It wasn’t exactly like coffeehouses were invented in the nineties, but that might have been their modern heyday. The fictional coffeehouse that was central to a certain NBC sitcom may be the most iconic of its era, but in the middle part of the decade, back when independent stores and media were thriving, the coffeehouses that popped up around the Toledo area were lovely, and even though my hopes of becoming more social by sitting around drinking coffee there never really materialized, I still have a lot of good memories from when I went to those places.
My favourite Toledo-area coffeehouse chain of that time, Sufficient Grounds, had two locations: One right by my house, and one just north of the University of Toledo. That was very convenient for me, but even if I’d had to drive a while to get to Sufficient Grounds, the trip still would have been worth it to me. Unfortunately, Sufficient Grounds wound up being bought up by the regional chain that would later be called Biggby (but not before existing for years under a very cringe-inducing name, especially during the peak years of Mind of Mencia). It’s not that Biggby was ever bad (except when they stopped offering their Big Chill beverages, easily the best thing they’ve ever come up with), but they just weren’t Sufficient Grounds, and they never will be.
There were other local coffeehouses in Toledo that I visited once or twice, but I never developed an affinity for any of them, and a lot of them were in places I really didn’t like going to. (Downtown Toledo might not be the worst place in the world — or even the state — to drive, but I still tried to go there as infrequently as possible.) As the years wore on, and Toledo finally got its first Starbucks (the city tends to be behind the curve with a lot of national chain restaurants and stores), I kind of reflexively avoided going there just because of the things I’d heard about that chain.
The thing is, Starbucks opened up a location at a lifestyle mall called Levis Commons that I liked going to, if only to look at the sights there. (Apart from the Starbucks and a bookstore, none of the other shops there appeal to me.) I really got in the habit of throwing pennies and making wishes at the fountain at Levis Commons when Mom was in the middle of her final hospitalization (recalling a similar ritual I did at Southwyck Mall when I was very little, which I’ve written about before), and since I was already at the mall and I didn’t have anywhere else to go, I started going into that Starbucks more and more.
To be honest, I’ve always had a very soft spot for Peppermint Mocha Frappuccinos (and Frappuccinos in general, since they’re basically jazzed-up milkshakes), but I don’t really care for Starbucks’ offerings otherwise. I’m hardly a coffee aficionado, but I really don’t notice much difference between Starbucks coffee and the bargain-basement stuff in the kitchen at work. I’ve always been more of a tea drinker anyway, and while I’ve had more than my share of iced teas from Starbucks, the fact that they use concentrates means that they always taste a little flat to me. I can’t say that I like Starbucks all that much, but honestly, I also can’t say that I dislike them.
I’m over an hour’s drive away from my closest Starbucks now — yes, that’s actually still possible in the continental United States — and I’ve only had Starbucks twice since I moved to Wisconsin over seven months ago. I think that I’m missing the Starbucks at Levis Commons more than anything right now — it opened right up on that fountain, and now that the fountain’s probably operating again with the weather warming up, I can’t help remembering how much I enjoyed listening to that fountain while I enjoyed my drinks outside — but for all that I don’t particularly care for Starbucks, it’s still kind of unnerving for me to be living in a place where I can’t just drive ten minutes from anywhere and get a Frappuccino.
More than that, though, I think I just miss hanging out at a coffeehouse. Especially now that I’m living in this totally different place, it’s almost like I’m feeling a sense of obligation to make another attempt at socializing while I have my coffee. There’s a locally-owned coffeehouse close to campus here, but I haven’t had a chance to go there yet since I’ve been so busy with a million different things since I got here. Maybe I need to make time to go there soon, just so I can try to create new memories at that place. With any luck, I’ll even have more success at being social there.