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I'll Take It Black

As a very young lad of about 5 years old I always wanted to drink coffee.

Coffee was what all the adults in my household drank, including my grandparents who lived in the flat below us. There was a pot going all day long in their kitchen or ours. The first person to awaken, put the pot on for the others. But at just five years old, I was deemed too young for an "adult beverage”.

As my sixth birthday approached, my grandfather asked me what I’d like for my birthday. Of all the things I could have asked for my grandpa would have gotten it for me - a new tricycle, a backyard swing, anything. Instead, I asked to be allowed to drink coffee. When he asked me why I wanted coffee, I replied, "Because I want to be like you." I didn't realize I was buttering him up, or that he might have taken it that way. Either way, it worked. He said that for my birthday he would make me a cup of coffee. I couldn’t wait.

On the morning of my birthday, I was awakened by my grandfather who helped me out of bed and took me by the hand to the kitchen. I was still in my jammies and a bit blurry eyed.

There on the table was a still-steaming big mug of coffee. He had already made me some buttered toast and cut it into finger-sized strips, so I could dunk it in the brew. I climbed up onto my chair and wrapped my little hands around the still hot cup and breathed in the deep, addictive aroma.

It really didn’t matter to me, and probably didn’t even occur to me, that the brew was more milk than coffee, or that it looked more mocha colored than black. It was my coming of age birthday and I was drinking COFFEE!

As I aged, coffee became a staple in my morning regimen.

Fast forward 18 years.

By then, I had graduated from the police academy and had walked a beat in Detroit for quite some time. I’d arrested many thieves and thugs, been in quite a few scrapes and been shot at. I had served out my rookie years and was now ready for my first night in a police car. My partner, John, was a very senior guy. Heavens, he must have been at least 40! It was all I could do to hide my excitement and act cool, like the other guys who were regularly assigned cars.

As all rookies must eventually do, I finally loaded the car with the shotgun, the carbine and related ammo, tear gas and gas masks, bulletproof vests and other paraphernalia, I grabbed our two sets of keys and approached the driver side of the car.

That was when John stopped me and asked where I was going. I motioned to the driver’s door. He wasn’t having any of that. Gruffly he grabbed both sets of our keys, motioned me to the passenger side of the car and informed me, “You ride. I drive.”

We settled into our respective seats. I sat sullenly, and silently fumed as he began a litany of “don’ts”.

“You see this switch?” he saked. "This is the siren switch. Don’t touch it.”

He pointed to another device, "This is the switch to the overhead red light. Don’t touch it.”

He leaned over to my side of the front seat and pointed out another button, "This here’s for the shotgun release. Don’t touch it! That’s for me, alone, to use.”

"This is the microphone to talk to the dispatcher. Don’t touch it unless I am getting my ass kicked. Then you can touch it and call for help.” I mulled over the image of him getting his ass kicked and me waiting while I snidely asked, "Is it okay to touch it now?"

With that, he started the car and we began our evening of assisting citizens who had seen their own share of robbery, mugging, car theft, home burglars and worse. After a few radio runs, we got our first break and made our way to a coffee shop. Even though our territory was at the south end of the precinct, John apparently liked the coffee at the north end more.

As we settled onto our circular, naugahyde-padded stools at the aluminum trimmed formica counter, the older but very attractive waitress smiled at him and said, “Hi John. The usual?” He nodded his head in reply, and then she looked at me. “What can I get for you honey?” She asked. I blushed then regained my composure.

“I’ll have a cup of coffee. Cream and sugar,” I replied.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” John suddenly interrupted. "The hell you will!

I looked at him in complete disbelief. I may have been a rookie, and he may have had control over my behavior in his scout car, but I wasn’t going to have this guy dictate my eating or drinking habits.

As my lips began forming my retort, he looked at me and continued, “We’re cops. Cops don’t put milk and sugar in their coffee.” He then turned to the waitress, jerked his thumb toward me and said, “Black Coffee.”

That was in 1970. I still drink it black.

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1 Comment

Joseph Callewaert
Joseph Callewaert
Dec 21, 2020

In my roolie case I ordered hot "tea" on a very cold day. Yes, Detroit could be a cold city. I was immediatly kicked under the counter and told that I could not afford "tea." (Coffee was free to uniformed officers there.) I followed many seniors' wisdom ever after in nearly every case.....but not all.

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