Caffeinated in the City


Coffee cat

Mmmmmmm… coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso … it’s everywhere I look and I love it.

I’m partaking of city life this week… Vancouver specifically … java jewel of the North American west coast (or as many of us know, it’s really the “wet” coast).

I need to re-learn city life and what it means to me.

I grew up a City Mouse (Hamilton, Ontario) but have spent the past 40 years as a Country Mouse in smaller Canadian burgs like Yellowknife, William’s Lake, Hantsport, Comox, Summerland.

One of the phenomenal things about the central core of the big city – most big cities – is the boundless opportunities for a legal drug dose … even if I choose to ignore the spreading contagion of legalized medical marijuana spots.

The drug I’m talking about is CAFFEINE.

In Vancouver, there are Tim Hortons and Starbucks and Blenz and Waves and Caffe Artigiano and dozens of smaller independent coffeehouses within eyeshot – often spitting distance – of each other. Most cities around the globe have their own collection of caffeine hangouts where java junkies can find their fix.

And because I’m a languorous lover of the latte, I never feel panicky that I’ll be lost in the city jungle without a potential “fix” within a moment’s reach.

All of this caffeine has infiltrated my excitable core and like a spirit-lodge experience, I’ve emerged with an epiphany.


The epiphany? Ready?

WE are ALL small town dwellers.

Yup … even New Yorkers and Tokyoers (what are Tokyo residents actually called?) and Londoners all live in small villages.

Small towns of our own creation.

No specialized hardware or game software, no batteries required.

After only a few days living in the large city I realize it doesn’t take long for someone to build their own little town within the metropolis’s boundaries.

I was reminded of this last night when we went out to see Jerry Seinfeld “in-concert“… reminded that big cities are filled with thousands of small towns. Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer created their puny township while immersed in Manhattan.

seinfeld town

Seinfeld Town …

This week, Gary and Dean at Urban Fitness gym joined my “town” … Miriam and Jiffy at Romer’s Burger Bar signed on too. It happens so quickly that we’re barely aware of it. In a few weeks or months, I’ll have a fully inhabited village within the mega-city limits.

Friends and activities and organizations become part of our Sim Life… we just transit through others’ little towns to access our own.

So in reality, it doesn’t matter whether I live in a municipality of 1,000 or 10,000,000, I will always live in a small town of my own fabrication.

This epiphany has me questioning within myself.

For most of my adult life, I’ve inhabited small town living and the relaxed, quiet roads and low cost lifestyle; the sightings of wildlife and accessibility of outdoors pursuits, the luminous views of unimpeded stars in the inky night sky.

But I get reminded each time I visit the larger city that there are parts of me that love a more populated life.

I delight in the boundless selection of street foods and restaurants, the flow of music and dance and evenings filled with thought and magic and colourful wonder, the access to huge bookstores and music shops and museums – and when we become age-challenged, higher quality healthcare and facilities.

Sure, there are downsides to being in the city jungle: lack of friendly eye contact, noisy car horns and sirens, traffic jams, air pollution. You can add your own negatives here.

But, with a reasonable pocketful of $$ and time and energy, there is no time for boredom and no lack of stimulation for those of us ADHD-inclined types.

I’ve spent time in many many cities over my years.

Barcelona, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Shanghai, Cusco, Sevilla, Montreal, New York City, Havana, Leon, Brussels, Paris, Marrakesh, Athens.

For days, nights, and sometimes weeks, I enjoyed them all for a lot of different reasons. Even the smell of stale urine wafting from alleys is distinctive in each city.

I love the lights, the buzz, the variety, and yes, even the smells.

And when the evening grows late in the city?

When the night is stretching onwards and my middle-aged eyes grow increasingly tired and I just want to kiss the moon and stars goodnight?

A lit energetic beacon in the night is always there waiting … a neon sign that yells out through the evening air, flashing:

COFFEE – 24 hours.

Yes, living in my own little town inside a city can be more than OK.

coffee 24 hours

Larry & Tims’ Excellent Metaphorical Adventure …


Tims and Canada

It’s a Beautiful Horror.

