Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hot morning

"In America, when you eat out," my colleague was saying last Friday, "they don't have the 'set meal' system they have here. You can't get a healthy lunch for about $10 in any coffee shop, like you can in Japan, or get a cheap and simple breakfast."

I thought about the set meal system. I like it, too, and after all these years I'm used to it and would miss it. I like going into a coffee shop before work and having a hot morning. It makes me happy that it is the same price as a cup of coffee would be in the same coffee shop at any other time of day, but includes a piece of toast and a hard-boiled egg. Some places also include jam, or a small salad, or other options, but toast, egg and coffee are the basics. (Hot morning is the Japanese version of what you end up with if you crunch together morning set and hot coffee.')

The coffee shop I have used for years on workdays has not been a place to have a very warm hot morning recently, I must say. Since I started using this coffee shop, many years ago, the old couple running it have been getting older and older (as have I, only not quite so dramatically). The husband is going so deaf that entering the shop and thus setting off a loud, discordant tinkling doorbell tune frequently does not alert him to the presence of a customer, and it takes some artful maneuvering to accidentally get into his line of sight so he knows you are there. This is made particularly difficult because the shop often does not have any other customers, and he is behind his newspaper, squinting at the pages in the semi-dark. His wife, who is usually not there when I arrive, turns up when a customer comes, and does the job of delivering the food and drinks to the customers. In recent years she has developed a tremor in one hand so extreme that you fear the toast is going to leap off the tray. She brings the coffee with her other hand, but it is probably safe anyway because her husband never fills the cup past about a half full. It is excellent coffee, which makes it both worth it and frustrating because you are always left wanting just a little more. But it is strong, so I don't mind too much.

I suspect the old couple are having trouble making the coffee shop pay. Little economies have made in recent years. The salad that used to be included with the morning set has disappeared. That revolting blue stuff in the toilet is no longer used. Quite often, in the mornings, I arrive and the lights are not on. The open sign is up, though, and when I go in they turn on the lights. And this winter, rather to my dismay, the old but very warm kerosene heater also disappeared, probably deemed too dangerous by the old couple's daughter, who occasionally helps out. It has been replaced by a one bar electric heater, which barely takes the edge off the chill. The only reason I continue to go there two or three freezing mornings a week is that I don't want to be yet another disappearing customer, disappointing them with my disloyalty. I am tempted to keep my coat on, but don't. The old lady wears a woolly hat, however.

Most of the other customers, who are few and far between, are also old. They hold shouted conversations with the old guy, accommodating each other's deafness and competing with the TV, which is generally blasting out one of the morning 'wide' shows. Quite frequently my toast is burnt, and a few days ago I didn't get an egg. I had to ask for it. The wife was upstairs, possibly having a nap, so asking involved some shouting. When that did not work, I accidentally knocked a chair over, which did. Once I got the old guy's attention I asked for my egg, and had to bellow. It is, I discovered, difficult to be tactful at full volume. Eventually the message was received, however, and we both had a good laugh.

I think the old couple are probably in their eighties. The Man worries that they will give me food poisoning, but I can't bring myself to desert them at this late stage. I don't know how long the coffee shop will continue, but as long as it does, I will be a regular customer.


Tabor said...

I remember and have blogged about Japan being one of the few countries where I have been for almost two weeks and not missed American food. Everything is so fresh and prepared so beautifully.

Keera Ann Fox said...

That sounds like such a charming way to start the day with charming people (even if it involves shouting) so I understand why you continue to go there.