CoffeeCrew Blog

Eat, Drink and Love
Like there's no tomorrow.
Because, hey, you never know.

Thanksgiving - Life in the coffee time-tunnel · 26.02.18 by colin newell

Vancouver 1968

Way back in 2008, I popped into Cafe Roma on Commercial Drive in Vancouver – a cafe that has more than a little history for this old part of Vancouver… for me, a big piece of childhood memories too!

My friend Dave, a contributor to the CoffeeCrew.com website, and I sample the espresso’s and cappuccinos and taste some delightful locally baked treats.

It reminded me of a unseasonably hot June of 1968, some 40 years earlier, as I walked down East 6th Avenue, Vancouver, towards Commercial Drive.

This was my first trip off of Vancouver Island and my first trip on the fairly new B.C. Ferries and what started as a day trip turned into an overnight as my mom decided to hook up with some cousins in the big city.

My mom, who grew up in a multicultural enclave in Montreal, Quebec and spoke 3 languages, including conversational Italian, had brought me over to Vancouver for the weekend to visit the Pacific National Exhibition and see a piece of the big city. And what a cultural shock it was for a 11 year old to see something so different than sleepy small town Victoria B.C.

My mom’s cousins lived on East 6th Avenue around 2 or 3 blocks from Commercial Drive – in a big old character house the likes of which I had never seen before. The original block of houses remain in Vancouver to this day and walking the tree lined sidewalks in 2018 is like a trip through a time tunnel. On a Saturday morning in June 1968 I started the day with my cousin Dennis by heading out for an exploration. Only in the late 60’s would it seem perfectly normal for a couple of 11 year olds to head out into the urban jungle for a look see.

Caffe Roma Then and Now

Turning onto Commercial Drive on this sunny Saturday late morning, my cousin, Dennis and I walked down wide sidewalks past Italian deli’s, corner grocers and bustling cafes.

The street had a life of its own. From a child’s perspective, everything seemed brighter, louder, busier and decidedly more fragrant. From a kid from small town Victoria, I might as well have been on another planet.

The aroma of strong coffee, cured ham and fresh fruit drifted over the concrete beneath my feet. I stopped for a moment in front of a busy cafe. It seemed to be packed with men, young, old, mostly old men entangled in a random circle of loud conversation and broad hand gestures. They spoke Italian, a language my Montreal raised mother used with me when she was displeased.

A young couple caught my eye. They seemed disconnected from this humming umbilical of community.

A girl, likely in her mid-twenties, wore a canary yellow sun-dress and her male friend a wool suit. The suit seems softened by a few years worth of wear and somewhat sticky considering that it was a hotter than usual summer. Between his sips of strong looking coffee from an impossibly small cup and her demurely drawing from something that looked like a milkshake, they talked in a musical banter – words only they appeared to understand.

My cousin grabbed my shoulder and pulled me along. I look back at the couple nodding and laughing. The girls hair moves up and down held in place by a daisy-yellow hair broach. Now we are walking again and he steered me into a green grocers hardly a door away from the Cafe. With 90 cents in my pocket in 1968, that is a lot of money. I bought a chocolate bar, a butter-finger as I recall, some pixie-sticks, fizzy candy in a paper tube and a cola.

We exited the store and turned left towards the Cafe again.

The Cafe is buzzing louder as we strode towards my cousins avenue. The table where the young couple sat was now empty save for a cup and a glass. I spot them exiting onto the boulevard, hand in hand, her dress burning a permanent image into my mind, the itchy smell of his suit offering contrast. They vanished into a pulsating hive of urban humanity – a Saturday morning blend of shoppers, smokers, the odd smattering of fashionably clad hipsters and one wide-eyed child – me.

I look in the cafe window again flashing forward to the present. I stand outside of Caffe Roma on Commercial Drive and time has stood still just for me. My reflection in the window looks alternately young and slightly older.

Clouds pass by offering a broad selection of flattering light. CoffeeCrew contributing member Dave watches me for a moment before holding the door.

“Colin, let’s get some coffee…” he says.

The smells and sounds of the the Cafe and the street envelope me like an old gloved hand. For a moment I hold in my palm the paper tubes of fizzy candy and a half-eaten chocolate bar. Dave asks again, “What are you going to have, dude?”

I order my usual when I am in a cafe for the first time – double espresso and a snack. In this case, they have very tasty looking apple turnovers. I get one.

