When I’m in Palo Alto, I always go to Coupa Cafe. Not just any location: the one on Ramona Street. I have dinner at Garden Fresh Chinese Vegan restaurant and then walk a block and a half down Ramona, past the Aveda Salon and a strange, dark bar filled with unhappy-looking couples and tense waiters to Coupa Cafe where Tiffany remembers that I like my coffee in glass mugs. My lily white spastic hands don’t do well with the little fussy handles of the regular vessels.
Tonight I had dinner at Local Union 271. A phenomenal curry, with cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms and tofu. Did you save room for dessert, the waitress gently asked. Alas, no, I replied, which really meant that I would be strolling down the street for an Evasion and a coupa cafe.
I can’t do an Evasion justice with my description. It has chocolate ganache, mousse, and pistachio cream at the center. Last night, I had a Royale, equally delicious. But the rich, smokey coffee and the smiling servers make this place. Soft music, pleasant photography on the walls, and a veranda of tables with heaters rising above them. The wi-fi has no password and if you want, you can swipe a little box at the table with your Smart phone to order. But why would you, when Tiffany or one of her colleagues will take your order, exclaim over the virtues of the dessert which you select, and beam when you compliment the coffee?
Evening falls on Palo Alto. I had six appointments today, from Infectious Disease at 9:30 a.m. to Neuro-science just before closing at 4:30 this afternoon. I gave blood for the virus-hunters, wore a safety harness for the balance lab, and nodded when the otologist gently acknowledged that he would not be relying on the tests done in the Midwest. Nothing personal, he assured me. I told him that I understood. They are Stanford after all; what’s the sense of traveling all this way to ask them to draw conclusions based upon somebody else’s data?
I have faced the cheerfully unavoidable conclusion that I like California. I have no friends here, but that could be a positive. No one knows about my mistakes, or my failures. I walk down Ramona Street and people smile at me. They don’t seem to mind my awkward gait. The Israeli guy selling “natural botox” woos me into his chair and spends fifteen minutes trying to sucker me into buying his eye treatment without once implying that he thinks I can’t afford it. Maybe it’s my Ann Taylor dress. Maybe it’s the fact that I shambled by his glitzy store front with a certain casual air, as though I come this way every evening, not just twice a year.
At the medical center today, Joseph the concierge did not sit behind his desk on my arrival. But when I rounded the corner to Cafe Via, I saw him reaching for his order at the counter. He turned, and a smile broke across his face. Mrs. Corley! he exclaimed. You’re back! Honest to Pete. I’ve met this kid three times, four or five months apart, and he remembers my name. I told my ID doc this story when I saw him a half hour later. He said, You’re very memorable, Dr. Corley. He calls me “Doctor” because in his country of origin, it’s the proper title for an attorney.
I speculated that it must be my green hat. He shook his head. No, no, Dr. Corley. It is not the hat. It is your smile.
I had a spot of trouble today with a check-in clerk at the Neuro-science clinic. Frustrated, I finally demanded a chair and the supervisor who had overseen the complicated arrangements for my afternoon treatment. I got both, and eventually, moved forward with the day’s events. But I did, in fact, lapse into complaint. As it turns out, had I not done so, I would have gone away without undergoing a critical component in my day’s scheduled activities. I nearly lost my cool but I stated my case in low, reasonable tones, and nobody got hurt. I’m kind of proud of that.
It’s the evening of the last day of the second month of my third “year without complaining”. I travel back to Kansas City tomorrow, for some reason by way of Milwaukee with a two-hour lay-over. The day will no doubt be long, and I cannot be assured of any down time to write. So know this, and know it well: Despite immeasurable odds, and against all prognostication, life continues.