"You aren't planning on doing this every day, are you?" asked my wife. Well...no, not really. Deep down, I knew that a $3-a-day, six-days-a-week habit was, like current state and national spending schemes, unsustainable. Yet so long as I had money in my wallet, I was finding it hard to resist the siren call of the newspaper rack and coffee machine of our local grocer. After all, what was three dollars on any particular day? Not much. Still, there was no denying that my little indulgence was putting an $18 dent in our weekly budget. No matter how much I enjoyed it, it was absolutely unnecessary.
It all started rather innocently earlier this month. We were heading out to stock up on groceries, but I was feeling uncharacteristically sluggish, as though I might be in danger of swooning over the produce bins and falling into a deep sleep. Caffeine, that wonder drug that I had managed to purge from my daily consumption for months, seemed to be in order. I wondered if there was a way that I might procure a coffee that I could enjoy whilst perusing the aisles. As it happened, there was just such a service in place.
The Crimson Cup coffee stand is a self-service affair with three clear cylinders of beans waiting to be ground for your fresh brewing pleasure. A digital picture frame cycles an instructional slide show that walks the uninitiated through the process. First, you insert a cartridge into a slot beneath the beans of your choice. I selected Armando's Blend, a five-bean medley culled from Central America, Indonesia, and Africa, which boasted a sweet yet nutty taste. Actually, I wouldn't have cared if the beans came from the hydroponic basements of Brooklyn, as I'm no coffee snob. Then, with your cartridge full of beans, you insert it into the giant machine, which offers a blinking light for you to press if you would like the whole mess to be whipped before it pours out into your waiting cup. That sounded good to me, and I added some aspartame sweetener and a couple squirts of hazelnut creamer. Once you get the hang of it, you can go from raw beans to steaming cup in about a minute, all for a dollar.
The warm and happy rush that soon followed was unparalleled. It was as though the scales had fallen from my eyes and I could see the true splendor of the gleaming grocery aisles. "This is really good," I told my wife more than once. "You know, I am really enjoying this." And so I was. Not only did I snap to alertness, but I did indeed savor an intoxicating blend of sweetness and nuttiness. It was a lot of bang for a buck.
On another day either shortly before or after my Crimson Cup revelation, I spontaneously bought an issue of The New York Times. This was something I had done on occasion in the past, but only once in awhile, as its $2 price makes it an expensive daily (the massive Sunday edition, a cornucopia of knowledge and entertainment, has a correspondingly hefty price of $6). I took it home and began poring over its pages, immersed in the brand of skillful journalism, exclusive coverage, and lengthy content that is absent from our Incredible Shrinking Local Paper. There was an article about Piers Morgan's possible involvement in the Murdoch phone hacking scandal that included a statement that Paul McCartney had made from Cincinnati just the previous day, when I had attended his show at Great American Ball Park. Another piece explored Nik Wallenda's attempt to persuade U.S. and Canadian authorities to let him walk a tightrope across the gorge of Niagara Falls. A science article with accompanying photographic evidence explained the case for the current existence of flowing water on Mars. As I kept reading through the paper, enjoying article after article of well-written, thought-provoking, original content, it occurred to me that I could almost feel my brain loosening up as it was fed fresh information about all sorts of matters, some vitally important and others of trivial interest. Much like that cup of grocery store coffee, it made me feel a little bit more alive.
I let my enjoyment simmer for awhile. Five days later, while redeeming a coupon for a free cup of coffee at Panera, I bought another Times. The next day, armed with an identical coupon, I bought the Times again, thus establishing a dangerous precedent and mental association. I was deriving a lot of pleasure from diving into the Times while keeping my synapses firing with a good dose of caffeine. Three days later, I awoke on a Monday morning with a sudden craving for aspartame-sweetened, hazelnut Crimson Cup coffee and a fresh copy of The New York Times, a desire that I indulged with the haste of a budding addict. With the exception of Sundays, with their much pricier Times, I haven't missed my coffee and paper ritual since. Until today. I hope.
I thought that when the freedom of summer break was over and my responsibilities as an elementary school teacher resumed, I would drop this comforting yet wallet-draining habit. But I've found that getting back into the routine of teaching has only reinforced my appetite for Crimson Cup and the Times. I like stopping off at my familiar grocery store in the sleepy, six o'clock hour. The sun is struggling to light the sky, just as the store's aisles of fluorescent bulbs are flickering toward full power after an eco-friendly night of energy savings. A pleasant mix of music swirls about me as I round a corner and gratefully find a few issues of the day's Times. There is hardly a soul about, as though I were Oprah on an after-hours shopping spree. I set my paper down at the Crimson Cup counter and methodically go about obtaining a steaming cup of Armando's blend. A minute later, I'm walking toward the self-checkout, the only option available at this hour. I scan my loyalty card and deftly navigate the touchscreen menu, calling up the coffee code and scanning my paper. The lone employee near the registers wishes me a good morning. I return the sentiment as I stride confidently toward the doors, a civilized man with his superb coffee and intelligent newspaper. A half hour later, I am sitting at my desk, absorbed in my purchases, and it is a glorious way to start the day.
But it does add up. And so today, I shall try to be a little more reasonable and forego my newly acquired habit. Even once a week would be a lot more affordable. I must admit, though, it's hard to give up the soul-stirring rush of being caffeinated and well-informed.