Friday – the end of the work week. (Who am I kidding – I don’t have a real work week!) Friday means Farmer’s Market, and a chance to see people from across the community as well as people visiting our beautiful town. The fruits and vegetables are fresh and healthy (or so I’ve been told by those who enjoy such things), and the line for freshly baked bread and other pastryorial goodies testifies to the enduring popularity of flour-based solutions. I have learned to look for the baguettes with the best ears. I know – “don’t get too technical, bread boy!”
I enjoy Farmer’s Market for a whole lot of reasons, but mostly for the opportunities to chat with friends, acquaintances and strangers who weave through the market stands manned and womanned by a constant and comforting group of regulars. Today was only slightly different, as I was let loose, unaccompanied by my awesomely patient wife. I’m a chatty guy on a good day, and today was a great day!
As I entered the Market grounds I said a quick hello the to the regular greeter, a man of faith who takes up his post every week, pamphlets at the ready but never forced into the hands or minds of the produce-seekers. For some reason he was leashed to a small dog today; probably keeping watch on the little angel as its owner observed the “no dogs allowed” rule which, while a bit unpopular to some makes good sense for the overall experience. A quick nod and smile, then a steely resolve as I barrel past the scented temptress known by its legendary name of “Kettle Corn.” I think it’s Egyptian, or maybe Aztec. Korean? Not sure, but it is a pure temptation. I usually resist, but when my granddaughter Chloe visits, we stop. She is young and knows not what she does. Well actually (as she now says in her nearly four-year-old rational voice) she knows exactly what she does closing her pitch with “and we will bring some home to mommy!” But today, I am on my own, so keep your scented kettle on your side of the parking lot, thank you very much.
A quick turn to the right, just past the beautiful flowers on the first table, I see Harry. After a rough start, we have developed a cordial relationship, and I enjoy chatting about whatever happens to be going on around us. I mentioned that for someone who doesn’t do a lot of social media his picture sure appears frequently on my Facebook feed. He is, as he sheepishly acknowledges, a bit of a local celebrity. He shared a quick anecdote about being introduced to a visitor as a local rock star! And he kind of is – engaged in civic and social activities, friend and acquaintance to many. He makes the rounds, his basket slowly filling with his coming week’s menu. A quick chat, a quick check on health and off we go our separate ways.
Bread, No Circus
I quickly slide in line at the baker’s table, nervously counting the remaining baguettes in the tin bucket. Two left, one person in front of me, looking like she is wrapping up her transaction. Good, my odds are good. I scored a lovely loaf, well-eared and so freaking fragrant I had to wipe my joyful tears away as I ransacked my pocket for a case quarter to happily hand over with my bill, getting the paper change that would be applied at my next stop.
A quick diagonal takes me to Bautista’s, where I exchange quips with the friendly and hard-working young woman who never fails to say “I like your haircut” – to which I reply “and yours looks fabulous” – even when neither of us has seen a salon in a while. I must say, I enjoy these exchanges especially when her partner in produce – an older woman who is all business (her mother, perhaps?)gives a quick glance and almost smiles. One day, she will crack and say something more than “$2.00” as she hands me my carrots. Some day…
I instinctively took a step to my left, only to notice something was terribly wrong. The tomato guy was not there! Let me repeat that – no tomato guy! My silent scream was felt, I’m sure, as far away as Pineridge, where a lanky, thoughtful man in a white Corvette froze for a second as the phrase “he only came for tomatoes” somehow filled the space around his consciousness. But that was a different blog…
My dark mood quickly lightened as I saw her – my across the street neighbor Marian. She is a striking woman with a quick wit and pale blue eyes that convey a real interest in what is being discussed. We talk often but never enough. She didn’t seem to notice the absence of the tomato guy; perhaps her years as an attorney has given her the practiced inscrutability of a judge. Perhaps she just doesn’t like tomatoes – I do not know. Either way, it was great to see her. We were soon joined by Marie, who I’ve seen more over the past weeks than I had over the past year. The two women knew each other casually, so the conversation flowed easily. Then, as if my luck hadn’t been good enough up to that point, we were joined by the ebullient Kathe Tanner, ace reporter, noted gastronome, and the only person in California outside my immediate family who knows about Dom and Vinnie’s pizza. (The one off the Sprain Brook Parkway, up the street from Gate of Heaven Cemetery. A cemetery which had the greatest sign ever – “Archdiocese of New York ~ Gate of Heaven Cemetery ~- Gates close at 4:30pm.”)
