Friday, February 29, 2008

Coffee & Donuts II: Startling Night

Last night turned out more perfectly than I could have imagined. The plan had been to get a donut from King Donuts and then send up a little prayer for Ollin Cafe to be open so that I could have my usual Thursday sugar and caffeine fix (about 10 hours late). I was close to not going through with it but I suppose the inertia of my initial desire was enough to keep me from turning toward home.

As I rode my bike around the corner of Hoover and Venice and Ollin Cafe came into view, I was saddened to see that its aluminum panels were closed, except for the ones at the entrance. It was only 8:00PM, but I wasn't surprised-- I hadn't really expected the plan to work out anyway, especially with the notoriously early closing times of most businesses in this part of town.

What surprised me was that when I came to take a closer look, the woman sitting inside came to the door and invited me in, offering to get me coffee even though they were closed. I told her that it was fine, that I didn't have to have coffee and that I'd come back when they were open, but she was so friendly and insistent that I couldn't just ride off again. She even let me bring my bicycle into the cafe.

It turns out that she was sitting inside waiting for her husband to pick her up, passing the time by watching television while making quinceaƱera center pieces with her mother-in-law. There were at least a dozen of the handmade creations sitting on the floor upstairs beyond the view of passers-by. Her name was Veronica and she was incredibly engaging; she offered me much more information about herself than I would have expected, was so open. She told me that the owner of Ollin Cafe is actually Lebanese and the Latin American theme of the restaurant sprung from his love of travel. Veronica also revealed to me more details of her life than I would have ever expected to hear. I suppose part of it may be due to the fact that I am a rather unthreatening-looking young woman, but even so, her openness and kindness warmed me.

Veronica didn't just let me in so that she could sell another cup of coffee-- she invited me in and urged me to have a sit and stay awhile. She made me a cafe au lait in the ceramic mug that I brought with me, and talked to me about things that I will not mention here, but which made me feel that fate had brought me to this place on this particular night-- that I had ended up in exactly where I should have.

She apologized for her English, to which I responded by apologizing for my lack of Spanish. She communicated with me beautifully. Her compassion and kindness were apparent and I think she spoke much more eloquently than she realized. After talking for a while longer, she returned upstairs to work on her centerpieces while I sat with my mug of coffee and the chocolate twist from King Donuts (which closes at around 9PM, contrary to their "Open 24 Hours" sign).

Veronica's husband arrived an hour or so later, but there was no rushing me out at all. When I did finally decide that it was time to leave and asked to rinse out my mug myself, she took it and not only rinsed it, but took completely unnecessary care in drying it for me. She continuously amazed me.

I thanked her profusely as I left, and she just kept saying that it was fine, "it's okay, my friend, good night." Incredibly, she even told me to just call ahead if I wanted to stop by another evening, and that she would wait for me. Amazing.

Sometimes I feel like I am a traveler in Los Angeles, wandering around Downtown with a backpack filled with not only a notepad or books, but a first aid kit, my own mug safety pins, and a canvas bag, among other miscellaneous items. I guess that in a way, I am living in this city like a backpacker-- I just happen to have a one-year lease on an apartment instead of one-month's booking at a hostel. Perhaps the best way to experience a place is to pretend that you are leaving it.

USC Students, venture northward and support this place, please! $1.00 Coffee 6AM-11AM! And there's Wi-Fi!

Ollin Cafe

1325 Venice Blvd. (just east of Hoover) -

Cost Summary:
Donut: $0.60
Coffee: $1.50
Total: $2.10

1 comment:

  1. No doubt about it; Ollin Cafe is a great place. I talked to Veronica yesterday when I stopped in with some friends and she was very afraid of having to close down. She told us about two friend of her who has to close their coffee shops. We need to find a way to bring her more business.