The Trading Post


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By Bobby Neal Winters

The Chickasaw Trading Post makes good cappuccino. I have this on the authority of the not-yet-sixteen-year-old, who is the only cappuccino drinker in my family. The trading post is actually a quick stop gas station on the corner of Country Club Road and Lonnie Abbott Road on the outskirts of Ada, Oklahoma.

If I were I more learned in the lore of the ancients, no doubt I could justify my feelings that this location is not just a street address, but an important nexus in the space-time continuum. I bought the cappuccino under instructions from my daughter at approximately 6 AM on the day after Thanksgiving so that she could steel herself for the rigors of early morning shopping. As I was standing at the trading post, I could look west across the street and see a frighteningly full Wal-Mart parking lot, and when I turned to the northwest I could see the Staples store.
This was some sort of a mystic experience for me. It was something akin to Peter, James, and John seeing Jesus, Moses, and Elijah up on the Mount of Transfiguration. The juxtaposition of cappuccino, Chickasaws, and Staples has to mean something, but it was all quite a bit for me to take in that early on a Friday morning before I had even drank my own coffee, and so I let it go. The secrets of the universe disappeared for the lack of a cup of coffee. That is truly something to think about.

Some of my earliest memories involve wanting to drink coffee, and soon thereafter, I was broken in with coffee mixed with lots of milk and sugar. The idea was to start out with that and slowly decrease the non-coffee part of the mixture until you could drink it black, like a man. My progress toward manhood was broken by a headache. I missed my coffee one morning when I was a teenager, and the lack of caffeine gave me a headache. At that point, even though I had not yet worked my way up to drinking the pure stuff and was not yet a man, I gave up coffee cold turkey. I was a clean-living young man who did not want to be dependant on some chemical. I look back on that young man and think, “There’s a man I would like to have as a son-in-law. Clean-living, reliable, and oh-so-stupid.”

I gave up coffee and did not drink it in either college or graduate school. I did not drink it again until I took my current job teaching at Pittsburg State. The combination of my allergy to ragweed and having to teach Differential Equations at 9:30 AM killed the clean-living, chemically independent boy, and a coffee-swilling man grew back in his place. I am addicted and have continued feeding my addiction with the exception of the year that I spent on sabbatical at Brigham Young University where coffee is anathema. That year I was miraculously able to give it up with no other ill-effect than gaining ten pounds by eating chocolate for whatever chemicals it contains.

Jesus said that whenever a demon is cast out, it returns with seven other demons. Such was the way with coffee when I returned from sabbatical. These days, not only do I drink my coffee in the morning, but I will often top it off with a Mountain Dew during my 8:00 AM Calculus II class to keep from coming off my coffee too dramatically.
The bright young people who it is my privilege to teach have observed my addiction, and I have tried to warn them. “Coffee is like a false-hearted lover,” I say. “It will take everything you have and desert you.”
They nod their heads in agreement and clutch at their stainless steel thermoses, already tight in its grip.

In spite of the strength of my addiction, I still have not worked up to the black coffee that was the manly standard that we aimed for in the days of my youth. These are different times, though. There is more than just black coffee and coffee with cream and sure. There is also cappuccino, latte, mocha, and espresso. Among those, espresso is the only one that I would classify as a drink for a real man, the only one that my male ancestors would not be ashamed of me drinking. They would be proud that I am able to keep company with men who drink double espressos.

None of that is for me, though. I still like the plain stuff. When I walk into a fancy coffee shop, I say, “I would like a cup of …” and before I can say “plain coffee”, they have a cup of it in my hand. They can tell by looking.

Maybe this was what my mystic vision at the Chickasaw Trading Post was about. The trading post itself represents the past. That is my world, the world of plain coffee, but from that world arises cappuccino, the world of the future, the world of my not-yet-sixteen-year-old daughter. She will carry the family addiction to caffeine into the future. The old, the new, the eternal, the fashionable all coming together at the nexus of the trading post.
Another really good piece - I especially equate with the vision of the crossroads, at the beginning. I was actually just explaining that to my other half.

That's what I really like about your writings - the way you can bring this strange hybrid character of American identifty - of past, present, and future - all mixed in together with anecdotes of past relatives mixed with that of a growing family, all set in a landscape that expresses those persons. Sat here in England, it's like watching a strangely familiar, yet alien, landscape.