Boulevard Coffee is closed.
As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.”
Why that is true I don’t really understand, but there it is. And now we come to the end of something that has been here for 35 years, give or take. Three generations of my family, and countless friends, have had the opportunity to experience it directly or indirectly. Some of you who have read my blog in the past will have read about episodes of my life that have happened there.
It’s reasonable to assume that, after this many years, roasting beans in a plant that reaches temperatures over 100 F in the summer, and working behind the counter serving customers of every disposition and persuasion, the owner might feel he has a right to retire. And he does, so he is. Retiring I mean.
Cliff has been watching people darken the door at Boulevard Coffee for a long time. He started off originally at a little spot further up Fair Oaks Boulevard that was more like someone’s living room. It had a fireplace, and couches everywhere, and it felt very “homey”. Eventually he expanded to a second store and a separate roasting plant. After several years he closed the original shop and stayed at the second store.
I started going to the original store and then switched to the second one when he closed the first one. I was there at least once a week, but usually more if I could find a way to work it into my schedule. I started going there because the coffee was the best I ever had, and I have yet to find better. I continued to go there because it became a refuge for me. The events of my life led me to find someplace where I could find a few hours of peace, and so I found myself a spot at a table there and received an education in coffee at the feet of the master.
There were times when few seats were available. I walked in one day and the place was as crowded as I’d ever seen it. I looked around and told Cliff, “I guess I better get it to go today!”
Cliff looked around and said, “Hang on a minute.”
He went to the back through a door and stuck his head back out and waved me back. He pulled up a chair to the supply room counter and said, “Is this ok? I don’t want you to have to leave.”
“Really? That’s really cool! Thanks!”
“What do you want?”
I told him what I wanted and he brought it back to me. I felt like I had the keys to the kingdom. It was one of those moments where I felt like I could say, “Yeah I know somebody who can help you…”, you know? That’s been our relationship for 20 years.
Cliff was roasting coffee in the Sacramento area long before anyone else. A “coffee community” has sprung up over the last 10 years or so, but I have to say they are some of the most pretentious people I’ve ever met. They think a good cup of coffee is rated by the design the person pouring it draws in the cream. And the coffee isn’t that great.
I am biased for sure, but I’m also right on this point. So there.
As I have contemplated my last day here at Boulevard I think back to when I first started coming here. It was a place to go to separate myself from all the pressures of my normal environment. As life moved on over the years it was a place where I knew I always had a space. I was always comfortable here with both the staff and the regulars. It was safe. Boulevard was the first place I thought of to meet my family and friends, the place I went to read or write, the place to simply sit, and in essence quite simply my refuge. I knew all the employees, and they knew me. If you walked in and asked them to make your coffee the way Dan Bode drinks it they would know what to give you. I used to bring in breakfast burritos to the employees on Sunday mornings just to make sure they had breakfast since they started so early. I felt a little bad when I brought them in and discovered Jeff was trying to go vegetarian. He decided to put it off for a while since there was bacon in it, which I thought was a very intelligent choice because, well – bacon! Most coffee places know who you are by the drink you order, but there they actually knew your name. Boulevard was the Cheers of coffee.
When I started dating Brenda this was one of the first places I brought her, and of course everyone loved her as much as they loved me.
In light of all this I understand that as much as it is the right time for Cliff to close these doors for himself, it is also the right time for me. My life is filled with joy now, and I no longer need the refuge. At the same time without all the experiences and people from this place I would not have the degree of joy I have come to know. This place, and the people there, have helped to shape me into the person who was right for my wife. I had countless cups with my daughters, and grandkids (hot chocolate for them), extended family and friends. Knowing everyone who has worked there over the years has been a great blessing.
Today was the last official open day. I sat in the shop today for a good portion of it. I got to see old friends and regulars, and of course, Fred. It wouldn’t have been right if I didn’t get to end it with him there since it pretty much started with him too. It was funny that I had just finished telling the Fred story to one of the other regulars when he walked up. Perfect.
I drank more coffee than I ever have before in one day.
It occurred to me today as I was driving in that I had expected to be going to Boulevard after I retired, but Cliff beat me to it. Twenty years of Saturdays, and then some, have passed by in this place, so now I have to find something else to fill my time. It’s not like there’s not plenty to do – I just need to get used to the idea of doing something different. Driving a different direction. Setting a different path.
This whole experience has been a lot like reading a good book. When it’s well written you get caught up in the story and the lives of the characters. You get to know them very well, but then the story always ends. You miss the characters and their world that you were a part of for a while. You miss the story and wish it hadn’t ended.
So, today as I walked out the door of Boulevard for the last time, I read the last page and closed the cover.
Time to find a new story.
©Dan Bode 2017