The intensity of the Italian coffee and the tangy sweetness of the pastry are the perfect match. As I sip the beverage and feel the caffeine perking within me, I can almost hear the whispered conversations of the young lovers from so long ago at a nearby table. Where are they now? Have the years been kind? Most likely, their grandchildren are half-grown up, much as I was in 1968. I think about my marriage, now almost 2 decades in length, and how in places like these, time just stands still.

In the final moments before we leave for our next stop on the drive, the owner pops by to gather up our spent cups. I tell him the coffee is fabulous. His expression is priceless and without words – a combination of ‘of course it is son…’ and ‘I have a cafe to run today…’

As we step onto the still vibrant sidewalk of Commercial Drive, two ten year old boys approach on skate boards. One sails past me like a low flying seagull.

The other swishes to a stop and is immediately hypnotized by the activity in the cafe, the noise, the smells, the starling chatter of the old men.

The cycle continues season by season, year by year through the generations. We are thankful for our memories and the time we have ahead of us. Thanks for the memories Vancouver!

Here in 2018, Caffe Roma is part of the history books – but while in Vancouver, you can visit The Drive – Do so. You will be glad you did.

Vancouver - commercial drive - 1968

Comment

Reader's Digest Canada rant chapter two - seniors under siege · 27.06.17 by colin newell

Canada Readers Digest Rant 2009 Seniors hassled

or click here for the mp3 if you cannot see the above widget.


This is a reboot of one of my favourite blogs (and rants) from gasp 2009! Enjoy.

I spoke with a rep from Canada Post today…
and he said (from his post office in the Oak Bay village)…

“We get 10 to 15 citizens that come into this little post office every day of business that are returning materials to Reader’s Digest!”

10 to 15 folks. Every day. Most of them seniors. From one Post Office!

I have been on the phone to Reader’s Digest canada twice in the last week and I get the following scripted dialogue from their service partners…

“It is not the policy of Reader’s Digest Canada to send people unsolicited materials or products.”

Okay then. What the heck is happening when 10 to 15 citizens are appearing at each Canadian post office daily?
Here is my theory.
Canadians, by the droves, are returning “pieces of mail from Reader’s Digest Canada” that, according to Reader’s Digest, are no-obligation entry forms for their $500,000 sweepstakes.

What our Canadian seniors are failing to do is read the fine print.

Because with every “win $500,000 now” sweepstakes shills is, very likely, a piece of fine print that states – in exchange for your no obligation entry into the Reader’s Digest $500,000 contest, you agree to purchase X quantity of books at market value.

Market value huh? I am looking at a $700 invoice for my dear old aunt. She has a stack of books on her Reader’s Digest mail strewn coffee table – that she claims that she did not order. So what happened? I suspect that she did not read the fine print… over and over and over again.

Today I returned a 4-CD set of elevator music to Reader’s Digest Canada that one could, arguably, buy at Shoppers Drug Mart for $22.
Reader’s Digest cost: $79

Is Reader’s Digest breaking any Canadian laws? In short, no.
Are they doing anything unethical? That is out there for debate.

I think we are going to be hearing way more about this Reader’s Digest Canada issue.

Because the bottom line, for me, is:
Protect our seniors from scam artists… whomever they might be.

Have a listen!

or click here for the mp3 if you cannot see the above widget.


Colin Newell gets mad when our elderly are exploited in any way. And when he gets angry, he gets blogging!

Comment [6]

Talking coffee health studies with Natasha Hall of NewsTalk 800 CJAD Montreal · 26.04.17 by colin newell

Podcast – Talking coffee with Natasha Hall of CJAD 800 NewsTalk – Montreal –

CJAD 800 NewsTalk Montreal

We were talking coffee with Natasha Hall of NewsTak 800 – Montreal on the topic of those seemingly endless health studies on the dire (or wonderful) effects of caffeine and coffee (in general) on your body!

This podcast (interview) is around 14 minutes long – so strap yourself in.

I average around 20 radio, TV or newspaper interviews annually and this was one of the better ones – a lot of these radio hosts are affable, enthusiastic and well read before they undertake an interview – honored to chat on the subject of my passion. Coffee. Love it.

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.

Comment

Talking Ham Radio on CBC Spark with Nora · 11.11.16 by colin newell

Social media and its evolution – where did it begin? And where is it going?

We enjoy a spectrum of social media tools and experiences in the 21st Century and rightfully so. We have the tools and the technology to make great things happen. But how did we get to where we are today?

Humans have been communicating, somewhat inefficiently, for thousands and thousands of years – with foot messengers, smoke signals and simple peer to peer links, one on one, through the chapters of human history.

It is only with the advent of the telegraph and, soon after, the radio that we can reach a lot of people, reliably and over great distances. And it was radio, in the form of amateur or ham radio, that facilitated the instantaneous and often random social connections that would become the World’s first social media medium.