News with Heart
We talked a bit about the changes in the local paper, and Kathe shared her hope to keep telling the stories that really reflect not only the news of the town but the heart of the townspeople. Kathe has a wonderfully warm way of storytelling, and her words really touch readers as witnessed by the comments that often follow her pieces. We parted on the question “how long do you have to live in Cambria to be considered a local?” I may have to go to the Cambria Historical Society to dig up that answer!
Our cluster broke apart as we headed to our next stops. I stopped a bit short of mine as I saw what seemed to be a tableau from Game of Thrones. Princess Stephanie of Soups was on one knee in front of the corner stand, the dynastic Dragon Spring Farm. A second look revealed that she was actually taking a picture of the signs on the front of the table, and not, as I first thought, bending the knee to the Mother of Dragon Spring nor the Lord of Lemons, the wonderful Carol and Mike Broadhurst. Mike took the opportunity to regale us all with his critically acclaimed solo from the Cambria Chorale’s seasonal concert. That was four bars that will live in infamy! Though I missed the concert, I had gotten a report about Carol’s frolicking frock and snazzy shoes, which, when I mentioned them had Carol beaming at the memory. I’m pretty sure she did a little joyful two-step, narrowly avoiding grandson Braden as he toddled in behind her on his way to grabbing some blocks from the bin under the tables.
Continuing on around the bend, I scanned the various offerings, quickly making and then breaking eye contact with the peanut brittle guy, who had started his “sample?” spiel but recognized me as a guy who has never said yes in the five years plus I’ve attended the market. As I drew closer to the end of the row of vendors, two things touched my senses at the same time. First, a few clouds had me thinking I had to pick up the pace, as I was burning daylight. Then, an encroaching aroma told me Linn’s was burning brisket, Thirdly, my ears alerted me that someone or something was burning through some standards. I looked up and saw a bevy of brass – the place was lousy with trombones! Now, the trombonists were not lousy at all – they were actually (as Chloe would say) really really good! I slid (see what I did there, Allison?) up to where the band was holding forth… because there were four of them. Otherwise, they would be holding thirds or fifths…(I did it again, Allison!)
Seated at the picnic table in front of the musicians was the delightful Ruth Fleming; singer, painter and all around joy to hang out with. Her husband was one of the troubadours, so I guess she had to be there… I kid, I kid! We got to catch up a bit and exchange terrible puns as we enjoyed the music. Ruth makes me smile and is one of the lights that make Cambria so interesting.
Exit Stage Left
By now I worried my absence would be noticed at home, so I wrapped it up and headed for the exit. On the way out, an SUV was pulling into the parking lot, probably a bit faster than conditions called for. I stopped quickly and looked across the driveway as a young paramedic from the ambulance corps was entering the grounds. We both looked at the SUV, and I said: “if he had run me over you were there to save me.” He replied, wise beyond his years, “better for both of us that he didn’t.” Whoa, heavy!
Another Facet In The Jewel
I safely crossed the street, got into the car and headed home, but not before making a stop at Cambria Coffee Roasters. I really like going there for a few reasons, which even on occasion involves coffee. The appeal of the place is two-fold. First, they carry a particular kind of sweet that I love – they call it a raspberry shortbread cookie, but to me, it will always be a Linzer Torte. Now hold on a second, all my Bronx people. It is not Webers-quality. It does not have that coma-inducing blend of light and buttery shortbread, fresh raspberry preserves and powdered sugar that makes one sing and sneeze at the same time. It is more of a mass-produced, but still tasty rendition that goes great with afternoon coffee.
These Kids Today
The bigger reason I enjoy the place is the cast and crew that staff the counter and the coffeemakers every day. It is one place in town where the younger generation is front and center on Main Street. I can truly say that every person that I have met there has been a delight to interact with and learn about. They each have a story, a dream, and an approach to life that I find encouraging. They come from different places – some are local, some are just stopping for a rest. They carry yesterday’s adventures and experiences from across the globe and harbor a determination to enter more in their life’s notebook. They may stay for a short while, or enjoy longer tenures. Some go away and come back. But each of them brings a vitality to the place. They show grace and patience as they deal with the palette of people who cram themselves into the small space, some demanding, some odd, and some who range from quirky to curmudgeonly. Shannon, Gwynn, Jesse and Robin. Ariel and the recently departed Cecily. A couple of Courtney’s and Baylee, off to college. Cameron and her sister Zoe, whose dad first helped my wife and me find a place in Cambria. Probably a bunch I have forgotten. Probably a bunch still to meet. They are all happily different and represent to me an entirely unique slice of this community. And they all know that my two-cookie order is called the “Shannon Special,” and that I enjoy a good chat.
They serve me anyway!