Making progress, sure and steady

As I write this, I’m staying in San Francisco’s Sunset neigh­bor­hood. Every time I walk up and down the main drag here, I pass a cafe, and every time, it catches my eye. It’s an unas­suming little place, next to a Russian market, with a simple, cheery sign out front that promises: Coffee! Sandwiches! Wi-Fi!

Finally (this is a couple of days ago) I decide to check it out. Inside, the place is well-appointed but unas­suming — really, the opposite of most San Francisco coffee shops these days. No beans are roasted on-site. No startups are founded. Nothing needs to be proven. There are two other customers working quietly on laptops. I walk toward the counter, and from behind the espresso machine, a little voice calls: “Hey! I know you.”

Back when I lived in the Richmond, the neighborhood that mirrors the Sunset on the north side of Golden Gate Park — here’s a map if you’re not familiar with the city — I had a neigh­bor­hood cafe. I went there just about every day in late 2009 and early 2010, and it’s there that I wrote Annabel Scheme and the first drafts of Penumbra. Like this place, it was well-appointed but unas­suming … like this place, it promised coffee, sandwiches, and wi-fi. That cafe’s smiling young owner was Andy — and here’s Andy now, peeking up from behind an espresso machine out in the Sunset!

So we catch up. I explain to Andy that the story I started in his cafe has turned into a novel, coming in October. Andy explains that he still runs the cafe in the Richmond; this is his second location, and he just opened it last week. I buy a coffee and a bagel (same coffee, same bagels) and I sit down to work and write.

Maybe you have to know Andy, or know the cafe, to appre­ciate the moment. (It’s Cafe La Flore, now on both sides of the park.) But I don’t think so — not if you think about it like this:

Two not-quite-friends meet again after a gap of years. Neither of them is like, transformed. In fact, they’re both doing basically the same thing they were doing before. But neither is the same, either. Both have made progress, each in their own way — progress, sure and steady.

I’m typing this, right now, in the new Cafe La Flore. It’s my third visit in as many days. My bag is tucked under the table; I’m on my way out of the Sunset now. But before I leave, I’m going to give Andy a galley, wish him the best in this new neigh­bor­hood, and promise to return.

May 2012, San Francisco