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  • Writer's picturePeter Stadalsky

Not the Daily Grind

At some point, everyone finds themselves saying something like, “oh my god, I can’t believe Christmas is here already!” Where did the time go? Depending on what life throws our way, weeks, months, even years can become one big blur. There is an aspect of time, where if we don’t pay attention it rushes past us.

Little things steal our time away, making us feel like we are hammering away at the “daily grind.” Cell phones, social media, internet, television, constant snacking, excessive sleeping, to name a few, are things we can get so habituated to absorbing our time with that we don’t even recognize it. Inherently these things are not evil time thefts. If not moderated in our lives they quickly devour our attention and mark black “x’s” across the calendar.

Once a week my girlfriend and I go to our favorite little coffee shop, The Village Grind, in a little suburb of Chicago. Strangely, there are closer coffee shops to my house. Some have fancier espresso machines or lower prices. But, there is a reason we choose to travel out on Sunday mornings to get a fresh baked slice of apple pie and some roasty espressos.

When you cross the threshold of The Village Grind you’re immediately taken back by the vintage wood signs hanging on the wall, with little positive sayings like, “Live by the Golden Rule.” Each shelf made by a different craftsman, displaying local artisan-made candles, nick nacks, and coffee shop goodies. The coffee shop is in an old house revisited by the great-grandchildren who can still envision where their bedrooms were.

We walk into “Hi Pete and Lydia.” It is nice when people know you by name. The place is still divided by all its original walls, so you can choose a private room with couches or the big dining room table with a group of friends. The owner, Jodi, said her favorite little moments each day are when flocks of old and new friends come together and share laughter over hot drinks. Laughter really is the best medicine.

You might notice something a little peculiar at The Village Grind; no WiFi. What! A coffee shop with no internet? And they are still in business? The Grind has been around for a few decades, still with no connection to the matrix - and it is intentional. Jodi expressed their philosophy is to slow down. Everything doesn’t need to be morphed into super-efficiencies. What is better: A home cooked meal or a bag of “McDog Food” passed out a drive-thru window?

In a day and age where everyone is heavily plugged into their phones, The Grind offers a little oasis to unplug. Put the emails and texts down for a minute and enjoy some conversation with friends. And if you don’t have a friend, you’re apt to meet one at here. It’s a place where it is okay to strike up a conversation in line and then sit down together and make a new friend. It has happened to me.

Happy employee steaming up some milk for a latte.

In a few hundred years it will read something like this in your great-great-great-great-grandkids textbooks:

“People actually used to talk to each other in person.”

The more we plug into the digital world the more we unplug from our human nature. Technology isn’t evil, but some people feel the duty to preserve that which makes us human; the human connection. I’m sure their were cavemen who got hooked on a cave drawing series and forgot to go out and get dinner that night. And I’m sure his wife let him have it; he didn’t get no nookie for a month. Distraction and disconnection is not something new. It is something for us to be aware of and how we are participating in it today.

The infamous time-theft ghost in action.

The ambiance not only radiates from the old structure but from the employees too. Jodi hires based on the Golden Rule. (Treat those how you want to be treated). Her staff calls customers by name. They remember things going on in each others’ lives. While Jodi and I were having coffee she excused herself to ask a customer if she had ever found her keys. It sounded like Jodi was outside on the pavements looking under cars to help her customer find them. The atmosphere is one of care for one another, something we mustn't forget.

Jodi said, “it just feels good to make someone else feel good.” That needs no explanation.

Some of the fancy coffees and lattes are named after people. The Village Grind names drinks after their beloved customers who have passed away. So whatever their favorite, custom beverage was, it’s renamed after that person. It’s a way to preserve the warm memories and special times of their friend, and let them live on in another way. Anyone can order the “Kerri-Ann;” a southern pecan coffee with french vanilla creamer. Or a “Justin the Tank,”

named after a burly bearded customer who was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Owner, Jodi serving a fresh slice of pie.

“Making each other feel good is a lost art,” said Jodi. It is not hard to ask someone about their twins or how the job interview went. Thinking of others is more difficult when we consume our time with distractions. Technology is here to help make our lives simpler, but it’s a double-edged sword. Finding a balance with technology and the “old-fashioned” way is our great challenge today. People even do things called a “technology-detox.” Detox means detoxification. Too much of anything becomes toxic.

The Village Grind is a little part of my life that I prefer to not go without. I’ve been to 45 states in our country, and these homely places exist everywhere; a convenience store, church, the gym, it doesn’t matter the location. What matters is taking interest and being a part of other people's lives, no matter how big or small. Because that’s what makes us human and gives us a sense of belonging.

Are you stuck in the daily grind? It’s not a notion to quit your day job - it’s a swift kick in the ass to wake up. No matter what you do or where you are, pay attention to the life you have. Good people are all around and unforgettable moments happen everyday. The question is, were you there for them?

A picture of Fern; the owner of the house that is now The Village Grind.

There is this picture hanging in our minds of the little America that once was; where life was simple and the sun never set too early. People had time to chit-chat and everything wasn’t locked into a digital schedule. You had the option to “get around to it.” It is not a matter of city vs country. Anyone's life can buzz by like the smear of taillights on a rush hour interstate. No one has to change where they live to slow down time again and enjoy each moment. There is a choice to be made on how we spend our time.

My girlfriend and I order our espressos and sit at someone's old round table with a view of Oswego’s main st. Lydia usually drops a bite of cherry pie on her clean white shirt and we laugh every time. Our phones stay tucked away as we pretend it is 1990. I wave to folks from around town mingling in the coffee shop. A little boy strays from his mother and plays with a toy truck on the floor. “Pam, your bagel is ready,” is called out the kitchen window. I smell the hot water hitting fresh coffee grounds as the espresso machine labors in love.

I can’t forget what makes us human. It is important to look at how we spend our time, otherwise we waste it away. For some reason, right now is always the hardest place to be, but it is the only place happiness can be found. That little moment, when Lydia has that smile on her face that reveals her single dimple, makes it all worth it. The coffee is warm in my cup and my heart is warm in my chest.

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