Tomorrow is National Coffee Day, and to celebrate my husband, Dan, is offering free downloads of his first novel, Playa Perdida. What's the connection, you wonder? Well, the novel is loosely based on our experiences of starting a church in a beach community in Costa Rica, and Costa Rica is well known for its amazing coffee.

Anyway, to give you a taste of the book - you'll have to grab your own coffee - I'm posting one of my favorite sections in which coffee takes the main stage.  And to get the free download, you can head to Dan's website at toucanic.net.

from Playa Perdida by Dan Schmidt

Playa Perdida’s marina lay a kilometer south of the Arawak, on an estuary where the coast turned in sharply. On a local map, I’d seen that further inland, the sea met a river running down from the mountains and spread in the flats to create a marsh—part salt, part fresh. 

The sky was bright as I walked along a road more dust than dirt. I’d heard that this was its standard condition; the only changes were after a rain that turned it to mud, or when the municipality had extra cash and sprayed it with molasses. That was a quick fix which both cleared and sweetened the air, but inevitably the molasses melted, making a sticky goo that found its way into the undercarriage of vehicles. The road would devolve to its prior state; cars developed problems of their own.

It was a gorgeous day for a stroll, despite the odor of marine creatures stranded by tides and cooked by an unrelenting sun. My sandals stirred up little puffs as I made my way south. Shabby stores hawked their wares with misspelled signs. I saw few tourists.  A motel on the water’s side tilted precipitously beneath ancient
coconut palms—the Dorado, according to a plaque hung from a porch column. A smaller sign promised 'cleen' rooms at low rates, but someone had scratched out most of ‘cleen’. Stretched between two palms in front of the motel, a hammock bowed under a sleeping kid whose shortboard leaned against one of the trees. 
 
Next to the Dorado, listing slightly, sat a dilapidated mansion. Its fence of rotten boards failed to hide a profusion of tall grasses and weeds. A rusty shopping cart lay overturned near the front door which, like the adjacent windows, was partly covered with chipped plywood. Second floor windows had been pummeled by rocks; jagged remnants of glass hung in rotting frames. 
 
Another hundred yards past the once stately house, the Marina View Apartments sat perpendicular to the street. More weeds than gravel filled the parking area separating the apartments from a second structure of roughly the same dimensions, split into two large storefronts on the lower level. One bore the sign Marina Office. The other blared messages painted on plate glass with heavy orange strokes: Learn Spanish! Speak Like A Native! Includes Surfing! A hand-lettered sign hanging in the door read, At The Beach. 

Snowy’s Bar occupied the second story of this building. I took the broken concrete walk toward the Marina Office and branched off for the stairs. At the top landing, a massive chunk of driftwood propped open the outside door.

“Watch out for the—” I heard someone yell, too late. A metal pipe hanging just inside the door connected with my forehead.

“Man walks into a bar,” came a chorus from weathered men on stools. 

Once my eyes had adjusted to the dim interior, I saw a length of galvanized pipe that had been threaded with nylon rope and suspended from the ceiling. It seemed to have just one purpose.  

“All this for a joke?” I asked the man standing behind the counter. What I could see of his face bore no expression

“Priceless every time. What’ll you have?”

Thick slabs of pine under layers of marine varnish formed the bar I held while
waiting for my balance to return and the ringing in my ears to subside. Behind
it, posters advertizing museum art exhibits decorated the perimeter of a large
mirror. Neon signs for various brands of beer flickered in both corners.


The fellow tending bar was a great beach ball of a man, a little under six feet tall with a circumference to match. White hair sprang from his head like his brain was charged with static electricity. Whiskers twitched near what must have been his mouth.

“Snowy?” I asked.

“Guilty. Who wants to know?”

I stuck out a hand. “Gray Albright. Pastoring the church that meets at the Arawak?”

“Don’t get many preachers in here, eh boys?” The bar’s denizens chortled from their stools.

“I’m looking for Roy.”

“Not here,” Snowy said, wiping beads of water from the otherwise immaculate counter.

“He’s out fishing,” said a voice from a table behind me.

“OK if I wait?”

“Suit yourself. Care for a drink?”

I hesitated. Preachers where I came from, both geographically and theologically, didn’t spend much time in settings like this. We were raised with an aversion to alcohol and the places where it could be found. We tended to take a stand against those who drank it, too, so much that when my doctor had suggested wine with dinner, it was all I could do to stomach his advice. The age-old prohibition against being anywhere close to such beverages made downing a glass nearly impossible for me—at first. 
 
Then I tried it. Found it tolerable. Discovered after not too long that I even liked it.

Then I noticed that the world did not end.

Now here I was, meeting a guy in a bar, for a pastoral visit, no less. Inwardly I shook my head, wondering what else would change with our move to the beach.

I looked back at Snowy. I might have been able to walk into a bar, but I still wasn’t ready to become familiar with one. “Do you have any coffee?”

The circular motion of the rag stopped abruptly. Eyes dark as molasses connected with mine. Snowy growled. 
 
“Coffee?  Do I have coffee?”

“Now you gone and done it,” muttered one of the guys perched near the bar.

“Let me tell you about my coffee.” Menace iced Snowy’s voice. “Coffee here is the best you’ll find anywhere ‘round these parts. Lamb, they say she has great coffee, and truth be told, it’s not bad, except for that junk she puts in it. But if you want great coffee, you’ve come to the right place.”

“Ah, OK,” I said, chided. “Then, what about a latté?”

Behind me all the breath held by the regulars hissed out in tiny gasps.

“Did you say latté?” Snowy asked, distinctly pronouncing each syllable. He stood absolutely still, arms extended, elbows locked, palms down on the counter that reflected the glowing neon signage. The only sound was air filling his lungs.

I searched the room for support. Every other eye assiduously inspected the rafters above or the floor boards below.

Snowy’s voice started slow and quiet, gaining volume with each phrase. “There’s no latté here, mate. No espresso—he stretched this word to the breaking point—no cappuccino, no mochaccino. You won’t be finding no frappé, neither, since coffee cold is unnatural. Coffee as the good Lord made it is intended to be hot only and ever. So we have no mint or hazelnut or vanilla or caramel. No fancy cream, no half and half, no fat-free, no soy, no raw sugar. No layers in a clear glass. We pour it in a china mug and you drink it black.” He crescendoed like a tent-meeting evangelist and then slapped the counter with a meaty hand.

“The best coffee you ever drank is right here, right now.” Not a body stirred, no insect buzzed; the room in that instant was perfectly silent. “So, would you like a cup?” His question was both sinister and inviting, carefully measured and aimed at my soul.

I surrendered all.




Leave a Reply.