Cafe Euro / Musician SatNav Voices

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Back Buzz - June 11, 2010

pumping heartCafé Euro, 72 John Street, Highfield, Sheffield

Although I've reviewed plenty of coffee shops in Sheffield's city centre simply because I work there and it's easy, I do relish the opportunity to venture further afield in search of places frequented by caffeineheads on the other side of the Ring Road. So a few days ago before work I set off on a mission to find Café Euro.

It was easy enough to find Bramall Lane, as I immediately spotted the BP petrol station and the familiar "Blades" football ground just beyond. But as this was my first visit to John Street I wasn't expecting quite such a light-industrial thoroughfare. Part of the Little Sheffield and Bramall Lane historic area, John Street is lined with brick workshops and buildings dating from the Victorian heyday of Sheffield's metal and cutlery trades. As I walked down the street, passing noisy warehouses where flatbed trucks were loading and unloading goods, halfway down toward London Road I spotted what appeared to be a coffeehouse, a quiet oasis in a desert of clanging industry.

Or so I thought at first. In reality, these brick buildings of today's John Street are the homes of recording and rehearsal studios, music management and entertainment agencies, t-shirt printers, craft shops, and climbing walls along with repair shops, tool and die companies, jewellery manufacturers, and lawnmower suppliers. Opened in 2005 by Simon Ford, Café Euro is located on the ground floor of the Clifton Works building.

When I entered the café I found a pleasantly roomy but inviting café with wood furniture and floors and brick walls adorned with photographs. There were just enough customers on this late-morning Tuesday, and they all looked as if they worked nearby, either creatively or industrially. As I ordered my drink I perused the food menu, which features veggie-friendly hot and cold sandwiches with ingredients like houmus and feta and olives, but with much more reasonable prices than one would find on the inner "town" side of the Ring Road.

Taking advantage of the pleasantly balmy but not too warm day I sat outside in the garden, basically a gravel courtyard surrounded by brick buildings. My double macchiato, although very plainly served in a standard white coffee cup with no saucer or spoon, was actually quite robust and satisfying. Café Euro is another of Sheffield's growing population of ethical coffee shops using Fairtrade products, so I could sip my macchiato secure in the knowledge that the bean growers were benefiting directly from my caffeine addiction.

As I sat sipping my coffee, listening to a group of musicians chat about moving their equipment from one studio to another, the smell of paint from a nearby workshop made me want to become an active artist, living in a sprawling empty studio creating environmental installations out of beach huts 'n' things. I could easily have moved in then and there, rather than continue on to my uncreative library job -- after I finished my coffee, of course. It was while contemplating another reality that I realised I knew one of the musicians' group, an ex-library employee with a degree in photography. It made me wonder just what a wide selection of creative customers Café Euro attracts.

Speaking of creative people making money doing unrelated jobs reminds me of an e-mail conversation with my Bay Area friend from last year:

Bob Dylan Holiday Chorus, move over for the real thing: Bob Dylan is in negotiations to lend his voice to a satnav system! This will be brilliant if it happens. I've been puzzling over this since you sent it. I kept checking it to see if the Guardian article had a dateline of April 1, because, frankly, "There are many here among us, who feel that [this] is but a joke." But eventually I heard a short NPR report on this, featuring that quote in a reasonable facsimile of his own voice, "Take a left at the next street -- no, a right."

