The Coffee Cart

Last week the Times ran a story about the eye-popping cost of single serve coffee— you know, those little K-cups we’ve all become so accustomed to…at work and at home, thanks to the now infamous Keurig machine and its rivals that are following close behind. The story was particularly “timely”, as one of my co-workers put it, because coincidentally, the very day before, I was responsible for switching out our current near-death Keurig for a new machine of a different brand that we would be giving a trial run.

You wouldn’t believe the drama that came with this changeover if I had a video clip of my co-workers’ reactions to show you. The complaints I heard—“It’s slow.” “It’s loud.” “It looks like a cyborg.” 

Meanwhile, I couldn’t care less. I don’t use the machine (save for the once-in-a-blue-moon mid-afternoon breakdown where I’m dying for a caffeine jolt and I just can’t muster up the strength to walk down the block to a coffee shop). I typically only drink coffee in the morning, and that coffee, I get from the best place in town–the coffee cart. My coffee cart.

I know, because I’ve read it a million times: a simple money-saver is to bring your own coffee to work. Buying a cup everyday adds up sure, and if I brought my own in a thermos, think of all the money I would save in a year. I could take a weekend vacation, buy that bag I’ve been drooling over, make an extra credit card payment. I get it. But… I’m not indulging in daily five-dollar concoctions from Starbucks or the slightly less but still pricey pour-over cup from the indie place a few streets down that brews Stumptown. Yes, Stumptown, my fave– indeed a delight for the senses, but for me, something I save for a treat. For the everyday, it’s a medium coffee, half and half, a dollar-twenty five. Deal.

And the best part? I don’t even have to speak my order. My coffee guy knows me. Ray, standing high up in his platform cart, with his round face and button nose, smiling through his Russian accent. Every morning, once I’m up from the subway and across the avenue, I go to his cart which he has parked there from 3am til noon every day of the work week. Some days there’s no line, others it might be ten people long. (I notice often that the cart on the other side of the block is never busy. It makes me wonder.)

“Sorry for wait,” Ray says in semi-broken English. I laugh, assuring him it’s no problem, and still quicker than the deli or Dunkin Donuts. Everyone in lines agrees. Ray asks me how I am. “It’s Monday,” I say back in a less than enthusiastic tone. “Back to work,” he replies with a sympathetic nod. And then we wish eachother a good day, I go on my merry way and Ray tends to the next guy. A daily routine.

In NYC street carts are a culture. They’re everywhere. I really can’t imagine that one is so much better than any other. These guys are all trying to make a living. But of course like cabbies, maybe the one on this corner is friendlier or faster than the one on that corner. In any case, I feel like by some stroke of luck I found the best one. He knows my face, he knows my order. Take this morning…when I arrived at Ray’s cart, before I could even utter my hello, there was my coffee waiting before my eyes. “It’s ready?” I asked, elated by the surprise. “I saw you across street, so I make for you.” (When has that ever happened at Starbucks?)

“Thank you so much,” I gushed back. “Enjoy your Friday.”

“Ah Friday,” he replied. “Thanks God. Thanks God.” 

 

Yes. Thanks God for Friday. And thanks God for my coffee cart.

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