Nora Young CBC Spark on Ham Radio

I talked at length with Nora Young on CBC Spark. The entire show was around 55 minutes and covered some of the history of early social media and its links to amateur radio technology and popular music.

Feel free to enjoy the entire episode over here

Or, if you are short for time, have a listen to our near-5 minute chat with Nora on the subject so dear to my heart – Amateur or Ham Radio and its relationship to the modern social media we enjoy today. –

If you cannot see the audio player below, click here for the mp3.

Comment

Book review - Straddling the Hound - The Curious Charms of Long-Distance Bus Travel · 30.08.16 by colin newell

2016 Book Review Straddling the Hound

When humanity first put one foot in front of the other and locked its gaze on the horizon, the force of curiosity and exploration would inevitably build nations.

Without a curious nature and desire to follow the sun, we would be an entirely different people living in an entirely different world.

Retired medical doctor, Trevor Watson, is one such 21st-century explorer who finds the attraction of the open road impossible to resist. At a very early age, Trevor would sit in his bedroom and gaze at a large full colour Mercator map; he would imagine ocean journeys between tropical outposts. These junkets would often involve ingenious plans to avoid pirates, bandits, and encounters with malarial mosquitos.

Responsibility and practical demands of life in the adult world settled in and Trevor (in a candid and wry admittance) reluctantly decided on a career in family medicine. It would be a wise choice since it created an opportunity to meet his lovely wife of 46 years and travel and work in some interesting corners of the globe. Being a family physician also led him to write a column dealing with health issues for several Canadian newspapers in the 1990s.

In Trevor Watson’s debut release, Straddling the Hound he takes us on a series of explorations into the American hinterland. He frequently integrates etymological and linguistic analysis of place names, regional personalities and the very industry and infrastructure of the open road.

The book has more substance and surprises than what you would expect at first glance. Straddling the Hound is a very satisfying reading experience – as page after page of first person travel observations reveals unflinchingly detailed explanations of place names, people and the regional origins of successful businesses that ultimately thrived because of travel.

As you would expect, a book about bus travel in North America is not all about smiling faces. This is not the simpler times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A journey on a trans continental bus is as much about discovering something new as it is seeing the seedier side of the American experience:

One chap particularly caught my eye; he was as stocky as can be; his neck must have been 20” around. He was, I imagined, Carlos “Chopper” Ramirez, out on weekend parole. He had cryptic messages tattooed on his neck and bald scalp. His head actually seemed suffused, as though it was about to explode. Oddly enough, he had – of all things – a huge golden polo medal hanging around his neck. I’ll bet you anything it was stolen, or maybe won in a knife fight.

I found myself drawing the curtains on my suburban home as I fell deeper and deeper into Dr. Watson’s first person dystopian vision of downtown America. That feeling would pass as the writing gave way to a folksier and journalistic treatise on the very fabric of America’s open road, its people, the itinerant among us and the many meanings of our journey.

Straddling the Hound is not just about the bricks, mortar, concrete and blacktop of our interconnecting matrix of highways that connect all the people in their varied splendour. Its also a fearless gaze at the strata of society. Dr. Watson takes us on a sojourn under the soiled fingernails and into the duffle bags of the every day people that ride the bus – heading home, leaving home, and often away from a temporary home. He flirts with often acerbic descriptions of frustrated employees and drivers of Greyhound. He explains the origins of highway-byway diners like Denny’s:

Denny’s was founded in 1953, in Lakewood, California, by Richard Jezak and Harold Butler. The original name was Danny’s Donuts, but a few years later was changed to Denny’s to distinguish itself from a competing chain called Doughnut Dan’s.

Trevor Watson of Straddling the HoundMore than anything else Trevor Watson wants to achieve his mission; to find out about the very essence of the people that he encounters; to understand them and their history and their place in the modern world. It is, I think, the thirst for knowledge that powers, in part, the motivation of the (as Trevor describes himself) hodophiliacsomeone who’s fond of or loves traveling.

Dr. Watson (Photo above) takes us on a dusty road trip leaving us significantly more curious about the world around us. I am very confident that readers of this blog would definitely enjoy putting on their traveling shoes and taking a ride on this bus. Copies of “Straddling the Hound” are available on Amazon.ca and also at Tanners Books in beautiful Sidney, British Columbia, Bolen Books at the Hillside Mall and Ivy’s Books in Oak Bay.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, who is constantly in search of a great cup of coffee and a good book to read.

Comment [1]

Previous