Monthly Archives: June 2020

Perry County Cafe

As much as coming to this cafe was about coffee for me, it was also about escape. Actually, if we’re being honest, it was mostly about escape. My county and Perry County had just “gone green” in the medical terminology, so that meant that coffeehouses could start to open again. Open up the way they used to I mean; the way they should be. ‘Open’ was something that I was specifically looking for, and figured that if I could find an extra dose of freedom, it would be in the deep, forest-covered mountains to the northwest of my hometown.

If there’s one thing that the town of New Bloomfield is, it’s open, in a way that goes beyond colors and statutes. It’s one of those old fashioned American towns, with statues, colonnaded balconies, and waving flags. Clean air and ready conversation abound. Perry County Cafe itself is one of those locales that quietly screams to travelers that it’s a center of the community. There are some places where you can just tell that people congregate, and this little coffee shop is one of them. It doesn’t hurt that it’s smack dab in the town center, where a roundabout shuffles a surprising amount of traffic east, west, and south.

The owner is an ultra-cool person named Rita Metcalf. No, I’m saying that because I’m shilling for her, hell I didn’t even know her before the day I rounded the corner into the shop. She was only the third owner in all these years who actually came out to welcome me personally. Says a lot about her, the town, and the kind of place that Perry County Cafe seems to be. It’s not a ‘best kept secret’ or a cliquey art enclave. Some perfectly awesome places are, but this establishment is far more active.

The coffee itself is certainly a good thing, and more than that it was actually inventive in the style of blend that was used. The roast I had was Red Diamond High Altitude Papua New Guinea. It’s a medium roast    The truth is, I’d already had coffee in the morning before coming up here (I couldn’t risk falling asleep on the road could I?) but I was slurping this down the whole way home and had to stop myself lest I make myself sick. I don’t think I’d have gotten sick though; for a medium blend it was quite mild. It also struck me as balanced; often milder coffees seem to have a citrus taste (from being under-extracted, usually in the brewing process, or from being brewed too hot) or a bitter taste (from the opposite being true). The fact that a medium roast was neither means someone has strong experience in brewing.  The exact blend seems to be proprietary, but I’ll update if I figure the concoction out.

I’ll be coming back to New Bloomfield again, and soon if I can. It’s a good jumping-off point if you’re traveling west of the big cities of Pennsylvania and up into the Appalachians. I intend to do a lot of that in the near future. It’s a region that I’ve been neglecting, mostly because when I started this blog there simply weren’t many independent coffeehouses in the middle of Pennsylvania. The ‘scene’ as it were has traditionally stuck to the college towns near Philly. In fact, Perry County Cafe has been open only since August of last year. Turns out I’ve been missing a lot by not heading for the hills! Until next time, stay caffeinated.



the county…


the menu…


the hometown pride…



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Posted by on June 29, 2020 in Uncategorized


Jumping back in…at The Gathering Place

I’m breaking a pledge I made long ago by writing this. When I started this blog I said that I wasn’t going to review coffeehouses that had a religious origin. Coffeehouse culture is all about questioning things and rebelling. We all know how kindly religion typically takes to the idea of rebellion. When the first coffeehouses started up in Europe, they were hotbeds of the anticlerical and anti-monarchist thought that led to, well, pretty much every liberty that we enjoy today. Coffeehouses with a foundation in religion just tend to strike me as a little…off.

This coffeehouse is, however, the first that I’m reviewing following lockdown, and that’s because of what I saw when I walked through the door having no idea that their mission was a mission. What I saw was a lot of courage, a lot of heart, and a lot of openness. I arrived just as they were about to close, but I made it in time for the last scents of breakfast-to-go to waft under my nose. They had just reopened on May 18th and my mom and I had coincidentally wanted to take a ride to literally anywhere to get out of town for a change of scenery. This little alcove was a match made in road-trip heaven.

I didn’t even know that The Gathering Place was affiliated with a church until I saw the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall beside a big old-fashioned clock. The ladies behind the counter, Jenny and Patty, proudly explained to me that the coffeehouse is an extension of the Little Swatara Church of the Brethren. They were equally proud of the charity work being done by the institution during the outbreak (which is apparently quite a lot). Both the church and the coffeehouse are planted in the small but cozy community of Bethel, PA. Like many Pennsylvania towns, if you blink you miss it. It is, however, worth keeping your eyes open as you pass through this little village. A historical plaque greets visitors as they drive into a clean, vibrant little main street after exiting the frenetic I-78. Bethel is in the middle of nowhere, on the way to everywhere.

The Gathering Place really does seem to be a gathering place for the community judging by the number of pamphlets and event posters plastered to the bulletin board. I’m hoping that at least some of that blur of planning will still take place sometime this year; Bethel seems like the kind of community that comes together if given even the slightest reason (and this coffeehouse is right in the middle of it), so I’d be willing to bet on them.

The coffee that was being served up was an odd but excellent brew. The staff assured me that it was just “regular coffee” like you’d find in “any diner” but there was a bit of modesty in that claim. It was a step above the metallic-tasting mass-produced coffee found in the average diner. It had seemingly been thrown together from a few different beans, but whoever did the throwing had some skill as evidenced by the vaguely-nutty taste of Arabian which was apparently moderated by something smooth. Colombian perhaps? It was kinda wild, in a good way! Talk about pooling your resources.

