Writers and coffee shops are a cliche' at this point. It's absolutely true. We often picture writers and poets sitting at a table, scratching away with words, sipping on coffee in some darkened coffee shop. In some variations we picture them on a sidewalk doing the same thing, just with different scenery. It shouldn't be a surprise that I also love coffee shots. I just generally love coffee, though I also rarely write in coffee shops. They are just the place I like to hang out. I don't drink much, so these are my bars, I am a regular. Coffee shops have always had a special place in my life, and the baristas in them are some of the most wonderful characters in this drama that I have lived.
John Lanham is one such character, truly a complex tapestry of incredible colors and dimensions, someone you may see everyday but never really take the time to chat with and share those treasures we all carry around as stories. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. While John has served me coffee countless times, and while we have had small talk that could fill volumes, we have never really taken the time to connect. I am extremely happy that due to some unforeseen circumstances today, John ended up as one of the 100. I can sincerely say it is almost tragic this didn't happen earlier.
When you walk into Broom Wagon coffee you will likely see John, be greeted by his smile and his enthusiasm. If you are paying attention, you will be treated to the mark of a true craftsman. I have watched painters work on canvas with less intention than John pulls a shot of espresso or builds a latte. Each one is a work of art, something of pride. Talking to him about what he does it becomes obvious why he is so passionate. He began working with coffee at 15, for paninis as pay, on what he terms a "coffee internship." He knows his subject, the grind, the temperature, the time required. Behind the counter he is a wondrous blend of scientist and artist, of wizard and madman. He first learned about coffee through language, specifically the words double caramel macchiato with soy. It sounded so exotic it led him to explore, first through chain coffee shops, but the to the doors of craft coffee, where the drinks are smaller, the sweetness natural and the bitter finish reflective of so many times in life and the hopes we hold during them. He studied and learned, still does.
John loves his craft and tells me how it impacts on a higher level, what we call in the military second and third order effects. He pours craft coffee, beans from farms in the third world, away from large distributors. This increases the pay to farmers, creates a part of the economy for them. It excites him to know that not only are you enjoying your coffee, but a farmer is making more, a country is doing better and small business is rising. He tells me about how we are all connected in a great web, and how our purpose is to find out where we can be the strongest thread to help the whole. He is a wise man, as so many who hear so much tend to become. John loves the journey of things, whether that is coffee or people. He loves to talk to people, to serve them in this capacity and listen to them, to be a part of this great big thing called life.
To think that coffee is all John does would be to rob him of amazing colors and textures. He is also a multi-talented musician, playing a number of instruments as well as doing vocals. He tells me about dropping out of high school when his band got bigger to pursue the dream, of touring and travelling. While it was never as big as so many imagine it, or desire it, to be, he loved every moment of that experience. He has fronted three bands, playing original music. John writes his own music, telling me about it he describes to me how each of his songs is like a movement that will one day form a grand symphony of sound and words. John's eyes are usually bright and filled with joy and excitement, but they light up a little more when he talks about his music. You might miss it if you don't look, and your life would be lesser for it.
We spend time sampling coffee, a new bag brought by a friend. John pulls shots of espresso, his favorite thing to do with coffee, carefully experimenting to bring the best flavor from the bean. It is truly magical to watch. In those moments, with friends and talk, sipping coffee and experimenting, talking and sharing, you can find the essence of John. So many people worry about where they are going that they forget the joy of the road, the pleasure in the journey. Not John. For him the music, the coffee, the friends and all of the endless conversation are so much better than wherever we end up. He loves the ride and the people you meet along the way, in their big web searching for their place in it.
Favorite Dinosaur: Pterodactyl
Why: It was a huge flying predator. Who's going to mess with that thing?