Crappy Coffee

BUT WITH THE BEST OF IN­TEN­TIONS.

Power & Motor Yacht - - BOATYARD -

Many moons ago, right be­fore the start of a boat de­liv­ery from Mary­land to Florida, I got a ter­rif­i­cally un­wel­come cell­phone call while seated across the ta­ble from my wife in the din­ing room of a B&B along­side Mary­land’s Sas­safras River. Be­yond the win­dows, big, wet, cold, late-March snowflakes flew past at a pretty good clip. Great day to crank up a cruise, eh?

“Bill,” said my buddy Chuck on the phone, “I’m still in Florida. I missed the plane to Philadel­phia this morn­ing—sorry, man. But I’m sick. I mean sick, Bill. I know you gotta leave this af­ter­noon. Can’t you get some­body else?”

The ques­tion hung there for a mini­in­fin­ity. My wife needed to head back home to Florida later that morn­ing—she couldn’t stand in for Chuck. More­over, I didn’t know a soul in the vicin­ity, ex­cept for a cou­ple of guys at the ma­rina who’d just fin­ished get­ting my bateau du jour ready to boo­gie. Chances of round­ing up a knowl­edge­able sea­farer— or even a warm body—on such short, win­try no­tice were slim to none.

Which I told Chuck, of course. Maybe 10 times, or 15 times, as my wife rolled her eyes to­ward the ceil­ing. Hey, some­times a guy’s gotta use flat-out, guilt-laced ma­nip­u­la­tion to get what he needs done, es­pe­cially when the chips are down. So Chuck ul­ti­mately agreed to catch the very next plane, sick or not. My wife shook her head.

I picked Chuck up at Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port that af­ter­noon. He didn’t look good. In ad­di­tion to a white-asa-sheet com­plex­ion, he wore an old black sweat­shirt em­bla­zoned with the pro­foundly ironic moniker: LUCKY. His gait was pure Franken­stein and he was tow­ing his seabag along the floor by means of a rope.

Fast-for­ward to our first overnight stop on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, or rather the morn­ing af­ter the first stop. Chuck had al­ready spent hours in his bunk, miss­ing out on our Sas­safras de­par­ture, our late-af­ter­noon run down the bay in snow, sleet, and rain, a per­ilous one-man tie-up at a frowzy ma­rina, and, due to gas­tro-in­testi­nal de­vel­op­ments be­yond his con­trol, a crab-cake din­ner at a lit­tle wa­ter­front es­tab­lish­ment. He was still in the sack when I arose to greet the day.

Com­punc­tion and com­pas­sion over­took me im­me­di­ately. As Chuck snored away, I made a big pot of coffee and then traipsed off through the slush to the near­est drug­store to buy a whop­ping stock of med­i­ca­tions I hoped would, ei­ther in­di­vid­u­ally or in con­cert, pull him back from the dark por­tal upon which he seemed to be knock­ing. Af­ter I’d scraped the snow and mud off my deck shoes and jumped back aboard with my pur­chases, I en­tered the sa­loon in the spirit of Clara Bar­ton min­is­ter­ing to the sick and dy­ing at An­ti­etam. What a great guy I was! Chuck sat on a set­tee, hun­kered over, with a steam­ing cup of coffee in his hands, as I prof­fered the med­i­ca­tions. “This coffee tastes like crap,” he said. Re­sent­ment flared. I tossed ev­ery­thing onto the gal­ley counter and strode over to the cof­feemaker and poured my­self a cup. “Tastes all right to me,” I pro­claimed, af­ter a de­fi­ant gulp. I mean, here I’d arisen early, made coffee, walked a good five miles (well, maybe not quite five miles), spent my very own hard-earned money on all th­ese cool medic­i­nals, and this was the thanks I got? The coffee tasted like crap?

My de­fi­ance en­er­gized Chuck. He sprang from the set­tee, cranked the gal­ley faucet, filled a glass with wa­ter, and then raised it on high. The stuff was neon pink! “Look, Bill,” he yelled, point­ing. “There’s some­thin’ wrong here, man. That’s anti-freeze!”

Huh! Ap­par­ently the yard on the Sas­safras had com­pleted all but one of the pre­de­par­ture chores I’d spec­i­fied—re­moval of all win­ter­iz­ing propy­lene gly­col from our fresh-wa­ter sys­tem. My coffee had been the pri­mary in­di­ca­tor of the is­sue, sorta like a ca­nary in a coal mine.

I took one more slug nev­er­the­less. Re­flex, I guess. “Well, hell, Chuck,” I ob­served. “At least the stuff didn’t kill ya.”

“Yet,” he snorted.

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