Out for the summer

Since May I’ve been traveling across the U.S. with Brenden, Nola and our car. So far we’ve hiked a canyon, camped on a river in the desert and slept on a Pacific Cliff in Big Sur. I recommend all. Brenden and I have been writing some thoughts about the trip and such in a blog: richmondersbyroot.wordpress.

That’s where I’ll be blogging until our return. Hope to see you there.


My neighbors, the coffee farmers, are opening a cafe in Safety Harbor

Kent and Logan in front of sign

Logan and Kent Runnells outside the soon-to-be Cafe Vino Tinto

Lifelong Safety Harbor resident Logan Runnells and her father Kent are set to open their coffee shop, Cafe Vino Tinto, on Safety Harbor’s quintessential American Main Street at the end of this month. The coffee will come directly from the Runnells’ coffee farm in Costa Rica and will be micro batch roasted onsite at the cafe.

Kent, a former Safety Harbor mayor turned coffee impresario, told me, “We’re not going to be just a local coffee shop; we’re going to be a special coffee shop.” Cafe Vino Tinto joins the ranks of locally owned cafes with brew roasted onsite; it is one of, if not the only, coffee shop in the Tampa Bay area that sells coffee sourced directly from the owner’s coffee farm.


13 Spilling the Beans

“Spilling the Beans” – Photo courtesy Kent Runnells

For two years Kent and Logan have seduced coffee drinkers with their fresh-roasted brew at Safety Harbor’s Third Friday festival. Now they are setting up shop for good. Nestled between the Safety Harbor Arts and Music Center (SHAMc) and wine bar On the Vine, Cafe Vino Tinto comprises a small kitchen and a wrought iron-wrapped patio reminiscent of the New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde.

Logan, who will manage the coffee shop, described a cup from the Runnells’ cafe as a simple yet memorable experience built upon the trademark “Pura Vida,” or “Pure Life” mentality of Costa Rica. At Cafe Vino Tinto the focus is plain and simple: serve quality coffee and offer locally sourced goods like pastries, jams and art.

Kent, a real estate lawyer and former mayor of Safety Harbor, had no intention of selling coffee when he bought his farm, Finca Vino Tinto, eight years ago. The farm owes its name to the waterfall it overlooks, which the town locals say “flows like red wine.” In an email Kent explained, “Occasional Spanish speaking persons think we are nuts, stupid even, because they think we have unwittingly named our coffee the red wine coffee. I wish they would just read the bag, the story is on there!”

King of the hill

Finca Vino Tinto – Photo courtesy Kent Runnells

The story goes something like this:

Kent found the farm on a hike off the beaten path in what he describes as a storybook town in a valley of Costa Rica. After having spotted a majestic waterfall, pouring forth at a proud 80’ upper fall and +100’ lower fall, Kent and his guide Rafa made their way to the bottom of the upper of the two falls. Across the valley Kent saw a silver roof and said, ‘That house has a beautiful view of the waterfall!’ and Rafa (his guide) says, ‘Well it’s not a house, it’s a shack. The people that work the coffee are called ‘collectivos’ and that’s where they stay when they’re working the coffee fields. It’s a coffee farm and it’s for sale.” Three days later Kent tracked down the seller and the rest is history.


The Coffee Farmer

Showcasing the beans – Photo courtesy Kent Runnells

He bought the farm because of the remarkable views: a waterfall on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other. That he loved the coffee was a happy coincidence. He brought bags home at first for the simple pleasure of sharing, but the more he brought the more people asked for it. Finally he decided it was time to give a go at selling it. Kent and Logan set up a stand at the Third Friday festival where, Logan told me, they built a clientele base and learned the business of brewing.

“People have been asking for a shop for about a year and a half, but it’s got to be in the right location,” Kent explained. Cafe Vino Tinto is a few hundred square feet, a couple of sinks and a large outdoor patio. The coffee shop will operate in a space shared with Kent’s friends, Todd Ranquist, Kiralinda, and Heather Richardson who use to area to host artistic events under the auspices of the SHAMc.

