To be perfectly honest, driving had never really been that huge of a concern for me. I’m 23 years old and I just passed my driver’s test 3 weeks before my 23rd birthday. (On the first try I might add) In case you were wondering this is odd. In the city of Houston, you start driving at 16, before that even in a lot of cases. Having a license and a car is the quintessential rite of passage for anyone who is anyone in high school. Houston is a driving city, plain and simple. If you can’t drive then you have to have someone in your life to depend on to take you where you need to go. This becomes problematic when all your friends live halfway across town, your parents really don’t feel like picking you up from movie night at 11:30, your older brother sure as hell won’t go get you, and your friends all live right there so why would they go out of their way to take you home. In an age before Uber, this meant your social life depended on the favors and good grace of others. “Sorry guys, I don’t have a ride,” becomes your new mantra and you start going to things only if convenient for your parents to get you there. This isn’t the end of the world per se but it does get tiring to ride shotgun.
If you ask my parents why I never got my license at the usual time they will answer with a perfectly timed rote about how I was a busy bee in high school and never had the time to take Drivers Ed and they didn’t want to teach me themselves. Then he never had to get it because he went off to Chicago for college and was able to take public transportation there. It was never a priority they’ll say. For the most part that is true. I was quite busy but in hindsight, I probably could’ve made time for it somewhere. They are also right about not needing it in college. It wouldn’t have been prudent to have a car on campus. For the most part finding parking in Evanston is borderline impossible, secondly: SNOW. Hell no. Not dealing with car maintenance in the winter. But come graduation I returned home to Houston to look for jobs and again I had to start asking for rides places and at this age it became embarrassing. Oh, my friends want to go out and get some drinks? Well unless they’re picking me up that’s a big no. Thankfully I do have some friends that made that sacrifice for me ( I don’t deserve you Karen Chen) and allowed me to have a social life when for all intents and purposes I should’ve been a recluse. After a few months of being taxied around, I decided enough was enough. I had been given a few rudimentary lessons in the past. (Shout out to the gentlemen of the 909 to give me my first parallel parking lesson) My only fear left to conquer was the highway. That scary expanse of a risen road where tiny death traps soar past each other at 75 mph. This was a daunting task. The only thing that could drag me to try was the promise of iced coffee at the other end of the drive.
Oh, you want me to pick up some milk from the grocery store? Sorry, I can’t drive. Too scared.
Oh, you want to meet me for coffee? ….. See you in ten!
Yes I know this sounds ridiculous, but there is just something alluring about coffee houses. Not sure if it’s the furniture haphazardly placed here and there, chairs with just the right amount of padding to sink in and devour a new book. It might be the charmingly hip baristas with the barely visible tattoo or the cool piercing. The clientele who might be on a work break, or maybe they’re there looking for jobs as well. There is that one couple clearly on a first date awkwardly sipping at their Instagrammed lattes. But probably the main reason is the coffee. I don’t know what it is about iced coffee that makes me crave it but it is just that good. Cut with milk and a little sugar and I’ve found God’s gift to man. I know that this sounds like I’m an addict but I really only have about 1 a day. I just love the peace and quiet that comes from sitting next to the window with sunlight streaming on to your face as you sip your coffee and read or trawl the ever growing pages of LinkedIn. It makes me feel like I’m in a movie and it keeps me coming back.
I’ve been to six of the top ten coffee shops according to the Houston Press and many others that didn’t make that list, but I keep coming back to two specific shops that are closest to me. I know the drive inside and out and could probably navigate my way there blindfolded. (I don’t recommend this. This has been your Safety Warning for the day.)
The first is Mercantile where I would go with my resident Canadian, Ms. Karen Chen, as it was a brisk one minute walk from her apartment and the place has kept my attention even though she is now navigating the rainforests of Central America. (Stay safe bb) It could be the porch swing inside the space that allows for brief reminiscence into childhood, the availability of simple syrup to sweeten my coffee or the charmingly cold demeanor of the baristas who couldn’t care less about what you order. For some reason that is positive, I don't know why. It doesn’t hurt that it is also close to my little brother’s high school where I now go twice a day because as the resident new driver in the household, I get taxi duty. THANKS OBAMA. I digress. They brew with Amaya Roasting Company which has a nice robust flavor without being overly bitter. Here I often only pour a bit of simple syrup to sweeten but even that is not really all that needed. My one complaint is that sometimes I get served with a bit too much ice in the cup, lowering my possible intake of deliciousness, but all in all a great location to people watch while putting out job apps.
The second is one that I was recently turned onto by my cousin Kristen, called Kraftsmen Baking which is really a bakery foremost that just happens to serve Katz Coffee, a local Houston product. Here I don’t necessarily always get my iced coffee before I’m distracted by their display case of perfect blueberry muffins and personal sized monkey breads. Luckily for me they have a rewards system where you get a free such and such every few points earned. This great spot is very practically located next a couple blocks away from the YMCA where I work out making my whole life counterproductive but tasty. If you come for brunch I recommend the short stack of pancakes which is more than enough for one person and also comes with your choice of meat. I personally like their country sausage. I’m not sure yet how they make these heavenly griddle cakes but they must infuse them with the glitter of unicorns to be able to produce something both crispy on the outside while also being perfectly chewy and fluffy on the inside. While lunch and dinner hours can be perfectly satiated by their usual 50/50 sandwich and salad specials, I like to look at their chalkboard where they post daily specials. I was able to have an interesting battered salmon cake topped with two over easy eggs with a side of red chile pepper aioli served with a side salad that was perfectly balanced. I was a little skeptical of the egg+seafood combo but it turned out delicious and complimentary.
Not surprising at all I started the first half of this post at Mercantile while finishing it at Kraftsmen, but alas I have no shame so let us continue now why don’t we. I love the fact that I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities to share if I hadn’t taken the time to learn how to drive. I’m not going to lie I hated every lesson with my parents. They always took things too quickly or too slowly and experiences were mostly frustrating, if not useful. They laid down the foundations that I was able to use to figure out the rest by myself. So thank you mom and dad. I might have left those lessons crying and complaining but I guess they helped. I might not be able to parallel park but really who can? If I can’t park in a designated spot then I really have no reason being there in the first place. I can confidently get from point A to point B and to me that’s a success. Sometimes I might need to ask my handy dandy GPS, Lucinda, but she makes sure to break it all down step by step so I am able to stay safe on the road. Looking back to all those times I had to beg for rides or take public transportation allows me to look forward and make sure I don’t mess this up for myself. Driving is such a privilege when you think about it and to be able to take yourself where you want at any given time is nothing short of miracle. Hopefully with this milestone checked off the list I’m one step closer to leaving Never Land.