This visit was quite a welcome back for the Coffeehouse Tour. Things of course aren’t quite normal yet; the smiling faces of the staff were hidden behind masks for sanitation reasons. The hours were limited as well, but it’s clear that they are doing something very important. They’re fighting for this. They’re fighting for a return to the good life. They’re open because they can be. Talking about what we can’t do is and always has been useless. They get that. Pretty revolutionary if you think about it. To live, you have to live. Let’s get back to life together. Stay caffeinated and stay healthy, friends.



the plan…


the promise…


the community….


the future…


the stacks…






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Posted by on June 4, 2020 in Uncategorized


Welcome back!

When I was six years old, way back in the 80s, I remember how excited I was to be ordering books (with my mom’s help of course) from the Scholastic book catalog. It was  like a smorgasbord of treats for young readers and one book in particular had caught my eye: The Curious Little Kitten. I remember waiting for that book to come in the mail and when the package finally came, tearing it open, and seeing a slender tome called Fraidy Cat along with a letter of apology explaining that the book I’d ordered was out of stock.

I never read Fraidy Cat. It’s still sitting somewhere on a basement bookshelf, I’m positive of it. I think I cried that day. Disappointment is always tough, but it’s even tougher when you know it has a human cause. Understocked shelves, misinformed catalogs, shipping delays; they’re all someone’s fault. Every time somebody says ‘we’re sorry, sir’ my reaction is to say ‘Good. I forgive you. Now fix it.’ That last part is usually the sticking point of course, and when the second ‘I’m sorry sir’ inevitably comes, I just can’t shake the feeling of offense that follows. I like to think that my occasional bouts of petulance did and still do come from a real sense of injustice. Certainly this crisis here could have been handled better. This thing was a sum of many bad decisions. Conservatives minimized, liberals catastrophized. Conservatives were foolish, liberals were scared. Everyone played to type perfectly, creating a fear state that foresight and wisdom could have prevented or made better.

The bottom line is, I just plain hate substitutions in life. I detest second best. The weak shadow of something that aught to be but isn’t just leaves a rotten taste in my mouth.  People are expected to accept these things though. ‘Any old port in a storm’ we say, or ‘it’s better than nothing.’ Sometimes that assessment is spot on. If you’re starving, you’ll wisely eat a loaf of bread instead of holding out for pizza while stamping your foot. If a hurricane or a plague hits, you don’t send angry letters to the shuttered bars. On the other hand, to accept mediocrity at face value is to deny our humanity. Humans strive; we have to, it’s in our nature. And as much as adherents to certain ideologies would like to deny that progress is a good thing, they usually do so from behind a computer screen inside a comfortable house. Unless they recognize the irony in that, it’s not necessary to respect their position. So enough about them.

I suppose I might have (and some would say I should have) done such a thing right here on this blog. Accepted mediocrity as a ‘new normal’ I mean and just gone with it for the sake of offering digital comfort food. Heck, that’s what everybody else was doing. Meeting friends over Zoom, having virtual dates, and so on. I could have certainly made a ‘quarantine version’ of this blog and contributed to that way of being. But those things are lame. Mediocre. Things we intend to put in the past sooner rather than later. I don’t just hope this crisis ends, I insist that our leaders end it. Doctors said we’re on the virus’s timetable. Well, screw that shit.

It nauseates me when the supposed experts insist that thinking realistically means thinking pessimistically. Too often they’re content with being victims of statistics. It makes me doubly sick when people seem complicit with endless states of emergency without asking questions or demanding guarantees from those who declare them. Yes, of course when there’s a disaster like a plague we all have to batten down the hatches, show patience and take precautions. That doesn’t mean we have to take the gloom and doom scenarios proffered by every clove-smoking cynic in academia and the media as a new gospel. A new normal. The brave nurses on the frontlines of health care certainly didn’t give in and because of that they’re saving us. The state has now begun the inexorably slow process of reopening and people are starting to choose life over terror, all because humans did what humans do and actively fought back.

To put things simply, I didn’t publish entries for a while here for one reason: I did not feel comfortable contributing to a culture of disappointment. I thought it would be wrong to reinforce the disturbing way of thinking that emerged during this time in which we were collectively conditioned to settle for malaise and paranoia. I didn’t want this blog to be a reminder of the evening news; an echo of bad times. That’s not a comfort to me and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have inspired you a folks a lot either. Writing, like any art, has a duty to inspire, or at least attempt to.

I thought it would be better to wait until nature took its glacially slow but inevitable turn for the better, and to in the meantime focus on the basics like loving my family and growing my garden and reading my books until I was free to do this thing again the right way; the last thing I wanted it to become was a tacit acceptance of a world we don’t deserve. I wanted instead to use this blog as a platform to show people who are just starting to not have panic attacks when they leave the house that it’s actually OK to breathe again. I wanted this work to be an exercise in curiosity, not fear. In the immortal words of Bob from The Walking Dead: Nightmares end. They don’t end who you are.

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Posted by on June 1, 2020 in Uncategorized