Category Archives: Stories

What to Do When You Meet a Mirage : Karla mi Lugo

I met a mirage today. Amber face full of hope and longing, flaming red hair in coils and curls of frantic grace, slender fingers and puckered lips: Karla mi Lugo.

music, street music, portland, portland writer, portland musicianAt first, because I was busy and because I have grown impatient, I avoided her eyes. Don’t talk to me, I thought, because you are beautiful and probably crazy, and I don’t have time to get sidetracked and sucked into yet another personal labyrinth. Also, don’t ask for money because I don’t have any. At all.

portland writer, beverage writer, portland music, street musicianHer music is reflective; a wash of accordion and clear, piercing whistling, and a husky voice like an autumn evening. As I sat, carefully ignoring her, her music sidled into my consciousness with a purity that finally had my attention. I put down my work. I engaged.

beauty, accordion, pretty dressWe talked. 5 years ago I also made my living performing in the streets and hoping equally for engagement and clinking coins from passersby. I am relieved to have left that urgency, but then again: I never handled it with such grace and aplomb as Karla does. Since I cannot offer money, I pull out my camera and lovingly explore the silken planes of her face in the afternoon sun, the crisp stripes of her apron, the delicate arabesques on her instrument.

musician, beautifulKarla will be, in her words, “going on [my] musical pilgrimage to Paris” next month, and, I believe I overheard, competing in an international whistling contest. I wish her the best of luck and glorious chance meetings, and I look forward to her return to our gritty streets.

When you meet a mirage, you’d best drop your work and listen.

music, beauty, portland music

beauty, well met, portland street musicafternoon/ Alberta St. Arts District / karla mi lugo






Earnestness in Action: Flatlands Coffee

While it can slip over the thin line into withering zeal, earnestness is an underrated quality that many of us who are new, or just romantic, in the beverage industry carry. Whether it’s the way your eyes brighten and your voice rises when you share the story of how you ‘got into coffee’, or it’s how assiduously your cling to the early visions that sustained you in spite of the morass of normality surrounding, earnestness is a beautiful thing.


When Ben Vollmer of the nascent Flatlands Coffee in Bowling Green, Ohio, first reached out to me last year with what seemed an unrealistic Kickstarter goal of raising $60K for his ‘third-wave coffee shop’, I was struck by how refreshing it was to see young baristas like Ben and his wife and business partner Casey throwing down their hats into the ring without fear.

Because the reality is that life hurts us, systematically, rigidly, and with a heart-killing vigor. Once I had hope in many things. I thought it was possible for me to be a barista champion, a famous pianist, a femme fatale, a world-famous writer, a CEO—I thought I could be everything, and that the world would somehow hear of me.


Not that I’ve forgotten my dreams. Still, the daily living, the dish-washing and the child-rearing, the hell of traveling with a toddler, the sheer confusion of living in a strange city far from home, the intensity of forging a real, true, honest married relationship—these things have taken the edge from my earnestness at times. No less has the natural cynicism that comes from growing up in an industry and seeing might prevail over right, time and time again.


So today, I want to honor earnestness, in the form of Flatlands Coffee. Truth is, there are lots of third-wave coffeehouses. And each claims to be different while retaining, on the whole, homogeneity. Maybe Flatlands will be different. But I don’t honestly care. It’s not the gear on a counter that makes a coffeehouse great, nor is it snazzy packaging and social media savvy (though Flatlands has all of it by now, in its second, more modest Kickstarter effort). It’s not a great intro video, cool branding, and pretty faces (though Ben and Casey have all these things).


It’s earnestness. Intention. A simple lack of shame discovering passion. Being unafraid to throw your heart out there, with full knowledge that the cruel world—and people you know—might scorn it. It’s innocence and wisdom, enthusiasm and dedication, passion and stories, all wrapped up in one glowing face. Here’s to Flatlands Coffee, and here’s to earnestness all around us.

mid-morning / Redding, CA / Flatlands Coffee

On Assignment: Cannon Beach

beach, ocean, cannon beach, oregon beach, toddler, cute, sun and sandCannon Beach, and a toddler’s cheeks. The brief sun on our lips and the ocean breeze in our eyes. A break from the craziness of the city and a meditation on all that matters.

family, beach, ocean, three generations, sun and sandThree generations stand overlooking the boundless deep. Toes wriggle into the sand under cold water.

husband and wife, love on the beach, beach, ocean, oregon beachSeparate paths on similar terrain. Hearts locked together and meditations alone. I may be on assignment but I am also fully alive, on a beach, with my family. Life’s circles come together in a perfect Venn Diagram and I stand in the center.

Cannon Beach, OR / afternoon / off the grid

Convivial Fridays: Rhum Clément

The air as I entered the tasting room (through the aisles, down this stair, find the man in the suit) tasted of spice and smelled of cellar. I was here for a tasting of Rhum Clément, with little idea what awaited me, which happened to be amber-colored magic in a plastic cup. Rhum Agricole, the finest rum in the world (some would say), from the steamy island of Martinique to the crisp bustle of Kansas City, Missouri.


My beverage expertise runs strongly toward coffee, so this was an educational, as well as sensory evening. Chris Morales, the Midwest rep for Rhum Clément (and a classy gent with a strong background in spirits), packed an incredible amount of information into 45 minutes. Before me were 8 samples, ranging from clear to a deep amber.

The classic Clément Première Canne, with a strong impression of grappa and almond bitters, is made from fresh-pressed sugarcane rhum-clement-maison-9959grown on the family plantation, Habitation Clément. A white rhum, it is aged for 6 months in stainless steel barrels. Terroir plays a big part in the development of these rhums, as with any agricultural product. Two of the rhums we tasted were identical, except one was made with cane from the north side of the island, which rests under the looming shadow of Mount Pele and has a heartier, earthier taste. The southern cane produced a simpler and less impactful rhum. Like springtime.

We progressed slowly through our samples, discussing the aging process and lingering over the concept of the “angel’s share”–in the high humidity and heat of Martinique, so much alcohol evaporates during the aging process that barrels of the same distillation year must be combined several times over the process, which produces an exceptionally rare liquor. Rhum Clément offers a classic 3.5 year aged rhum, as well as 6 and 10 years. I’m relatively new to spirits, and I could feel my palate opening and tentatively receiving impressions as time passed. I surprised myself by identifying pomegranates in the 10-year rhum, and quickly started finding creme brûlée, pecans, and a wide variety of spice and mellow fruit.

As you can see in this video, Rhum Clément is a richly evocative brand. Established by Homère Clément (who, incidentally, was the first person of color to graduate from the University of Paris) in 1887 during the peak of the Martinique sugarcane crisis, Rhum Agricole was an innovation that saved the entire island’s economy. Other rums are made from molasses (hello, Bacardi & your good enemy Captain Morgan!), while rhum is made directly from sugar cane. Here is a basic post on the difference. Based on his experience with French liquors like armagnac, Homère created a recipe which his descendants still create.

The result is countless evenings like this one, where palates of all ranges and humans from every background gather to sip in silence and sigh, appreciatively.


℅ Rhum Clément

Kansas City, Missouri / evening / @Gomer’s Midtown w/Rhum Clément