Jammin' Java, 701 Cole, San Francisco

I stop in at Jammin' Java one recent afternoon and head for the counter to order some coffee. A long-haired guy in sunglasses steps next to me and addresses the waitstaff. "I believe it's Detroit," he says. "Are you sure?" the girl behind the counter asks him. "Well, I'm pretty sure it was Detroit," he answers. "No, that's not good enough," she continues. "You can't say ‘I believe' or ‘I think' or ‘I'm pretty sure'. You have to be absolutely sure. You have to know." Just then my eyes wander over to a paper plate taped onto a large jar filled with cinnamon sticks. On the plate someone had written in purple magic marker "Where was Stevie Wonder born?" Now I know what's going on. The gal behind the counter continues. "We think it's somewhere between New York and Detroit, like maybe he was born in New York and then made his way over to Detroit." I start to wonder if this is the question of the day, some little contest where maybe the prize is a double latte or the coffee drink of your choice. "What's the deal with the question?" I ask. Big mistake. "WE JUST WANT TO KNOW!!!" she shrieks back at me. Oops. Okay. I don't have a guess of my own, and goodness knows I'm not sure, so I just order my coffee and sit down. I'm in the Haight, alright.

Don't get me wrong, Jammin' Java is a pretty okay place. Great light. It's a sunny neighborhood, and the cafe makes the most of that. The location is also a block off Haight Street, which makes a world of difference. It's not as frenetic here. Lots of trees around the place. Yep, an oasis of calm in the haphazard Haight. Small tables are scattered about, with people reading or writing or doing work. What looks like serious work. Textbooks open, papers being written. Students. People working on laptop pc's. Mostly a young crowd. The menu is written on a large blackboard hanging behind the counter. Along with the various coffee drinks and food items is a small section titled "common mispronounciations". Of coffee drinks, of course. Au lait as "ow-late?" Latte as "lotty?" How shrill to my coffee-sensitive ears. Hey, I'm glad this place is here to keep me from making these ghastly errors. Such a public service.

I don't think you come to Jammin' Java for the coffee. It's good but not great, and some of the other customers confirm my suspicion. A bit strong, and not really flavorful. One regular, who looks like Nicole Kidman's darker, prettier sister, tells me she dumps a ton of chocolate into the coffee to make it taste better. I suggest ordering hot chocolate. But it does seem to be the meeting place for the neighborhood's residents. The fellow next to me tells me he always runs into someone he knows, and I notice people coming in and bumping into friends. The tables are spaced fairly far apart, which might not lend itself to table-hopping or striking up a conversation with your neighbor. But the people in here seem to have a lot in common. They might find someone who's reading a book they just read, and that's reason enough to start talking.

There is a long wooden bench along one wall which gives you a great view of the place and everything going on outside. The opportunity to watch the world go by, or at least that part of the world which is the Haight, is reason enough to come to Java. The music is also nice. Not too loud. Counting Crows. REM. I can actually name those tunes. Not that anonymous techno-punk. A definite plus. The walls are painted a soft yellow, and there's a rotating art exhibit along one wall. The artwork runs the gamut. Sometimes it's completely unsettling while at other times it can brighten your day.

There are a lot of cutoff shorts in this place. I feel somewhat overdressed in my blue jeans. Cutoffs at four out of nine tables. Cutoffs on the waitstaff. A guy who looks like Ethan Hawke sits near the window. Lots of guys in this neighborhood look like Ethan Hawke. An older fellow in a top hat is a regular. He comes in to play board games. My eyes wander over to the makeshift bulletin board next to the counter. Countless flyers advertising the usual stuff. I think. Three-hour Hatha Yoga Workshop. Capoeira. Voice. For Sale. Holistic Acting Coach. A Life Worth Living. Gee, I'd better read this stuff.

Java seems to draw a young crowd, but I think anyone would feel comfortable here. Something interesting, something different, is likely to happen during your visit. I can't wait to see what the question of the day is the next time I stop in. I'd just better be sure of my answer before I open my mouth.

© 1996 Elaine Sosa

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