This is a story about how coffee changed my life and about the friends that I have made over a cup or two of coffee.
So grab a cup of Joe (maybe two) and relax and take a gander.
I am not really sure when I started liking coffee...it was not as a kid as I always thought it was too bitter. Even as a young adult I could drink about anything but usually stayed away from coffee.
My roommate always made a pot and I loved the smell...just not the taste.
Then the summer of my 20th year of life came around back in the early 70's and I got hired by the local City Utilities...and they loved their Folgers... (I still prefer Folgers today)
Of course I loved coffee breaks when I was working that summer job for the City of St Paul, NE and rather than be teased by the old boys...I drank that chunky crap they loved... Billy Harvey...Burgess Powell...Leo Buhrman...and of course Alma O'Neil who ran the front office and fielded all of the phone calls and walk-ins.
Oh the stories those boys told...Daryl Harvey...a heavy equipment operator and Howard Potts...the local plumber would join us many days.
The 15 minute break some days stretched into 45 minutes in the cool backroom of the city office...everyone sitting around a large round table...with a cup of coffee in one hand and cigarette in the other...except for me and Howard. I did not smoke...and Howard hated cigarettes and instead smoked a huge cigar everyday. I swear his face was permanently crooked from that stogy in the corner of his lips.
You could cut the air with a knife the smoke was so thick. That was the norm back then...I did not need to smoke...I had inhaled it from the time I was born. It was part of life and no one gave it a thought...
Many of them were Veterans...most older adults at that time were...and the stories about war and what they saw and did were almost hard to believe...but that is a blog for another time...
Anyways...I thought this summer gig was just a job and never realized at the time that we were not really talking about day to day activities...they were really teaching me about life and relationships and loyalty and friendship...and about hard work... and laughter... sadness...and how those emotions play out in an adult setting with other adults.
Along the way I learned so much about electricity and water and yes...even sewer that even today... the last time a plumber or electrician was at our home was when it was built in 2003...they taught me how to do everything...wiring...welding...soldering pipes...safety...looking out for the other guy.
I thought I was a man when I went there for the summer...and a year and half later I left grateful and so much closer to actually being a man. 50+ year old men taught me how to really work...because any cocky 20 year old does not want to be shown up by an old man!
Many times we were in dangerous situations as that is just part of that type of job (even today) and they coached and taught me how to really stop, look, and listen in a dangerous situation. Most tragedies happen still today because someone skips a step in the process and they get careless.
The Boys (that is what Alma called everyone) taught me how to run heavy equipment...how to lay thousands of bricks after entire streets were torn up from a sewer collapse...and mow the "stones" out at the cemetery...how to climb a high object or pole or building or tower correctly...to be cautious when going above or below the earth's surface with water lines, sewer gases, natural gas, electricity, and the dirt....perhaps the most dangerous thing in my opinion...DIRT... that can swallow you up in a silent avalanche in seconds. Doesn't matter that you are only buried for a minute or two or three...the pressures and lack of oxygen can be deadly.
I almost found out the hard way when a dirt bank collapsed on me...I was bent over working on a pipe when Billy hollered to "GET OUT" I did not say huh or what?... I just started moving...I still was buried up to the waste and where I had been bent over was under 5 or 6 foot of sticky wet dirt. It took almost 15 minutes to dig me out...had Billy not hollered I would not be writing this. I was black and blue on my legs for weeks...
I always thought he was shi++ing me when he always said he was the 'Lookout'.
"One in the hole and one out" was his motto. I remember him telling me..."If I yell GET OUT...move as fast as you can and get out...drop the tools and run"...every time I entered a hole he said that...I never went into any hole without him there and to this day in 2019...I still think of him and his rule whenever I see someone in a hole...
I had 4 or 5 extra Dad's looking out for me during that 17 months or so that I had the job and they all became lifelong friends and most of the things they taught me I have passed on to others.
They also let me step on my toes many times when I would get cocky or not listen very well. And laugh as I did whatever it was I did wrong....over and over until I got it right. I appreciate that now as well.
I started out as a grunt skipping college and when I left to go back to college I was so much more knowledgeable and had so much more respect for the working man.
My last day there...they had a big going away cake at break time. We sat for about an hour and laughed and drank coffee and some of the other old guys came in that I had worked with and through the haze of their cigarettes and one stogy. We shared stories of my escapades while there and I said goodbye to what I later realized was one of the best experiences of my life...coffee break with chunky coffee.
They are all gone now...and I cried when Billy died...a lot. Most still have family back home. I stop by their 'stones' and give them crap every once in a while. I sold the farm for the kids of one them two years ago...LEO LAND it was called. All because their Dad liked me and I listened to his instructions...they said.
I still see three of their wife's....usually at the coffee shop and will sit and chat with them a while...over a cup of coffee.
I am so grateful for what those men taught me and I wonder if I ever thanked them enough. I hope so.
I could actually spend hours and hours writing about it but...I think it is time to go warm up this cup and get ready for a hunting trip with my son...back home in the St Paul area where we will drive to the coffee shop on brick streets that I laid each brick by hand...46 years ago when I was a 20 year old nobody.
Until next time...when I write Chapter 2 about my 94 year old current client that I met at a coffee shop....stay thirsty my friends!!