Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Juanita Valdez

Absolutely nothing can be taken at face value, as I discovered today at the 7-11. Stopping for a cup of coffee on my way to computer class, I noted the standard handful of regulars huddled in front of the building, coffee cups aloft as they engaged in good natured banter.

Although later events would cause me to realize that, if pressed, in say, a line-up type situation, I could only ever identify one member of the group, I assumed the gathering was merely regulars stopping for a chat on the way to work--a sort of blue-collar coffee klatch.

While fixing my coffee, a thin mustachioed man next to me began counting the creamers as I dumped them into my cup. Although it’s risky, I’m actually going to go on record with the assumption that he was perhaps an engineer, and not say, afflicted with a dissociative disorder, as the text of the story could imply.

The mustachioed gent started murmuring something about the Coffee Queen. I assumed he was talking to me, but before I could determine a response, he continued with phrases like “Outside today, I’ve never seen her outside,” and, something that sounded like “Hometown Hero.”

Now, the Daily Press pays me good money for scoping out feel good little stories from the neighborhood, so I figured it might be worth being a few minutes late for class if there really was a Hometown Hero right in front of the 7-11.

“Who?” I asked in my Journalist Voice. If I actually had my digital recorder, I would have flipped it on then in there between creamers 2 and 3.

“The lady out there with the frizzy hair,” he said in awe, indicating the leader of the klatch. Clearly, I had underestimated this group. In fact, I noted, attendance did seem up a notch today. Who was I dealing with? Should I run home for my recorder?

Mustachio lowered his voice. “She doesn’t really work here you know,’ he confided.

“Oh?” I said casually. I never had mistaken her for a worker, but then, I saw her outside every day, too. Was she undercover? How deep did this story go?

“She just kind of hangs out,” he said. His voice dropped another notch. “I think she’s got a deal.”

“A deal?”

“Free coffee,” he whispered. “She just kind of hangs out—doesn’t really work here mind you,” he reiterated, “and they give her free coffee.”

“Hangs out?” I repeated, my voice and my story falling flat.

“Yes, just hangs out. And helps,” he added, perking up and pointing to the window. “Look at her go! She’s got boxes!” he cried in admiration as Klatch Leader moved a stack of empty boxes past the door.

I paid my buck-forty for my coffee and headed out, wondering how my editor would view a free trade coffee expose with a local angle.

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