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Back Buzz - November 27, 2000

[pumping heart] Caffé Primo, Birchanger Green Welcome Break, off the M11 near Stansted in Bishop's Stortford, Essex

The problem with driving down the motorways of Britain is you're pretty much a captive audience of the motorway service areas. For example, if you're hungry you have a choice of Little Chef, Burger King, the occasional McDonald's, and a scattering of other large chains. And if you need a caffeine fix your options are definitely limited, unless you feel like venturing miles out of your way into the countryside in search of an elusive (and highly unlikely) cafe. Then, of course, you must find your way back onto the motorway heading in the proper direction, a daunting task which has reduced many an able mind to tears.

Amazingly enough there is one place where you can get a real espresso, cappuccino, or macchiato. Caffé Primo, located in the M11 services north of London near Stansted Airport, is a godsend. In the midst of styrofoam cups full of dishwater drek, my take-away cappuccino was served in a proper take-away cup -- i.e. paper with a properly fitted plastic commuter lid. My regular cappuccino, not to mention Primo's regular Americano, were both £1.60, the same price as my travelling companions' styrofoam-encased dishwater coffees they purchased at the nearby Granary. If instead of buying and running you enjoy hanging out in motorway service areas you can get your espresso drink in a proper white china cup, along with a pastry or biscuit if you like. Or get something at the Granary and bring it into Caffé Primo; everything's connected and compatible in this Disneyesque foodorama of nepotism.

I must admit if you've never experienced motorway services you won't be able to fully comprehend the hopelessness of finding a decent espresso, much less any espresso. During an ennui-enduced stop last summer at the services off the A1M in South Yorkshire between Bawtry and Retford, my travelling companion and I descended upon Franklin's of Boston with its promises of "premium cafetiére coffee". Strangely enough the "Regular Coffee Menu" listed a pot of coffee for £1.79, whereas the cafetiére of coffee on the "Premium Coffee Menu" was £1.99, only 20 pence more. With our desire overpowering our reasoning faculties and natural suspicions, we ordered a cafetiére. Whereupon the lad behind the counter picked up an empty cafetiére and strolled over to the automatic coffee vending machine, mentioning the fact that it would be the same coffee as in the "Pot of Coffee".

"But cafetiére coffee is made in a cafetiére," I pointed out.

"Um...yes, the machine pours it into the cafetiére."

"But it's supposed to be brewed in the cafetiére!"

At this point he stared in confusion at the empty cafetiére and then back at us, finally repeating with conviction, "Yeah, but it's in a cafetiére!"

Needless to say we left, coffeeless...

Speaking of dishwater coffee brings to mind a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend about washing machines:

To paraphrase Zippy the Pinhead, life is once again a blur of Republicans and meat and laundry and Democrats and Mickey Mouse and doughnuts and Marmite. Yes, I've found my way back to the Pinhead! A brand new Servis front-loading washing machine was installed this weekend in my friend's flat and we've both been basking in its inspirational delights! It has 14 separate programs and two spin cycles, the high cycle running at 900 rpm and sounding just like a jet engine. It even stops and realigns the load by itself until everything is evenly distributed before it takes off for another flight; as a result clothes come out so dry from the spin cycle that only a couple of hours hanging in the living room by the fire does the drying job.

This morning we watched the spin cycle for about 30 minutes, fully expecting the machine to taxi over to the window and take off. The computerized clicks, roars, wheezes, whooshes, and bumps have sort of a Brubeck rhythm, making me want to form a jazz trio with Andrew on guitar, JC on keyboards, and Servis on washing machine. Like wow, daddyo, dig those knits! I want to wash Maynard G. Krebs' sweatshirts! I want to separate Charlie Parker's blues from Miles Davis' whites! Yo! I want to take this baby out on the runway and see how far it goes on one tank of detergent!

We are now arriving at the end of Program Number 12. Please remain seated until the washing machine has come to a complete stop...

I've heard about space-saving European appliances designed for those cramped inner-city apartments, which combine several tasks in the same device. Like washing and drying a load of clothes (which your new Servis practically does). Perhaps there's a compact attachment that will fold them as well. Maybe even wash the dishes too and steam vegetables to perfection.

900 rpm?! Wow! That's practically enough to centrifuge blood and separate the red cells, platelets, and plasma, should you and Andrew ever need to do a transfusion for each other. Could you also use it to combine mutually repelling particles? I know what to do! Send a bunch of those Servis machines to Florida. Load George Bush and Al Gore, all of the contested ballots, including all the dimpled and pregnant chads, throw in a few bozons as a catalyst and SPIN! We'll end up with a president that nobody will be too happy about, but at least he won't start a nuclear war, outlaw abortion or do any major damage to the environment.