Oct 30, 2009
A gray Midwestern morning...
...is lifted up by a steaming cup of coffee in the right cafe, with free wireless access as an added plus. This morning it's Cafe Deluxe on Summit Street in Iowa City. For those of you who don't know Iowa City, Summit Street is a beautiful, wide, treelined street lined with big Victorian homes with large yards. I don't know for sure, but I'd guess that the town bigwigs of the early 20th century all lived here. It's got that kind of look.
About maybe 8 or 10 years ago, a little cafe opened in a tiny house right next to the railroad tracks. It's got the aura of another era--not the 1920s, but more the 40s and 50s--chrome swivel barstools, cast-iron tables and chairs, and a big glass display case up front filled with homemade cookies and cupcakes. Some kind of low-throated acoustic blues music is playing over the speakers pointed my way. It's the kind of place where you can only get half and half to go with your coffee, never milk, never lowfat milk god forbid, and the only kind of sweetener available is an old-fashioned glass sugar canister full of white granules. Domino Sugar, I'm guessing.
My daughters and I come here every summer. It's one of our favorite local spots. We usually stop by on Saturday mornings, on the way out of town to the Amish farmers' markets in Kalona. We pick up a coffee to go (for me) and a cookie and tea for them. Or banana bread. For the road.
It's too far from campus to be a student neighborhood but close enough for professors and families to bike into downtown, and as I'm sitting here now through the big glass windows up front I'm watching yellow leaves fall in the gentle wind and locals biking past. Not on the ubiquitous beach cruisers that have overtaken LA, but still on mountain bikes and true retro Schwinns with elegantly curved handlebars and triangular seats with exposed springs in the back. Today is the kind of autumn day that reminds you it's closer to winter than to summer now, with a heavy sky that's like a white lid pressing down on the town. This morning my friend Jennifer, with whom I'm staying for these three days, said if this were spring it would be a risk-of-tornado day, but being October it's just an autumn tipping point.
Many authors feel the best part of book tours is being in the midst of readers, appearing at bookstores, sitting in studios answering challenging questions (hopefully) from radio hosts. Ideally, back in a city you know well, and have friends, or where you once lived. But for me the best part is these quiet hours in the middle of the day when I'm neither in transit nor on the stage, just sitting by myself to regroup, refresh, renew, in a familiar environment. Cafe Deluxe. Definitely fits the bill.