A Coffee Shop Encounter Poses Possibilities

By Donna Cummings
Tuesday December 30, 2003

You are just finishing your daily two-mile walk. Along the way you talked to and petted two cats and watched as a third ran up a driveway after spying on you. The three make you smile. Peet’s is just up the way, where you’ll have your first cup of morning coffee. The Berkeley Daily Planets are in a rack in front of the post office, and you grab one before entering the coffee shop. 

Your later-than-usual start this morning means that most of the regulars—about a half dozen men in their mid-forties to early seventies—have already departed. You are the only woman among the regulars. Some mornings you quietly sip from your cup and read the paper, occasionally looking out at the traffic and passersby. On other days you join in the conversation already in progress or have a quiet conversation with the man next to you. 

You’re not sure that anyone even knows your name, or if they do, that they remember it, but after three years you recognize Howard, Joe, Barry, Rick and David. We come together shoulder to shoulder, on the days we’re are all here at the same time, and then disperse to our various loves. 

The man you are sitting next to today, name unknown to you, is a semiregular. He admits to patronizing Starbucks, where they have a bathroom, when Peet’s counter is too crowded. We each say “Hi,” and then apropos of nothing, he asks, “Do you live alone?” 


“How long?” 

“Since my husband died in 1992.” 

“My wife died in 1996.” 

From his questions you wonder if he is interested. You are seldom asked personal questions at your age, though you’re usually flattered, but not in the least interested. Since retiring, you’ve found the fit of single life as comfortable as going without a bra and panties. 

He’s a nice looking man about your age, with a trim gray beard and short hair topped with a faded blue-green beret. So, you tell yourself, as we are the only two here today and he is a widower, it is conceivable that he is using the opportunity to get to know you. And then, as if he can read your mind he says, “I’m married.” 

Since the statement needs no rebuttal, you remain silent and slightly confused. 

“We don’t live together.” 

You are out of the loop, and know you are, so could it be this is the 21st century line that replaces “My wife doesn’t understand me?” Trying to figure out where the conversation is going isn’t clear, and all that comes to mind to say is “How’s it working out?” 

“It isn’t. We’re getting divorced.” 

You say you’re sorry and add, “How long were you married?” 

“Three years. The problem is that she lived alone for too many years before we married. She’s too independent.” 

Nothing like several jolts of Peet’s coffee to activate your brain. You see the reason now for his blunt opening questions. Beware the independent woman! 

He offers you a section of his Chronicle, but you decline, having read it before your walk. You swallow the last of your coffee and fold the unread Planet to take it home. As you slide off your stool you smile and say, “Good luck,” and walk out the door. By the time you reach the stop light at Marin, you are smiling to yourself. You are newly invigorated from exercise, coffee and a conversation that wasn’t the usual rehashing of politics and the grave war. 

Maybe next time you see him you’ll ask his name. 

Or not.