Catalina Coffee, Houston

There was once a point in my life where I wanted to have a job that allowed me the freedom and luxury to work from the comfort of a coffeeshop. Not only as a barista, which many of us may identify with, but as someone who could afford multiple cups of a caffeinated existence. Looking back, I had a taste of that through nonprofit work, but I was juggling 2 jobs (one of which as barista) and college at the time. The idea of a relaxing experience in a coffee shop had not registered to me. Instead, I was so focused on getting to where I needed to be that I left any shot of those contemplative moments to others.

Catalina Coffee was an infrequent exception to that rule in my life. My good friend Jesse tuned me into their coffee and I was able to make plans to meet up with him and catch up every once in awhile when he still lived around Houston. My drive in from a Houston area suburb was lengthy, but if given the right motivation, Catalina was a close option to hang and then walk or drive toward a Salvation Army furniture auction on Fridays near 10 am. In addition to the spectacular coffee options, I was impressed with the cane sugar glass bottle Coca-colas that transported me back to various points of time in my life growing up;

Walking through a Baytown area Food Lion grocery store with my father, shopping for his retired parents who insisted on the glass bottles as a matter of tradition, ritual and taste;

Seeing a larger 1.75 liter size glass bottle nestled up against a rocky field in Mexico one summer as clearing land on a teenage church “mission” trip, the iconic logo appearing much different that what I was used to knowing that the glass would be collected upon our completion for recycling;

Pursing my lips and exhaling air into the emptied glass bottle of a recently completed beverage so that what is produced is a deep bellow reminiscent of an ocean liner horn, or one of the over the top Ricola cough drop commercials;

  The show “Storage Wars” had recently been created around the time we would meet at Catalina so, bidding on other people’s abandoned belongings was all the rage. There is something about an auction that naturally raises one’s blood pressure. It must be ego mixed with a heightened sense of scarcity. I never planned on finding some multi-million dollar raffle ticket, but I occasionally would find a need for office furniture; A rolling tobacco colored leather wingback chair that had brass nail work along the front of the arms. Or a taupe loveseat that was too big for the vehicle I drove that day, which nearly doubled the cost of the victory when you factor in the hourly truck rental I had to find after opening my big mouth to bid. The furniture auctioned is cleaned and ready for transport if you win, but it’s up to you to settle up with the cash in your pocket and get gone when your business is done. The excess and larger pieces of furniture collected by the organization are easier to auction in this setting than staying in a showroom. A small registration sign-in at the door is required and that’s what gets you a small slip of paper with a number to flaunt at your preference (or until your pockets are no longer deep).

Jesse and I would scan the perimeter of the large warehouse, make jokes about some of the items, and then scheme to find other potential competition for any pieces we may want. There is a traveling company of an auctioneer with a voice louder than the megaphone his assistant carries. The group of potential buyers collects to bid on the items they have eyed, scowling at the traces of opposition to a winning bid at what they view as fair or not.

To a degree, auction bidding is a game to many of the regulars. It’s a read for a tell that participants look for in their opponents. If you can quickly read someone, you could wager on the odds of their next move. How important is that wingback chair to you? More than it’s probably worth? A bit of sweat on your brow, clammy palms, dilated pupils, a tap of the foot, hand gestures like a touch to the face or a double snap and cup of the hands could all be a clue into your life and your next move.

Then again, it could just be an affect of your highly caffeinated existence.

I picked up my first Al Hirt Record as almost a gimmick from a second hand store. The record was Al playing the Green Hornet and other TV Superhero show themes. But, as I listened to his whimsical delivery, so timely, I knew I had stumbled into something great. When I saw the title “Java” on a 45 a few months later, I knew I could use it for Catalina. It just so happens, that “Java” provides that same level of precision as any of Hirt’s other works. And I’ll raise a mug or glass bottle of cane sugar soda to that.

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