Meeting Trouble

Bright colored houses line the narrow street. I pass a red table covered in perfect white sand dollars, twisting trees, succulent gardens, a weathered wooden door set into a wide brick wall, and a mural of black-and-white faces curving toward the sky. 

I’m drawn here time and time again.

Anytime I’m within an hour from San Francisco I must make the trip.

Each time it feels like a sort of pilgrimage.

Today is no exception.

The line snakes out the small door and I cue up behind several groups of people talking quietly to each other. It’s windy and blustery. Pulling my sweater tighter around my shoulders I wonder if everyone in line has come for the same reason.


The owner of Trouble Coffee, Giulietta Carrelli.

Since hearing her story on NPR in 2014, I haven’t stopped thinking about her.

She calls her shop Trouble in honor of all the people who helped her when she was in trouble. It’s more than a coffee shop—it’s a movement with a manifesto. Everything from the menu to the artwork has meaning and purpose; all designed to help her manage her schizoaffective disorder.

To oversimplify, there’s cinnamon toast for comfort, coffee for communication and speed, and coconuts for survival. Her cups say “Thrash or die” or “Live fast, die old” in her own handwriting. She’s cool, interesting and inspiring.

I feel a kindred spirit with her despite having nothing in common and not actually knowing her. I’m magnetically drawn to her and her space.

It makes no sense.

The shop has been remodeled since I’ve last visited and when it’s my turn to enter the small building my eyes sweep over the new black and white motif. There’s splashes of pink and yellow, artwork, books, photographs, and a collection of cassette tapes.

I love the new space.

Then, I see her. 

She’s making coffee with cutoff jean shorts, a headscarf, and her quite recognizable tattooed freckles on her cheeks. It’s like seeing an apparition or a ghost and it temporarily stuns me.

It’s her.

For years I’ve traveled here and thought about her, but this is the first time I’m seeing her in person.

I’m unprepared.

I feel weird and transfixed.

I know her life story, yet I don’t know her at all.

It’s an uneasy feeling; a false intimacy of a creative muse I’ve never met.

Her shop has become synonymous with art for me and somehow tied to my own creativity. I’ve watched it from afar, following her and her dog on social media, and somehow feeling part of her movement.

I can’t explain any of it.

I watch her now, in person, with a mix of awe and self-consciousness. Part of me wants to bolt, and perhaps I would have a year ago, but I don’t. I step forward and order cinnamon toast and an oat milk latte from a young man I barely look at. 

I can’t take my eyes off her, and for some reason, she locks eyes with me and smiles. I pull down my mask for a moment and smile back.

She switches the music to her favorite band, talking to me as she does. She rattles off the name and I nod as if I know it, but I’m too stunned to hear it fully.

She tells me she accidentally met her musician idol outside his concert years ago. She didn’t have tickets and when he arrived she did not recognize him and they began chatting. When she realized who he was she felt terrible embarrassed. She laid on the ground to try and hide from him. He laughed.

“I can see you,” her idol said.

He let her sell merchandise and gave her a ticket to the show. They became friends.

It was a funny story, told well and I wonder if there’s something in my eyes telling her the story was for me and for the moment I was experiencing with her. 

It feels as if she’s saying “I see you.”

I say nothing.

I barely breathe.

She shares a few more stories with me in the effortless way she does and I can’t stop smiling. She’s so cool and wonderful—exactly as I knew she’d be.

So we jumped up on the table and shouted anarchy
And someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox
It it was California Dreamin’
So we started screamin’
On such a winter’s day

We end up singing part of Punk Rock Girl together for a brief magical moment before she hands me my coffee.

“I have to tell you I love you,” I say.

My face turns red. I didn’t mean to say it out loud. I don’t know what I wanted to say, but certainly not the weird and creepy thing I did say.

She laughs and looks at me in the way people who can see you fully do—a penetrating gaze which oddly doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

“You don’t know me,” she says. “Do you?”

It could have felt stinging or biting, but it felt more like “you don’t know me yet.” She smiled and her blue-eyed gaze felt approving and kind.

“Thanks,” I say.

“See you around,” she says.

Holding my coffee and cinnamon toast out in front of me, I walk into the biting wind and barely feel it. In a daze I pass the same landscape as before but I feel less removed from it now.

The last few months I’ve been making huge efforts to step fully into my creative self and to be vulnerable and seen.

It feels scary but right.

Seeing Carrelli was the message I needed. 

I’m on the right track. 

She saw me and I saw her.

I didn’t shrink and I didn’t run.

Two palm trees cast their feathered shadows across the sidewalk and my new blue converse.

It feels amazing.

Pretend Venice is the place for me

vegas2Sitting alone, I sip a warm foamy cappuccino and read about feminism and race in America. Occasionally, a slender gondola slides into the canal beside me, the rich operatic voice of its striped-shirt operator tenderly serenading a couple. I smile in appreciation, as he takes one hand off the long wooden oar to tip his straw hat in my direction.

This is how I do Vegas.

I’ve never been here before, but at nearly 40 years of age, I have some idea of how this trip is supposed to go. I’ve seen the movies. There should be debauchery, nudity and mass alcohol consumption followed by a musical montage of me in a strapless black dress with a heavy diamond necklace kissing the dice of some hot millionaire who later loses everything by betting on 21 red. Oh, and gangsters with pinstripe suits with piles of cocaine. And tigers. And an elaborate heist set to a jazzy soundtrack with dreamy Clooney-types.

OK, maybe Hollywood Vegas isn’t the real deal, but by all accounts, I’m an epic disappointment in the revelry department.

