC area who's hanging around shopping malls in a clown suit with a target on it. He may be laughing now, but the minute the press says, "So far none of the killer's victims have been clowns," this guy is history.

I also heard (I'm not sure whether or not this was a joke) that people in the area were being advised not to walk in a straight line when crossing parking lots. Can you imagine people all across Maryland and Virginia running erratic patterns, like frantic pigeons, as they leave or return to their cars?

Wow, what a great idea..................................sorry, um...SORRY! I was momentarily distracted by a vision of a beautiful world where everybody lives in peace, and there are no clowns...

I would think if people ran in erratic patterns across the parking lot they would be more fun to shoot at that way, as opposed to running in organised lines -- unless the sniper happens to have a particular aversion toward line dancers.

Imagine...a world without clowns or line dancers! You may say I'm a dreamer...