When I was 22, I moved across the country to San Francisco.
I'd just finished college and had no idea what to do; without structure I was totally lost. I wanted to be like my other clueless friends: go to Europe or Asia in Tevas, (that's not me, my feet are adorable!) carry everything on my back and stay in youth hostels for $11 a night, stand in front of the great art I'd only seen in pictures and let it guide me. I also wanted to eat pierogis in Poland, risotto in Italy, paella in Spain, and muffins in merry old England.
Alas, dear reader, I was broke. Books, winter coats, graduation robes and late night pizza left me with a great degree and many happy memories, but no coin for fancy travelin'. What was I to do?
And then the voice came to me, Go west, young woman. And I said, Seriously? And it said, Why not? You've never been to San Francisco, and hippies are nice. Move and have your adventure that way.
Even at the tender age of 22, I'd learned that when the still, small voice spoke I had to follow. So I packed my clothes, shoes and computer and took a train across the country. It didn't seem right to wake up in Philadelphia and go to sleep in San Francisco to begin my new life; I wanted to feel the expanse, the vastness of space between where I started out and where I hoped to land. I needed to experience the distance.
I had a sublet lined up in Berkeley, one room in an apartment for two. My first morning there the kind woman in the other bedroom drew me a map of the hills so I could find my way into town. I walked down the hill, past exploding rosebushes and gigantic Birds of Paradise that peeked over fences, and panicked.
Each time I take a brave step into the unknown there is a scared and angry voice in my head that talks nonstop if I let it. It's the source of my procrastination, why I eat too many chips late at night, and the impetus behind my obsessive need to pick at my legs. That morning the voice was shrieking and I was powerless to stop its rant, You don't have a job! You don't know anybody here! Everyone you're related to lives within 20 minutes of where they went to high school, what the hell are you doing??? Who do you think you are?
It was a beautiful morning with clear sunlight and bees buzzing around leafy old trees, and I was terrified.
But then I smelled it. A half block before I found it, the most magnificent scent meandered up my nose and into my crazy twitching brain. It was dark and deep with whispers of chocolate and a high note of blackberries. I looked down: my legs were moving and I was still present, but the air was otherworldly. I moved a bit quicker and finally saw the source: a modest picture-book-perfect California bungalow, cheery and unassuming, with a sign that mispelled "Pete's." Silly Californians. To my delight the door was open, and inside I bought a small cup of inky black promise from a real aging hippie (who was friendly, just as I suspected). There was chilled half-and-half on the counter.
I stepped back outside for my first sip. As the (now) caramel-colored elixer glided over my tongue and slipped down my throat, the shouting in my head cut off. Silence. In that moment I knew I'd made the right choice, that the Universe would take care of me. The panic subsided; I clearly belonged in a land that made coffee like this. Exhale.
I found out today that Alfred H. Peet, the founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea, passed away at the end of August. He was 87. Paul McCartney was singing "Blackbird" on the radio when I got the news and my eyes filled up with gratitude for the guy who, with one exquisite cup of coffee, validated my bold and scary step. Thank you, sir. I'm sure you're smiling down at us from that big cafe in the sky.