I’m tempted to blame this failure on my age, but the truth is, Vegas is a super sized let-down when you are alone.

Bachelor/bachelorette parties, Elvis weddings, trips with friends and maybe romantic second honeymoons, sure. But touring around solo, not so much.

So, what was I doing in the Sin City on my own? My husband was here on business, so for the price of a cheap plane ticket, I could escape the dishes, laundry and carpool for a few days.

Don’t mind if I do.

However, it meant either sitting all day in my hotel room waiting for hubby to get out of his meetings, or exploring the GlitterLand alone.

Since I see myself as adventurous, I step into my cons and some butter-soft LuLaRoe leggings, high five myself for being so grown up, and head out to explore.

Vegas did not disappoint in the eye candy department; a massive dragon made of tiny red and gold lights, roman statues, Parisian murals, Elvis and “Hangover” look-alikes, bright neon lights, Harry Potter-like false ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, groups of tourists snapping endless selfies, mascot Pikachu and Hello Kitty holding hands, a rooster statue roughly the size of my house, curving escalators and endless confusing hallways.

Vegas also didn’t disappoint in the depressing department; smoke-filled rooms filled with vitamin D deprived gamblers, an unhinged homeless man loudly declaring the end of times, tiny pictures of naked woman littering the few patches of bare earth, stumbling drunks at 10 a.m. puking outside the Denny’s, aggressive men handing out pamphlets for “free shows” and the creepy Freddy Krueger who thought I’d enjoy him jumping out at me.

All this by 1 p.m.

I was exhausted by the sheer bigness of it all. I longed for when I used to drink, so I could numb it all down a bit. Instead, I decide to get some gelato and head back for MTV or “The Golden Girls” in the safety of my hotel bed.

But first I pass the homeless teenager with the padlock through his nose, lying in filth, drawing with a pen on small squares of cardboard images of such beauty I couldn’t look. His extremes terrified me.

The elderly man playing a violin while breathing through some clear tube, creating a kind of haunting sound, which I felt inside my bones.

A woman, who looked around my age, laying under some bushes with a blanket of plastic bags covering her mostly naked sore-covered body. The filth making me recoil with embarrassed pain.

The contrasts were so bright, so vivid, I became uneasy on my feet. The splendor and the filth. The strong and the weak. The privileged and the oppressed.

I wanted to permanently close my eyes.

“Somebody help me!”

A young woman, maybe early 20s, runs by me with a small boy, maybe 4. She is crying and telling the now gathering crowd of onlookers, she’s being followed by her ex-husband who is going to kill her. She points across the street, but I can’t make out anyone looking our direction.

“I have scars all over my body,” she cries. “He has been beating me for 10 years. I can’t get away from him.”

She takes out a cellphone and calls the police, giving them a report number and saying she needs help.

“I just need $200 for a bus ticket,” she says through tears.

“I just want to have fun,” the boy says.

The crowd slowly slinks away. What is wrong with these people? I stand next to her smiling at her boy and wishing I had snacks in my purse. I always have snacks. Shame on me.

“I’ll stay with you until the police come,” I say. “We will figure this out together.”

She looks around uneasy.

“Umm…,” she says. “I just need $60 and I can leave this town.”

“I just want to have fun,” the boy says again.

“Come with me inside the casino,” I say to her. “I’ll talk to the security guards and we will get you help. We can call a shelter and get you off the street right now.”

“I’m not allowed in there,” she says, eyeing the security guards I now see walking toward us.

I blink at her and finally see the scam. I see it as plainly as all the other people who already walked away. She grows uncomfortable and tells me to please go. I want to ask her why she is doing this. Maybe she isn’t running from an ex-husband who beats her, but clearly there is some reason she is on the street with a small kid trying to scam people for money.

My heart hurt.

I felt wounded.


I hug her, awkwardly, and tell her I wish her well.

The boy repeats his line a third time.

“I just want to have fun.”

“Take care kiddo,” I say and walk away.

Vegas is too much alone.

That night, my husband and I see a show about star-crossed lovers while snuggled together on a couch. I sink into him and allow myself to feel protected and safe. Privileged. Blessed.

I still see myself as an explorer, but in Vegas, I’ll stick to the fake blue skies of Pretend Venice with my overly priced cappuccino.


Mondays, yep

Mondays. So many things have been written about this day. It’s the start of the week, the end of the weekend…blah, blah, blah. Some more:

*If each day is a gift, I’d like to know where I can return Mondays.

*Monday is a hard way to spend one-seventh of your life.

*I got 99 problems and they’re all due Monday.

*I hate Mondays. –Garfield

Yep. But guess what? I love Mondays. Want to know why? Do you? Huh??

Bacon. Coffee. Hugs.

I stole the bacon tradition from a good friend of mine and I love it. Good bacon is expensive, so it’s only on Mondays. Sorry vegetarian friends, but I do love bacon.

The coffee is in my dear friends hand that I only see Mondays. She lives 45 minutes from my house and last year we barely saw each other. I LOVE this family and that simply will not do. So I decided that Mondays have to start with seeing them. And I never regret the drive. There is nothing like a friend that gets you. Nothing.

The hugs are from everyone I meet. I hug all the moms at school when I drop my son off. We haven’t seen each other all weekend, so it’s like meeting anew. I hug my boy and send him off on his Monday nature walk to the river with his class. I hug my girl as she heads off to rice day in the Kindergarten.

If you hate Mondays, I understand. I’ve hated them at various stages and sometimes still do. When I look at the disaster that is my house on Monday mornings… yeah, that I can do without. But at this stage of my life, Mondays look good.