Kent and Logan foresee future Friday night events at the cafe, where guests can enjoy live acoustic music, beer and wine, tapas, and, of course, coffee. In our interview they also discussed the possibility of eco-tours on Finca Vino Tinto, and their commitment to conducting a perpetual shoe drive for the children of the indigenous and impoverished Panamanian workers who spend their days in the coffee fields.

It’s nice to know where your coffee is coming from, and it’s even nicer when you know it’s coming from good, hardworking people who happen to be your neighbors. No one can deny that we consumers love the idea of local business. We dedicate festivals and create organizations for it. Politicians blabber about it. Tourists eat it up. The trending love for local isn’t just about economics or novelty. Thanks to Amazon and Facetime, we can execute most every human interaction without ever interacting with a human in person. Could it be that our whirring fingers and LED inundated eyes are finally fatigued? Maybe we want local because we are human and we want to share that with others. Or maybe it’s just me.

When bicyclists attack

One afternoon in Richmond I was stuck in stoplight traffic at the intersection of Harrison and Franklin Street in Richmond, minding my own business, when I was hit by a bicycle. I repeat: sitting in a stationary vehicle, I was struck by a bicycle. It was my Civic who suffered the physical blow, though the whole ordeal left me traumatized for at least an hour. Most people are dubious when I tell them I was hit by a bicycle, especially when they see the cluster of dents left, not on the side or rear, but somehow on the top of my trunk. What kind of bicycling she was doing I’ll never know because I still don’t even understand how she hit me.

I’m sitting still, waiting for the light to change when out of nowhere I feel, and hear, the THUMP. Simultaneously I witness the thump’s cause in slow-mo through the lens of my rearview mirror. A mangled mess of hair and handlebars flies up, then down. THUMP.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 9.30.14 PM

Thank you, Google Maps, for providing this quality screenshot of the Motherland

My chest tightens and in a lifetime of a second I experience the five stages of grief for what will surely be the loss of my freedom because somehow I’ve managed to kill someone while sitting still at a stoplight. Just my luck. Thanks, Universe. Mostly I’m shocked, even mystified at how this has happened. I can’t understand how I’ve just hit a person without ever moving.

I can’t tell you how much time passed before shock gives way to terror, then confusion and then, a rush of relief when the lady in question pops into my left side mirror, running toward my front window with bulging frantic eyes calling out, “Ohmygod! I’m so sorry!” Ohthankgod. It was her fault. I’m so relieved I could peed my pants (maybe I did?). I’m too stunned to say much save for a dumb inquiry as to the state of her wellbeing. Then the light changed and off I go, still in disbelief.

Later I notice the dent marks on the top of my trunk, presumably from her handlebars. To this day I have no idea how she managed to hit me the way she did. There’s no evidence of her hitting the car from the side or the rear; somehow she just wound up on my trunk, hair, handlebars and all.

Mondays and Bouviers

“Kyuh-mun!” A childish shriek from a grownass woman sporting a mullet and mom jeans encouraging her dog to move along. She’s got a bouvier and it’s her pride and joy. She refers to the poor beast, which looks like a small shaggy bear hunched into domestic subservience, not by its name or species, but by it’s breed. “My bouvier.” All other bouviers of her past and present encounters are also mentioned at the puppy kindergarten class of Upper Suncoast Dog Club. We decided to take Nola (sorry – “our shorkie”) here because their puppy kindergarten class is the cheapest in the area and the place got reasonable, albeit few, reviews. Unbeknownst to us, the Upper Suncoast Dog Club is the hogwan of dog schools. It’s the kind of place with mullets, purebreeds and the same t-shirts that hipsters wear “ironically” only here it’s in sincerity. And that’s Monday.

B and Nola at Puppy Kindergarten

“Puppy Kindergarten” at the dogwan. Here Nola and  Brenden face off over a bag of freeze dried chicken.