A friend has been thinking of getting a new car, and since she can get disoriented going around even a rectangular block, she's considering paying thousands extra for a GPS-equipped vehicle (which would be handy when her job requires her to visit remote courthouses in places like Merced and Vallejo). I've tried to imagine what voice would make me want to listen to driving directions. Maybe Tom Waits. But with Tom's voice I wouldn't really need the directions. Hearing him, I don't care if I'm lost. I just want to listen and drive. Perhaps in a few years we'll be able to buy a GPS system with a variety of different celebrity voices that break in with instructions depending on the context. For instance, if you're driving through South Dakota at night, you might get Bruce Springsteen saying "At the stoplights roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair, 'cause the night's busting open and this next right turn will take you into central Pierre". If you're driving through Georgia you might get the B52s saying, "When you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says 15 miles to the love shack! love shack, yeah, you're heading' down the Atlanta highway, looking' for the love getaway, heading for the love getaway, love getaway." Driving through Brooklyn Jim Morrison might suddenly tell you "Turn off Bay Parkway onto the King's Highway, baby, ride the highway west, baby." Or Hank Williams instructing "At the next intersection don't start ramblin' round on this road of sin. Take my advice or you'll curse the day you started rollin' down this lost highway."

If you decide to drive cross the USA, at some point you're bound to get Mick Jagger or Chuck Berry saying, "Go thru St. Looey, Joplin, Missouri, and Oklahoma City looks might pretty. You'll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino. Won't you get hip to this timely tip when you make that California trip? Get your kicks on Route 66." If you decide to drive from Milwaukee to St Louis on Highway 51, you'll hear a few Bob Dylan instructions. At some point you might get Woody Guthrie saying, "At the junction you'll see above you an endless skyway and below you a golden valley." Or perhaps Jon Kay of Steppenwolf instructing, "Get your motor running and head out on Interstate 80 westbound looking for adventure in whatever comes your way." If you go all the way south to New Orleans you might get Janis Joplin saying "At the turnoff pull your harpoon out of your dirty red bandanna, and with your windshield wipers slappin' time and Bobby clappin' hands, sing up every song you know for the next 14.5 miles."

As you get closer to California perhaps you'll get the Eagles saying "So turn onto I-40 and take it to the limit one more time" followed by Levi Helm from the Band saying, "Your left wheel's on fire rolling down the road. Better notify your next of kin, 'cause your left wheel may explode unless you decrease your speed."

Once you get to Southern California you might hear Randy Newman saying "Turn right onto the Imperial Highway with a big nasty redhead at your side, Santa Ana wind blowin' hot from the north, and you was born to ride." Once into LA County you'll hear Aretha Franklin saying "Take I-10 west 'cause you're goin' riding on the Freeway of Love, wind's against your back, goin' ridin' on the Freeway of Love in your pink Cadillac." Driving through East Hollywood Jan & Dean might cut in with "At the intersection of Sunset and Vine come off the line. If you've got the nerve race all the way to Deadman's Curve." As you're turning off the 710 Freeway onto Florence Avenue you might get Bon Scott from AC/DC saying, "Take the next right and you're on the Highway to Bell. No stop signs, speed limit, nobody's gonna slow you down." If you want to head up the coast you'll hear Tom Waits saying "The sailors jockey for the fast lane, so 101 Northbound don't miss it. There's rolling hills and concrete fields and the broken line's on your mind. The eights go east and the fives go north and the merging nexus back and forth. At the next intersection you'll see your sign, cross the line, signalling with a blink." And if you're trying to get from Long Beach to Seal Beach you might get Eddie Grant telling you "Past 2nd Street turn left off Livingston Drive and then you're gonna rock down to Electric Avenue, and then you'll take it higher."

If you're just trying to get home at night, you might first get John Denver saying "The next 2 roads on the right take you home to the place you belong, West Virginia, mountain momma." Or perhaps it will be Taj Mahal saying "As you pull out of Pittsburgh roll down the eastern seaboard with your diesel wound up and she's running like never before. There's a speed zone ahead on the right and you ain't see a cop all night. Six days on the road and now you're gonna make it home tonight in approximately 2 hours 14 minutes." And as you're nearing your neighbourhood you'll hear Paul McCartney instructing, "At the lights go straight across and veer left. This will lead you back to the long and winding road that leads to your door."

And if you're lost, you may hear David Byrne saying, "Turn left at the next street and keep going, because you're on a road to nowhere."