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Back Buzz - July 25, 2000

[pumping heart] Café Select, Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport

A couple months ago I drove with an English friend to Heathrow to pick up a visiting friend of mine. Since his flight arrived at the ungodly hour of 6:30 in the morning we were all naturally desperate for coffee. In the bustling vastness of Terminal Three, just as we were about to succumb to hypocaffeinated despair, we happily spotted Café Select.

The prices of the drinks were reasonable, an espresso macchiato costing £1.20 and a cappuccino £1.55. The espresso itself was satisfactorily flavourful but not nearly as good and strong as other good English coffees I've tried. The major drawback of Café Select is the fact they serve their drinks in styrofoam cups. This I consider to be a major sacrilege to good coffee. I don't object at all to throw-away cups, especially from places like Café Select which cater to travellers in airports and rail stations. But they should be using strong paper cups, not something like styrofoam which can adversely affect the flavour of a hot drink. This, to me, is simply a big overt NONO!

The problem with any sort of disposable cup, paper or plastic, is that the barista must be careful not to overfill when she or he is making a small drink like an espresso or a macchiato. Somehow our double macchiatos -- which should have been two shots of espresso with just a little foam -- completely filled the cups which were big enough to hold a double short latte; I'd guess 8 to 12 ounces. So did they give us milky lattes instead? Or were the espresso shots made with way too much water? The macchiato experience should provide the oomph! of a straight, concise shot of espresso with just enough milk foam to mark it -- hence the term "macchiato", which means marked. Whatever we had were definitely not macchiatos.

I wouldn't recommend the pastries, either; my croissant was amazingly soggy, more of a steamed croissant pudding than anything else. At a place as big as Heathrow I would think it's possible to find a place with better coffee drinks and pastries -- but then again I may be wrong. On the other hand, the fact that there are Café Selects in many of the British rail stations is good news for rail travellers who otherwise wouldn't be able to find any decent, much less drinkable, coffee on their routes.

Speaking of travellers and commuters in Britain, a recent news report stated that 57% of the British population now own mobile phones. Is this why every pub you walk into these days features one person standing just outside the door chatting away on a mobile phone -- or in the less polite pubs, taking up bar space as he or she chats on his or her phone while obstructing your ability to order a drink? Is this also why you hear so many people having conversations with themselves in supermarkets, or simply walking down the street clutching their ear and saying things like, "Yes, mum...of course I'll phone him tonight..." or "! I didn't say it that way!" or "What are you saying? You can't be serious!"?

On the subject of mobile phones, following is an e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend from a few months ago about mobile phones for pets:

They say that the most traumatic events in ones life are losing a loved one, getting married or divorced, buying a house (or moving in general) and changing jobs. While trying to deal with losing a close friend to cancer and losing my job the worst I figured could happen next was being forced to move again. I didn't even consider that I might lose my cat, because that I wasn't sure I could survive.

But for about nine hours on Sunday, with increasing severity, I faced that possibility.

It was another dreadfully sunny day and I was outside with my cat Ariel. Late in the morning I took a break from planting some wildflower seeds to talk to my neighbor Marina who was making several trips up and down the stairs, carrying things in preparation for a party with her children and grandchildren in the afternoon. Another neighbor came by and said a few words as well.

That was the last I saw of Ariel. I had been sorting through my deceased friend's records for a couple hours when I became aware of the absence of cat. Normally she rises from a nap and begins meowing for dinner around noon, but she was nowhere to be seen. Around 2:00 I went out back in the overgrown field to call her name. She had brought a lizard in through the bathroom window on Saturday, so I figured she might be out hunting again, but she did not show up. Before going out to do errands I fought my way through the vegetation all the way up to the apartments on the street above, but there was no sign of Ariel. But I figured she'd come home by dinner time.

I got home at 5:00 and she did not greet me at the door, so I knew something was seriously wrong. I tried not to think that she could have gotten run over and, fortunately, there were no corpses, crumpled bags or lumps of fabric under any parked cars on the block. I considered that she might have gotten trapped somewhere. From then until dusk I repeatedly paced the property, opened the garages and storeroom, and walked all the sidewalks and stairways within two blocks calling "Ariel" and rattling a plastic container of food. I stopped, called and listened at all garage doors on the block. Although the rattling food got the attention of five or six cats, none of them was Ariel.

As darkness fell I walked to Safeway to get a few groceries and couldn't contain my rising panic. When I got home I called my friend Maryl. She shares a concern for Ariel, but always has level emotions, which I figured would help calm me. It did. She was sure that Ariel knew her way home and was just trapped somewhere. It had occurred to me that Ariel might have gone through an open door while Marina was carrying things between her car and her apartment. I had gotten no response from the car, and I hesitated to interrupt the happy tone of her family gathering to ask, in a shaky voice, if my cat might be trapped in her closet.

When the party broke up around 9:00, though, I did go knock at her door. I told her that Ariel had been missing all day and asked if she might be trapped inside one of her closets. Marina said no, she had seen Ariel outside during the afternoon. But another voice told me otherwise. At the sound of my own voice I heard a plaintive me-ow! from somewhere within. I pulled open the door to the tiny entry closet, but no room for a cat there. The mournful meow came again . . . from the bedroom . . . from under the bed! There, still petrified from the trauma of a long, loud party with lots of noisy people and children was Ariel! I had to drag her out, thrust her outside, and prod her toward my door, where she inhaled a bowlful of food while Marina served me up some Spanish rice and albondigas left over from the party.

Damn cat! I hope she learned a lesson not to go where you're not invited. I still can't believe she didn't run out in panic when the first guests arrived.

I hate it when cats behave like that! I remember the agony my cat Wesley put me through so many times when he wouldn't come home, wouldn't even call me to let me know he'd be late.

Have you heard about those mobile phones for pets? I guess they're mostly for dogs because they strap onto the collar. But apparently you can call your dog or your dog automatically calls you or something - I'm not sure exactly how they work, much less how a dog can remember your phone number and push those tiny keys with its toes.

But perhaps you should look into getting one for Ariel. She's a smart girl -- she'll figure out how to use it. You could program your phone number into the autodialer, and all she'd have to do is push one button to give you a ring if she's going to be home late or if she's in some sort of trouble. And if she doesn't like the idea of dragging around a little phone on her collar, explain to her that any cat who's cool these days has her own cell phone -- to prove this all she has to do is stop by the hippest club in town and see all the kids clutching their individual phones. She'd be the toast of the avenue!

And if you start getting a lot of unsolicited anchovy pizza deliveries or shady catnip dealers at your door, I'm sure you could put a block on all outgoing calls except to you.