Happy NY Primary! (This entry has nothing to do about elections.)

Not much new to report on the Cuba front. The news is repetitive: the U.S. embargo/blockade (depending on the source) poses problems, as do Obama, the Castros, and American tourists. Learning Spanish is slow and somewhat steady. I can blame some of my lapse in my writing on time spent studying.
Presently I’m working on a blog about two of my Safety Harbor neighbors who will soon open a coffee shop on Main Street. I found them on a hunt for coffee with Brenden at our first Third Friday celebration, less than a week after we moved here.
Less than a week after we moved here we were in search of a cafe to sit and use the internet we lacked at our temporary place and indulge in our preferred addictive substance. Less than a week after we moved here we ruminated about how on earth it could be that in this picturesque downhome American’s American town constituting just a handful of blocks transected by central Main Street, home to a majestic willow tree so old, wide and grand that it must now be held in place by wires and protected by a black wrought iron fence (and which has become the face of many Safety Harbor postcards and t-shirts), a library, a fire department, a marina, a chamber of commerce with maybe two employees, and a gamut of almost 100% locally owned businesses, restaurants, and bars, the only coffee shop is a Starbucks. It couldn’t be. I’d accepted that life would have to go on without New York pizza, but life without a mom-and-pop coffeeshop? Fugghedaboudit.
Kent and Logan Runnells are not mom and pop, but father and daughter, and they will soon become my coffee patrons so I am forever in their debt. Meeting them less than a week after our devastating realization, and a little over a week after I decided to start blogging again, was as as energizing as coffee.
As a writer, the only vice that plagues me more than too much coffee is overbearing product anxiety. It took a couple of months for the Runnells and I to orchestrate and interview, which we had almost three weeks ago. In between work, Spanish, other necessary studies, and baby Nola, I’ve been pecking at this thing since the day after posting my last blog. So there you have it: my most recent excuse for a delayed publication.
April 2016.jpg

And that’s Sunday

Cuban maiden voyage documentary to debut at Tampa film fest

Zuzy Martin Lynch shares my hunger for the Cuban narrative. She is a first generation American who grew up in Jersey and, after Obama announced the reestablishment of relations with Cuba in December 2014, finally made it to the Cuba for the first time to dig deep into her roots. She documented her “journey to understand the past, present, and future of that magical island just 90 miles [from Miami]” through the lens of interviews with Cubans of all walks in her new film, Craving Cuba. Tomorrow, March 31, Craving Cuba will make its world debut at the tenth annual Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa. It is one of three films competing in the Cuban Sidebar Competition.
The Forbidden Coast and Havana Motor Club are the other two films competing in the Cuban Sidebar Competition. They will make their Tampa premiere at GIFF on Friday.

Who are the women of Cuba?

Cuban women_CharlesPietersFlickr

Photo Credit Charles Pieters of Flickr

Obama visited Cuba. So that happened. Call it good bad or indifferent – it’s a change either way and people are talking. The shift in private enterprise is a big part of that conversation, and it’s a fascinating conversation, but I’m more interested in the ones doing the talking, namely the women of Cuba.

I have so many questions.

Who are the women of Cuba? What do they do? How do they spend their days? In what ways do our lives overlap? How do they diverge? And what about the women my age – especially the ones my age.

Who are the female cuentapropistas, the entrepreneurs, and what is their life like? What kind of business do they do? How has the landscape for cuentapropistas evolved? When did it begin? Did 12/2014 do something significant to change it? In what ways?

What are their stories?

I want to find out. Of course I’ll start with the interweb, but constrained internet access in Cuba means limited access to the inside from the outside, so I’ll have to hunt and gather a lot of information the old fashioned way: reading, calling, exploring. Not having the excuse of the Internet makes this process of discovery about humans more human.

Over the next few months I’ll learn all that I can from afar. My research will encompass language, culture, history, economics – the works. But of course you never really know about people and their lives until you go where they live. So I will hoard pennies and hopefully travel to Cuba by the end of this year.
Until then…