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