My first “coffeehouse cult” experience took place in a town that was really much too small to have a coffeehouse in the first place. The little shanty of a business was once a two-story house, but it had been transformed into a three-room java shack.
One room was studious, lined with books, magazines, and whatnot for the academies that sometimes congregated. Another was more like an open sun room or sitting room that transformed into a staging area for Friday night entertainers. Of course, the third room held the bar, the cafe-style tables, and all the normal coffeehouse adornments: mugs, machines, syrups, teas, and the like.
Those who patronized the business were inevitably regulars, and I was among them. If I had been more thoughtful in my youthful post-college days, I might have saved some of the cash I spent on pizza and coffee and invested it, but then I wouldn’t have the great stories from the Xpress Yourself Cafe, after all.
It was here that friends from the neighboring community came and talked over everything from politics to sports and a whole variety of topics in between. We had midnight Scrabble tournaments, where I usually took second place to a genius from the local photo shop.
The poorly-paid singer for Friday nights was a middle-aged stoner who wasn’t going any further in his career, as he wasn’t that good, but he was loud. When he wasn’t available, we occasionally had poetry readings and the like, and the “sensitive types” from all over came in to pour their hearts into the open mic.
The owners and I became fast friends, and I was granted access to areas of the coffeehouse that few others were allowed into. I helped wash dishes in the kitchen, I prepared sandwiches on my off-days, and my payment was an unending supply of mocha and latte. When they finally closed the little joint, it was like someone had died. The old man who owned the place lived across the street, and the owners were a few months behind on their payments after I’d left town.
I tried to join other “coffeehouse cults” in other towns where I later lived, but the air was never the same. The pseudo-intellectuals and the midnight buzzers were always distant, and no one ever wanted to know anyone.
Truly, the Xpress Yourself Cafe was a once-in-a-lifetime place. And, undoubtedly, it will never be replicated in the sterile, homogenized, name brand coffee shops of today. Thank you, Brenda and John Hojonski, for all that you gave your community – some of us will never forget.
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