Haight-Ashbury, Seattle: good 'cuppa joe' stands test of time

In August of 1957 I finally finished 20 plus weeks of basic training and was at long last assigned a permanent duty station at Fort Ord, Calif., near Carmel.

A couple buddies and I were on our way to do lunch one day. I imagined biting into a soft French roll split in half piled high with very rare slices of baron of beef dunked into a cup of au jus sauce. This dream was completely shattered as I tasted that 1948 K Ration, Spam and its stale accouterments.

The dessert section of our tray included delicious Royal Ann cherries and since we were dining al fresco, a swarm of yellow jackets decided it was their favorite, too. The trick was to scoop the cherries onto the spoon and after checking very closely, take a bite. Ah yes, lunch was a good time.

'I miss a good cup of coffee!'

Still, I had to complain about something, so I said, "You know what I miss? A good cup of coffee!"

One of the guys said, "I know a place in San Francisco (my home) where coffee is made to an art form."

So the very next weekend the three of us, who were a little short of cash for a limo, turned left at the guard house and when out their sight, hung out our thumbs and caught a ride all the way to downtown San Francisco. Just a short walk up a hill to Haight Ashbury, we found ourselves in a surreal world where people wore sandals, beads, feathers, most had long hair and many had beards. Most notably, it was friendly.

My buddy who had lived here pre-army days, introduced us to his friends. We hit a few pubs, met more of his friends and then around sundown, visited the first of several coffee houses. As we walked in, the pleasant aroma of incense filled the air. The floor was covered with grass mats and piles of pillows where people lay or sat.

We found a spot and a lovely young lady with long black hair, handed us a flower and asked what we desired. This life style was beginning to appeal to me, but it was probably just a fad. Before I could answer the young damsel, my friend said "Three espressos, please!" She returned with a huge tray on which sat three small cups filled to the brim with a near black brew.

The cups were so small they could have been from her doll house. I was used to wrapping my fist around my mess kit so I was forced to incorporate graceful finger positions.

I hoisted the cup to my lips and consumed a dark brown liquid that most certainly lived up to its reputation. Dainty bites of sugared breadsticks and we were ready for another round! We hit a couple more coffee houses, listened to poetry and songs, and finally found a party. All the happy experiences we endured that day made the army go away.

On Sunday our new found friends drove us to the bus station and even paid our way back. We thanked them for the good time and the best coffee high any of us ever experienced. I wondered if this coffee thing had caught on in Seattle yet.

The coffee fad did catch on with us; we tried getting back to Haight Ashbury for more but our whopping $104 monthly salary made travels from Fort Ord infrequent. Then, just 18 years short of military retirement, I sadly left the army. I was going to miss all the great friends and experiences in those two long years. I drove through the gates Friday morning, Aug. 1, 1959 at 06:00 hours and headed north on Highway 1.

Left Haight Ashbury for good coffee (hopefully) in Seattle

Some 19 hours later at a speed limit of 55 miles per hour strictly enforced and sometime after midnight, I rounded the top of 38th and Madison and officially crossed the threshold of my home town.

Slowly I made the transition to civilian life but for many months woke up waiting to hear the master sergeant blow his whistle through the intercom.

Curious as to whether the coffee fad had hit Seattle, I was delighted to find a couple coffee houses in lower Queen Anne, the U District, on Broadway and, of course, the Pike Place Market.

On weekend trips to the public market, we always had coffee and pastry at a little coffee joint north of the market. They had a good brew and since it was the hippy era, the walls were painted in loud colors and planets so the name Starbucks seemed to fit the theme.

Coffee for a dime in Madison Park

Meanwhile, back in Madison Park, coffee was still a dime; refills free or maybe a nickel. A cup of coffee after an egg salad on wheat bread served at the Broadmoor drug store counter was a delicious repast.

Karen's cousin, Chuck Beek, started Monorail Espresso in 1980 and that got the coffee cart ball rolling. He set his cart out in front of Nordstrom under the monorail. One day when Karen and I watched his operation I looked for some hidden expenses to the business and thought, aha! How about your overhead, Chuck? Yes, there it was, I saw that hidden expense.

He said he had to push his cart two blocks to First and Stewart where he tied it to a steam pipe in a parking garage. That, he said, was the overhead. He gave the garage owner a couple of pounds of coffee a month and called it good.

Chuck and his wife Susie still have the popular business now located in the Banana Republic (the old Coliseum Theater) downtown.

Soon thereafter, just in front of Bert's Red Apple (IGA at the time) appeared a coffee stand. It was genius and it was instant success. Madison Park-ites supercharged themselves on their way to work.

Now the favorites in Madison Park are Tully's and Starbucks. Each serves an excellent cup of coffee, no matter how doctored. They offer excellent places to meet, greet, read, study, email and just hang.

Sometimes I join the coffee clutch at Tully's and share in the discussions on politics and current affairs.

It's refreshing to hear the many ways people perceive the world and over a cup of good joe, one of the best ways to start a day.

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