Knowing they’re open prompts me awake. I shovel down a quick bite of bread and peanut butter, so as not to drink coffee on an empty stomach, and then brave the cold to walk across N Milwaukee Ave. and into the warmth of its hipster haven.
There are a few regulars here around the same time. A middle-aged blonde woman parks her light blue compact car against the curb and runs in for her morning ritual. She was a regular before me, but sometimes I arrive a few minutes earlier than she does, so she might think I was a regular first. Then again, who’s keeping tabs? (...I am)
Then there’s a nicely dressed, balding businessman who sits on the couch every morning with his iPad. He looks up and gives a half-hearted nod when I enter the place, as if to say, “yep, we’re both here,” but we’ve never actually talked.
I mumble obligatory hellos and good mornings to those who cross my path, but maintain a relatively determined trajectory to the counter to place my order. Sometimes I have to say it, but most of these baristas know that it’s always the same–a coffee for here, which they hand over to me in a kitsch mug probably purchased from a thrift shop.
If the barista with the floppy green beanie is working then sounds of great jazz pianists and horn players fall from the ceiling-mounted speakers. There isn’t a straight shot to any one thought and jazz music is an appropriate soundtrack to the melodic complexities of scattered dream thinking that’s trying to sober itself up to the reality of a new day and its demands.
I carry my cup of hot black coffee with oily reflections on its surface over to my favorite perch in the shop. It’s right in the front window on the bolted-down wooden stools. This spot gives me a chance to observe the world coming, but mostly going on Milwaukee Ave outside. My feet press up against the glass and the cold travels up my leg, reminding me that I’m not too far removed from the view that entertains me.
Maybe I’m like an aquarium fish to those on the other side of the glass. Pedestrians peer in and watch me write from within.
At 7:15am, the same girl walks in front of the window and we half smile at each other. She’s well on her way to something that’s scheduled and I enjoy the consistency of our unplanned recognitions.
A younger lady rides her bike here every morning and sits right up at the counter by the espresso machine. She chats with the baristas about bands, movies, cycling through the city (where the roads are rough and how drivers were being assholes), and about things she’s dealing with in life. They all talk so loud that I hear everything, but act oblivious.
I love my morning privacy and I love being with people, but not engaged with them as I write in my moleskin journal at the edge of the cafe.
I come here in the same way one would enter their living room. I wake up here and they allow the space for that to happen. It’s an extension of my house–as is most of the Wicker Park neighborhood.
|Wicker Park (N Milwaukee Ave)|
The other day, a group of tourists from Georgia came in and gawked over the replica DeLorean parked in the back rafters of the building. They admired the Star Wars movie posters from Italy hanging on the wall (“Il Rittorno dello Jedi” and “Guerre Stellari”) and pop art from the 80s that’s now collectible.
The same things that drew me in the first time were the things they admired so much. It was a little over two months ago that I was just like them, wandering through the neighborhood in search of a great cup of coffee.
Since then, Wormhole has become more than just a coffee shop. It's my morning place.
I’ve tried other places, but Wormhole is like a home. It’s far from a tourist destination to me now. I hardly notice the DeLorean anymore. And the mugs, with their unique designs, don’t surprise me anymore either. I think I’ve drank from all of them and prefer the “Grandpa” one. It is gigantic and I get twice the amount of coffee for the same $1.75.
|"Grandpa, our good fortune."|
Walking here every morning is a habit performed on auto-pilot. I'm like a zombie on the way there and a buzzing, caffeinated human being on the way back home.
The sun also rises while I’m here. It’s grey and dark upon arrival and bright and alive by the time I depart. Everything wakes up while I’m waking up. The traffic flow pumps more cyclists, pedestrians, and cars through its thoroughfares as each moment passes. Wicker Park is alive and moving right outside this window perch and my own blood flow has picked up as well. The caffeine helps to push life along.
I exit to the street and emerge a different man, revitalized by the morning and propped up by my coffee cup. I watch my breath evaporate into the air and see that I’m alive, and I feel alive too.
Now, it’s time start the day.