January 6th, 2007

Ode to Diedrich's *

Once upon a time there was a fabulous coffee house seven and a half blocks from my house.


It nestled in a corner of Plaza Square, and was once the office of the Orange Daily News. It had wood paneling and big windows and lots of tables where you could utilize wi-fi or read a book or work on revisions or have an intimate conversation. It also had a wicker sofa and matching chairs with very slippery cushions. And of course it had an extensive menu of coffee beverages. (The menu had other stuff too, like tea and ice cream shakes, but who cares about those?)


Its name was Diedrich Coffee. And I loved it.


Well I remember the day I first began scribbling notes to a novel. (The notes were all about the villain, who was very, very, very reminiscent of a co-worker. Only somewhat less villainous.) I was in my car, wasting time because I’d arrived early for a meeting. It was hot and uncomfortable. But the notes were intriguing, so I thought I would see where this project could take me. Later that week I took my notebook to Diedrich’s and began brainstorming.


A year or two after that, when I came up with another novel idea, I headed to Diedrich’s again—this time to outline (since the lack of an outline had proved somewhat problematic in my first project). Countless hours I spent there, huddled at a table beneath a window, outlining and character building and, later, revising and revising and revising.


It was like an office away from home. An office away from home with coffee.


Thursday, Diedrich’s closed. Sometime later this year, an evil purveyor of so-called coffee will open in its place (I won’t name names. But I will say that it starts with S and rhymes with “tarbucks”). And I shan’t frequent it. (A lot of people in the neighborhood are saying that now, but we’ll see how long they last. Not everyone has a stubborn streak as wide as I do. Er—tenacious streak.)


There are plenty of other coffee places downtown. There’s a dozen restaurants that serve coffee, and many of them have espresso machines too. There’s a bakery and a café with full coffee menus, and another has an estimated opening sometime this month.


And get this: two blocks from my house a new coffee house is opening in March. The manager is the former assistant manager of my Diedrich’s. Lots of Diedrich staff will be working there. The owners even bought the equipment from a local Diedrich’s. Does this thrill my heart? Hardly. All I can think is: two short blocks—that’s not even one song on my MP3 player. Diedrich’s, you see, was just the right distance away.


Yesterday I assigned myself a read-through of the horrible, horrible first draft of the rewrite of that novel I had outlined at Diedrich’s two or three years ago. I walked past Diedrich’s—its signs already covered with black garbage bags—and headed for the bakery.  I’ve revised there before; it’s a nice enough place. But it smells pervasively of butter. The acoustics are terrible (meaning the conversations around me are totally audible, instead of fading into white noise). And they insist on playing John Mayer over and over and over again until I want to just die. (Okay, it doesn’t actually take that many John Mayer replays to make me want to die.)


So I ordered a latte—a perfectly decent latte, with the foam shaped into a heart (for God’s sake)—refrained from choking at the sound of “I want to runnnnnnnnnn through the halls of my high school, I want to scream at the top of my lungs!” and headed upstairs to read.


I was shocked to discover that my MS doesn’t suck nearly as much as I anticipated. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t require a ton of work—rephrasing and even some rethinking and pulling through some plot lines that I inadvertently dropped. But it seemed to me that it was fairly tight. Fairly well thought out. Fairly fraught with peril and misunderstandings and risk-taking.


But when this little project gets published, it won’t be the bakery I’m sending thankful vibes to. It’ll be poor demised Diedrich’s, where I built so much of this imaginary world.


Which gives me an idea: now that Diedrich’s is gone, it’s an imaginary world, too, right? Hmmm… maybe I’d better pull out a clean notebook and jot down a few ideas. 



* Okay, so I lied—it’s not an Ode. It’s not even free verse. It’s the lack of caffeine making me misuse writing terminology thusly.

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