Waiting for coffee


Flowers for the Fillmore-Jackson coffee shop when it closed in 2014.


Funny how habits form. They revolve around responsibilities and chores, but also the small pleasures that brighten our daily routines.

I have been working for several years at a beautiful flower shop in the neighborhood. In addition to spending time with a great team of co-workers and the lovely flowers every season and every day, it includes a relatively pleasant bus trip over from my Russian Hill apartment.

Florists start early, so it’s usually the coldest part of the day, and in the winter it’s dark. Very dark. But at the corner of Fillmore and Jackson was the welcome light of the coffee shop and the aroma of ground beans and steamed milk — and those friendly baristas who knew exactly what I wanted and just how I wanted it.

A brief collecting of body and soul before starting the busy workday is one of those small pleasures in life. After a while you get to know all the other folks starting their work days, or resting after a morning run, or heading off to school to teach or learn. Friendly faces, steamy warmth, a jolt of caffeine and off we all go.

There hasn’t been a bright light at that corner for a few years now. There are other cafes nearby, but none so convenient — for me, at least. Our little cadre of early morning espresso hounds have scattered throughout the neighborhood.

I see a customer from the flower shop with her tray of two lattes trudging up Fillmore Street. The guy from the shipping store crosses over to the corner market to get his fix. But I just can’t do that. I like that market, but the aroma of produce doesn’t quite make it at that hour. And where to sit? I recognize a few souls sitting on the metal cafe chairs outside while the bread delivery guys unload their wares, slamming and banging their trays. But those seats are cold.

Then there’s the time element. I had those short minutes timed — just enough to relax and mentally prepare for my day. There’s really not enough time to run down the street to another coffee shop where, unlike Cheers, nobody knows my name, and double espresso looks like less than a single at my old haunt.

A friend visited recently and we met on Fillmore Street to have dinner. She, like everyone else, it seems, kept talking about how much the city has changed.

As I walk through the neighborhood, I recall the small letterpress print shop that opened behind the old Browser Books when it flanked the Clay Theatre, and Millard’s was on the other side. I miss the clutter and wonder of The Brown Bag, filled with office equipment and toys like an old-fashioned variety store. I remember the imperious Ruth Dewson from the hat shop parading the street as if she owned it, and Leon from the barbecue joint who walked the Fillmore in a cloud of hickory smoke. I recall the loud jungle squawking from the exotic bird shop, and the funky Royal Ground coffee shop. But I’m wondering now: Did they ever have wi-fi in there?

But the venerable La Mediterranee remains — as does Curbside Cafe, the Grand Central Market (now Mollie Stone’s) and the lovely Mio, selling designer clothing for decades now. On this ever-changing street, new restaurants and shops continue to appear. Aside from the makeover of the old dental school, these changes hardly compare to the dramatic ones that brought so many bland new towers of condos to Van Ness or the Mission or Mission Bay or South of Market.

So the city and the neighborhood morph and move on. But frankly, and selfishly, I am more concerned about the relatively minor change on the corner of Fillmore and Jackson Streets.

It’s one of those cold, foggy, damp mornings, the sun unable to break through. Drizzle settles on the seats of the bus shelter, so I can’t sit. The next bus sign isn’t working, so I stare into the gloom and ponder whether I’ll get to work on time. I stand on the corner guessing that I might have just a few minutes to spare.

But I’m still waiting for coffee.

  • Charles H. Greene Jr.

    I grew up @ 2449 Jackson Street from 1956-1972. I miss Andre’s Gift Shop (Blue Bottle space) where I bought a fancy teacup for my Dad from my earnings addressing Christmas cards for my parents. I miss saying hello to Phil @ Bond’s Cleaners (started in 1952) across the street. I miss Jurgenson’s drugstore next door where I swept the floors and got to read all the cool magazines. I miss Geranio’s where Gino’s is now. And, the greasy Chinese restaurant where Jackson/Fillmore is now. Mayflower Market is still there where I worked one summer. I hear they stopped roasting the chickens that the original owner, Chris sold them the recipe for when they bought the store. I miss Unique Market on the NE corner of Fillmore & Washington. Calvary Presbyterian where I took sex education in 8th grade. The church also had a Rock Mass in the late 60’s. And most of all, Joe’s Smoke Shop (NW corner of Washington/Fillmore) where we bought Nehi Orange drinks and greasy burgers from the owner, Joe Limone and his partner, Ward Healy. I remember when Joe passed away having a heart attack when he was walking up the hill @ Candlestick before a GIANTS game. Hence the name Cardiac Hill.

    The sidewalks are all that’s left of my old neighborhood.