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Arts and Entertainment Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012 10 years ago

Places: Pastry Art

by: Keely Carney

The sun beats unmercifully through the windows.  My fingers cramp and ache from a grueling Ritz Carlton application.  My stomach grumbles "feed me."  And my head pounds.

I need caffeine.  Awake for 4 hours and I had none pumping through my veins.  The wimpy tea in my apartment wouldn't cut it.  Who was I kidding with not bringing a coffee pot?  Must. get. coffee. now.

Bike from the garage, swerve into traffic on 41, cut through the construction site on Osprey, stagger onto Main St., Coffee Carousel in mind.  I had seen it while doing the Mom-mandated job-hunt walkabout.  I love coffee and carousels haven't freaked me out since that intensive therapy session in the 7th grade.  Perfect.  But not --- my awkward Sheldon-style walk by, pace towards and away, brow getting sweaty in frustration determines that it's more of a café/breakfast nook than a coffee house.  I don't want eggs; I want coffee and a comfy chair, so I move on.  Coffee Carousel, I'm sure you're lovely, but you do have a misleading name.  Misnomers amuse me, but not when they interfere with my fix.

I stumble forward, heading west on Main.  If I don't find anything, I'm confident I can drown myself in the bay to ease my misery.  An iPhone search is worthless.  Siri leaves me hanging.  Walk, cry, die a little inside.  Have I mentioned I have a penchant for exaggerating?

And I find it.  Tables and chairs on the sidewalk.  An open door.  Beckoning pastries.  Mecca.  Pastry Art: bakery. café. espresso.  So hip --- an implied colon and lowercase letters.  An abundance of periods.  I'm sold.

Hip places make me nervous.  The men behind the counter are thin.  They have glasses.  One's wearing cut-off skinny jeans.  They probably speak more languages than I do and discuss types of music that the general public won't hear about for years.  I'm still in caught up in the Spice Girls era.  On top of this, I have a type of awkwardness that flares up when I'm not sure how to order the food or beverage I want.  I write it off as endearing; all of my flaws are --- just ask me.  Sweaty biker girl stands dumbfounded in front of the pastry case and Hippy McHipster takes pity.  He gently asks what I want and I melt.  I'll be a regular for years.

I want coffee.  For here or to go?  For here...I telepathically tell him to end the interrogation. He gets the message.  He hands me a mug, I hand him $1.77 and he nods in the direction of the coffee.  There are 6 kinds --- 4 regular and 2 decaf.  For Round 1, I go with the chocolate raspberry.  A touch of whole milk and it's perfect.  It actually tastes like chocolate raspberry and seems fresh.  Back when I had to impress people, I would have gotten a black dark roast, just to prove I was a real (wo)man.  The chocolate raspberry bliss makes me glad I've outgrown that stage.

I take a seat at a table against the wall and look around.  A huge canvas hangs next to me. I resist the urge to touch it and choke a bit on my coffee when I see it's for sale for $4,800.  A barista in St. Petersburg told me I was 40 years too young and a few million too poor to be living in Sarasota.  Sometimes I see his point.

There are regulars.  People are talking.  One man asks another to explain the tattoo on his wrist and he says it's the key to his wife's heart, as demonstrated when he flings his arm over her shoulder.  I hear someone say that men love sex and women love to be right, so when women use sex to be right, everyone wins.  A number of the patrons are quadruple my age, so I avoid looking around to see who made the comment.  I feel at home.  It's like a bar, but people talk freely without pouring alcohol down their throats to loosen their tongues.  I could get used to this.

The chalkboard listing drink prices says that one refill is included with a dine-in purchase. I'm so impressed with the place that I would even consider paying for multiple refills instead of helping myself.  That says a lot --- in Pittsburgh I would buy one Panera to-go cup and sneak in to refill it until the cup disintegrated.  I would get 3 weeks of coffee for $2.  And I always wondered why the prices went up so often...

I fill out job applications until my battery needs charged.  The only outlet I see is behind the arm chairs in front of the store, so I ask the man sitting there to plug it in for me.  He does, then tells me it will be $300.  He says I look nice, so he'll give me a break --- $297.  No wonder these people can afford $4,800 paintings.  I'll have to start sitting in front of outlets. With the ice broken, he and his companion ask what I'm doing in a coffee shop in the middle of the day.   I say I just moved and pump them for information.  They give it to me.  They're witty and spar well.  A business card is exchanged and a suggestion to visit during lunch time if I want to meet some real characters.  I always want to meet some real characters.

I leave to mosey about town for a bit and decide I want to go back.  I ask for a coffee and they remember me, asking where my mug went.  Points for the employees.  People come and go, a man enters with a well-trained German Shepard following, stopping outside the doorway and waiting for the water he knows he'll get.  When I'm in creative moods, I like to sit and people watch, covertly concocting life stories for them in a well-worn notebook.  I'd be able to scribble through many pages here.  And maybe I will.

When I waste enough time on the internet, I decide to make the trek back home.  I leave content, having found the day's treasure.

Overall rating: A (good coffee, good company, quiet enough to work, noisy enough to be entertaining)...suggestion: more outlets --- a girl's gotta make some money.

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