The Coffee Man

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Red-Buoy Coffee

We’ve all had them. Those people you come across during your daily travels. Sometimes you interact with them, sometimes not, or maybe you just don’t notice them. But whether you have a reason to connect (or not) every time you see each other; these people invariably end up being the buoys in the ocean voyage of your life.

Train Station

I have commuted for years by train from the suburbs into New York City. It’s almost an hour by train, and like anything else you would do twice a day for 30+ years, it not only becomes a rut, but you get to the stage where you actually don’t notice you are doing it. For most commuters, the people you remember most are on the train platform, or ride in your train car on the same trains you take each day, or even perhaps a conductor or two.

For me the buoy which I’ve seen over the years on my daily commute has been the Coffee Man.

The train platform in my town has a small temperature-controlled waiting area with a few seats. On one end of the waiting room is a bathroom – and also used to be a ticket office in the days before you bought tickets via a vending machine, or on the train. There was actually a human selling those tickets too!

The other end of the waiting room contains an open small coffee shop area which is manned by the proprietor named Edwin. Edwin has been there for as long as I remember. Almost everyday, for the last 20 years. He works hard…His shop opens early to accommodate the Wall Street gang who grab their trains at 5:00am and works through until about 10:00am once the rush of peak hour commuters starts to wane.

Those that know this station well will remember there was a highly energetic woman (“How ya doin’ Hon?”) who ran this shop before Edwin, but she departed the train station in a masterful piece of recruiting by a doughnut shop across the street looking to build a client list fast. I guess there aren’t any non-competes in the coffee shop business.

Edwin sells coffee, prepackaged light breakfast snacks, fruit, and other beverages like water, Gatorade and juices.  He also sells things called “newspapers” for those who are still fighting the trend to grab their news on a smartphone or iPad. It’s a cash business, his prices are reasonable, and he keeps a meticulous shop. Once one train leaves the station, he’s cleaning up, and making fresh coffee for the next crowd. He works alone, but occasionally will have a family member helping him or standing in for him if he’s not in town that day.

So, why would we consider Edwin a buoy? Well, what is a buoy? The definition is “an anchored float serving as a navigation mark.” Buoy is also a word which means to “cause to become cheerful.” Both definitions relate to Edwin.

He’s there everyday, rain, snow or shine. When the train is late or canceled because of snow, the one thing you can count on to get through the weather is Edwin. No, he doesn’t know everybody’s name for sure – but he recognizes you if you’re a “regular” and if there’s time says a quick hello. A good portion of his business is done in the 5 minutes just before the train arrives, so he’s got to be making change, not making small talk. However, if you are early or just missed the last train, he’s more than happy to engage in conversation. Also, if you are trying to catch a train that is pulling in and need to quickly grab a paper and coffee, he might waive you off and say “pay me tomorrow.”

He’s passionate about his customers – always treating them with respect (even if he’s being treated abruptly, which is rare), and does sympathize with them. One of my most memorable moments about Edwin was right after 9/11. A few people from town did perish that day, and others just missed the disaster. Most businesses closed for a few days, but when we returned to the station – the first thing we saw on the doors to the waiting room were handmade signs with an American Flag and the words – “Bless my Commuter Friends and their Families” – Edwin.

In 2008, I stopped commuting into NYC as did many people over that next year when the financial crisis hit big. I worked for a time in Connecticut and on my own, but found myself back on the train to NYC a few years later, and there was Edwin…still working the coffee shop. It was as if I’d only been gone for a week – Edwin brightened up when he saw me that first day back, and asked how I was and the family. We talked about how many people haven’t gone back to commuting to the City, which is a recurring part of our conversation, and I’m sensing his clientele is changing from the old guard to the new arrivals. However, it sounds as if the old guard still show up for a cup of coffee at Edwin’s if they are working or if they aren’t. Today, I’m commuting locally for work, but when I go to NYC, I make a point of going to see Edwin for a cup of coffee…even a quick hello means a lot to him…and to me.

Since we need a moral for this story, let it be that we all need some sort of anchors in life. Without realizing it you likely have many. I don’t mean people at work or family, but the people you interact with daily…sometimes without realizing it. The grocery store, gas station, cleaners, deli, etc. – there are multiple people along the way.

Don’t take the “buoys” of your life for granted….make sure you’re a “regular” in their journey, because you just might be a “buoy” for them!   

About Wally

Wally Greene is both an eternal optimist and cynic, a waffling right-winger, a somewhat decent husband and father of three, budding masters swimmer, delusional comedy writer, chocolate lab lover, martini drinker and executive recruiter...not necessarily in that order.

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