My Bros, Josh, emailed me a short story he wrote about a month ago. It told the story of the events of an unusual day – really a few hours out of that day – as they unfolded, with vivid detail. It inspired me. So, Bro, here is my story. It is set in Wroclaw. Bethanie and I visited the beautiful city over our winter break a few weeks ago. As I type this it is 1:35 on a Sunday afternoon and I am listening to Wolf Parade on ITunes. The sky is grey and the roof drips with what’s left of the rain that has come and gone.
I took a 10-minute walk from the Wroclaw Rynek (town square), zigzagging 5 blocks southwest. This was my third time in as many days to stop into this pub. But it had a different feeling this visit. It was 10 in the morning and only a few laptop users had staked out seats near the side row of windows in the back. Two evenings before we were lucky to get a table, but now I had my pick. After a quick consideration of the layout, who was already sitting where, how much light I would need to read my two-day-old copy of the The Guardian, where I could stow my umbrella, and which tables provided the most overall comfort, I opted for a corner spot – a round wooden thing, dinged and scratched, wobbly from years of use, four feet across and just to my liking.
The pub still smelled of lamp oil the staff used to fuel the tens of tea lights that lined the sills and shelves. The floor was hard wood in the front and brick from the bar in the middle of the room back. It seemed as if an old alley had been given a roof and bar. There was still a hand pump that was just taller than me built into the floor. Our first night here the room was filled with silent smiles when someone tripped over its base on the way to the couches at the back. Other than a smacked palm and a small case of embarrassment, he was fine.
I grabbed a kawa biala from the bar and spread out my paper on the table. I skipped from page to page looking for where I had left off. The top two stories of the day couldn’t have been more different. Readers would find that Baghdad had suffered four car bomb blasts during a 15-minute moment of silence for the anniversary of a similar attack one year ago. They might also be surprised to see that the Dixie Chicks took home highest honors at the Grammy Awards, winning for best song, album and record. The two stories fill the majority of the first and second pages, respectively, along with a few other eye catchers like “Cadbury Faces Court Over Food Poisoning” and “Confessions of a Dinosaur,” an in-depth look a the man of the ’70s.
As I read, I work hard to ration my 6 oz. of latte. I realize I’ve only been here 15 minutes tops, and already I’ve enjoyed half of it. At the risk of ending up with a cold cup of coffee, which inevitably happens, I slow my drinking pace to stretch my 5.50 pln into 45 minutes of pleasure. The woman at the table next to me is enjoying her coffee with a piece of apple cake and a Polish women’s magazine. She is clearly far less concerned than me about conserving her purchase. She races from page to page, apparently mostly enjoying the pictures, while opting to wash her cake down with big gulps of coffee rather than the faithful chew and swallow technique that I usually employ. In less time than it has taken me to read three more articles, my favorite being “Police Impound Illegal ‘Mafia Town’ Built on Broccoli Fields,” a little piece hot off the wire from Naples, my neighbor is gone and I have the corner of the pub again all to myself, upping the pleasure of my reading that much more.
Soon, however, a couple sits down at another table within arms length of me. At the bar, she orders a coffee and a cold-cut sandwich and he a pint of Zywiec. In a brief moment of worry I lose track of time, assuming that it must be early afternoon for him to be having a beer, and I’ve probably missed my train. I check my watch. It’s 11 am. Any earlier and I might think a beer was out of bounds. But 11 is within earshot of noon and for some people it’s already lunchtime. I’ve never been one to frown at a midday pint myself, and I’m reminded of Bethanie’s and my trip to Prague in 2002.
Legend has it that it is Czech law that every adult of legal age should be able to afford beer. And based on my experience this could well be true. Beer in Prague can run as little as $.50 for a half liter. That’s cheaper than any other beverage, even water. So it was there in a small Czech point-to-order diner that I found myself taking the budget option at 10 am and having a pint with breakfast. As we ambled about the city that afternoon my gate was clearly effected – a little slower and lazier. Since then I’ve always opted for coffee or juice with my eggs and generally prefer to save the Pilsner Urquell for later in the day.
But now as I finish off the complimentary chocolate that accompanied by coffee, I’ve got a close eye on the door, expecting Beth to rush in fro the downpour at any moment. Soon she does and after a hug and kiss hello we are out the door, on our way to pick up Booster and our bags from Hotel Savoy and then head to the station for the 12:05 to Katowice. Huddled close under the umbrella we hurry off, sharing stories of our mornings and looking forward to home.