I was 21 years old when I started working at a trendy little coffee shop in Seattle. I loved coffee, loved Seattle, loved the smells, the music, the quirky-dressed employees and the eclectic group of customers. I don’t think I will ever hold a job I treasure as much as I did Bus Stop Espresso.
I’d worked at two different shops beforehand, so I thought I knew the ropes pretty well. Seattle coffee is, however, an entirely different monster…especially ten years ago. This was the heyday of dotcom Seattle.
A barista will learn the regular customers rather quickly. Most come and go after their drink is prepared. Others linger, reading the paper or clicking on their laptops or visiting with other customers. The best ones become your friends. I can safely say I made very few friends while living in Seattle that were not attached to that coffee shop in some way. I still talk to many via facebook etc. I’d say there was a core group ( a clique, if you will) that totaled around fifty. One of those fifty was Harlan.
Harlan was old. I have no idea how old, but quite possibly the oldest regular there was. He was crazy and strange and the most caring man you could come across. Harlan referred to me only as “young mother” as I met him when I was about 22 and looked 17. The Max was an infant.
Harlan could come in each day and buy a cup of coffee and a newspaper. He would then do the crossword perfectly from beginning to end. Then, precede to talk with everyone. He would bring us presents and trinkets and candy. He would non-nonchalantly drop a hundred dollar bill into the tip jar on holidays. He would talk to you about the weather, politics, or the awful or stressful situation you were in.
About a year after I met him, Harlan started a public access show. It was HILARIOUS. I did not have cable where I was living at the time. So, I would drive to my ex-husbands house, that I had since abandoned, and tolerate that awkwardness for a half hour each week so that I could sit and watch Harlan’s show.
I moved 70 miles away from Seattle for a couple months, but continued to worked at the coffee shop. One day, Harlan gave me a check for gas money. It was a lot. A whole lot. I sat there and cried. I wasn’t sad, I was not even embarrassed to take it. It was just touching that he did that for me. But it was not just me he would do things for. Every person who Harlan was friends with must have been convinced that he believed they were insanely special, because that is how he treated you.
Beyond being a nice man, he was indeed hilarious. He would wear strange hats and cook up octopus and bring it to our parties with a whole bunch of drunken twenty-somethings. He’d buy novelty items at Archie McPhee’s and give them to the employees. He was a gem. He was karma at it’s finest.
Harlan passed last week. The last time I saw him was last summer, on my yearly trek back west. He was sitting, busily doing the crossword, just being…Harlan.
Harlan had enough money, he had enough friends, but he had a heart bigger than all of the baristas put together. This is no exaggeration.
Sometimes, I am asked who my idol is, and who I aspire to be like. I always hated that question, as I just want to be Kristiane. But after thinking about Harlan, and his life, and how amazing he was, I am going to say him. Harlan is my idol. I miss you, friend.