The coffee crowd

A place where everybody knows your name

Jim Cameron is a freelance writer, human-resource and communications consultant, and abstract painter who shows his art at galleries and other public venues

Less than a week after moving to town, my wife and I walked to a nearby coffee shop and settled into reading The Sacramento Bee while drinking our morning lattes. A woman left a small group in the corner, came to our table and asked if we’d care to join them. Not particularly social in the morning, I declined for both of us.

The next morning, it happened again, and then again the following morning. I finally said to my wife, “Wow! She’s relentless! We better join them!”

And so we did.

The insistent woman was Barbara Hodgin, a lifelong activist on behalf of the disadvantaged and the wife of Howard Weaver, the retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Company. Others in the group included Brooks Truitt, Q Street’s resident rapscallion, and his longtime friend, Bruce Selway, both retired state employees, and Edwina White, a retired veteran of the film industry.

Soon after, the group moved to Old Soul Co. in Midtown and began growing at an astounding rate. Our coffee crowd now numbers an estimated 40 members, perhaps 30 of them regulars. On any given weekday, half-a-dozen people are there from 6:30 a.m. on, and the size of the group grows from then until about 8 a.m., when it begins to decline. On weekends, group members arrive later, and conversations often take on a more familial tone.

The atmosphere is extraordinarily friendly, and if a visitor seats himself in “the clubhouse,” he is welcomed and often will find his way back as a result of the friendliness shown to him (or her; this is an equal-rights crowd, because to be otherwise would incur the substantial wrath of some very determined members). Only the seats of Truitt and Selway are “protected”: One morning when I sat in Selway’s spot on the couch, thinking that my near-charter membership status entitled me to whatever seat I wanted, I was greeted with a serious lecture. I have not made that mistake again. So much for 10 years of membership.

Casual conversation over coffee has morphed into a kind of tribal relationship that Nico Forte says is best described by the refrain from the theme song of the old TV show Cheers: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name / and they’re always glad you came.” Forte, the U.S. representative for a medical-device company, joined the group five years ago and never left. John Griffing, a retired economist, and his wife, Shelly, a retired attorney and administrative-law judge, became part of the group one morning when he was hailed with the rejoinder, “Hey, you gotta name?” by Richard Levitt, retired Procter & Gamble manager who prowls the world and may have the best handle on life of anyone I know. A marine robotics engineer visits from his home in Davis. An automobile-company representative who deals with state legislators is there virtually every morning.

The coffee groupies speak with one voice in praise of the experience, and all seem to have some special skill or achievement. Jean Nelson, a teacher and a formidable long-distance cyclist: “I’m in constant awe of my good fortune to wander into this fine fold of friends.” Merle Axelrad, an award-winning fabric artist: “I’m a newbie to the gang, but I’ve been warmly welcomed.” Felipe Ferraz, a native of Brazil who was selected as Teacher of the Year in Natomas Unified School District three years ago: “For a foreigner, especially, this group acts as a great gateway to Sacramento.” He and his wife, Joanna, also a teacher, are professional musicians who perform throughout the Sacramento region. Weaver, a charter member with a recent book to his credit, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Monica Nainsztein Rodríguez, a transplanted Argentinean, was named Businesswoman of the Year in 2011 by the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The coffee crowd members have bonded in countless ways. There are parties,

potlucks, movie nights, guerrilla gardening projects, museum trips, wine tastings, automobile and home repairs, hospital visits, airport-transportation assistance, trivia nights, and myriad others. The conversation is expansive and meaningful and spirited. Differences are accommodated, if not always embraced. And above all, there is kindness—genuine kindness—and caring.

The group at it’s best—and at it’s worst—is as fine and human a microcosm of

society as I have ever known. A place where everybody knows your name … and they’re always glad you came.