Take a well-honed knife and slice deep into the gut of any Canadian and it won’t be ruby-red blood that spurts out making hot, thick puddles on the cold, northern pavement.


The first steamy gush you see will be a caramel-coloured double-double (2 creams, 2 sugars) mix of Tim Hortons’ coffee.

I’m not just saying this because I own shares in Tim Hortons (heartbreakingly, soon to be owned by Burger King). Nab any Maple Leaf flag passport carrier you meet anywhere in the world and ask them if they bleed Tims. I know their answer.

It’s a universal truth.

Tims serves about 70 billion cups of coffee a day in Canada. I’m pretty sure that number is accurate …

Like millions and millions of others who live in this narrow band of rocky, tree-laden land stretched out like a purring cat on the shrugging shoulders of the USA border, I visit Tim Hortons at least once each week (or day) for a morning caffeine cup.

Every province and territory of Canada has a Tim Hortons, the northernmost cafe buried in the frigid Arctic capitol of Nunavut, Iqaluit.


Iqaluit Tim Hortons


I quaff Tim Hortons coffee. Therefore I am. Canadian. And it’s at Tims (Canadians enjoy a certain intimacy with Tim Hortons … Tims or Timmies will suffice) where our Canuck stories originate.

(BTW: I’m OK with branding myself Canadian, but I don’t wear my citizenship proud and smug as a superiority badge. It’s merely a label, a way of identifying where I’m from but not a whole lot more.

I’m rummaging for ways to bring me closer to the other inhabitants of the world; fiercely calling myself Canadian just creates a separation, a boundary that I want to send tumbling down like the Berlin Wall.)

More important than the coffee or donuts and the Roll Up the Rim contests are the stories that take place. Life is lived large and small in the beige and brown metal chairs and tables.

  • When we gather for weddings and funerals, before we head to the church we congregate at Tims – we hug our relatives, smile in pleasure or jubilation, sometimes weep in remembrance or anguish.
  • When our intimate relationships are melting into a soupy mess, we stare hopefully across from each other at Tims to either mold and press the hot molten wax back into a love candle or blow out the remaining wick’s embers.
  • Tims is the second (or first) business office for many enterprises. I’ll bet that most bank or store robberies are planned on cruller-stained napkins at the local Tims. Yup, big drug deals are negotiated, hit terms agreed upon in hushed whispers between bagel bites, business mergers and buyouts between small businesses thrashed out amid bacon grease.
  • Internet dating first-timers settle down at a Tims’ table to explore and examine their counterpoint under the microscope d’amour, deciding if any possible next drink shared should be wine with white tablecloths and candles.
"You don't look anything like your profile shot..."

“You don’t look anything like your profile shot…”

I’ve written a couple of Tims-related blog posts now – one where I sat next to a murderer, the other a bittersweet reunion between two long- and sadly-separated female lovers. The stories are there for the taking and the cost of admission to the theatre is one small double-double coffee or green tea with lemon.

When I sit down at Tims, I search for the smiles and frowns scattered amongst the tables. I try to tune out the humming buzz of activity at the front counter, the warm yeasty smells, and focus on the resonance of conversation taking place in the small groups of wrinkled old men, middle-aged women in Lululemon ass-enhancing yoga pants, or fresh-faced, young couples.

I glance around at the faces seated at the tables: some head down in their cellphones or tablets, some writing entries into small tan-coloured moleskin notebooks, others chatting and laughing in little grouplets, some young families – the littlest members still in their flannel plaid pajama bottoms, hair toussled as if they just arose from their sleepy slumbers.

The mix of ages, gender, and ethnicity is warmly comforting in its variety and reflection of today’s Canada.

If you want to know the touchstone of Canada and its people, Tims is the place to be.

And in the end, how Canadian is it that when I absorb the stories that float on the donut-scented breeze of this coffee shop, I can’t help but think of Tim Horton the man? After all, he is responsible for sending me a dividend cheque every 3 months to assist in paying my retirement wage.

So I raise my coffee cup to you Tim, the great rough-and-tumble Canadian hockey player who didn’t live long enough to see the mountain of coffee-dom he created and the iconic energy source that pulses through the double-double bloodstream of every Canadian.


Tim Horton2