I travel. Work tends to take me to different places often. My family and I travel for vacations. I'm sure you (whoever you are) do some traveling from time to time. At some point in all our lives most of us will have a chance to visit a completely different and new place from that which we were born and raised. Even if it's just going to spend the night in a town just an hour down the road, most of us will have that opportunity. I use the word "opportunity" because traveling presents us with an "opportunity" to see, do, and experience new things. I've had the opportunity to travel all over the US and I've even been to Africa.
One thing I've learned in all my travels is that if you really want to get to know how the locals live...go eat with them. I don't mean go out to eat at a Pizza Hut...not that there's anything wrong with Pizza Hut. What I'm talking about is going out to eat at a local favorite spot. Some of the very best food that I've ever had was at local places on my trips.
Here recently, while I was traveling through West Virgina, I stopped at a little town called Bridgeport, WV. Bridgeport is a little town which seems to be overshadowed by the larger town right next door, Clarksburg. Bridgeport is a nice little town with more churches than banks...always a good sign. The downtown area is a little...diminished...but not because of lack of businesses or money. Downtown Bridgeport is just aged. Not old...AGED. Like a well seasoned steak. Bridgeport has probably been on the map for close to 150 years or so and the town just has a broke-in feeling to it. A "home town" kinda feeling to it. It's a charm of the area.
So, I found myself in downtown Bridgeport and as I drove slowly through the town on W. Main St I spied a little corner coffee shop called "Almost Heaven". Immediately, I whipped the FJ into a public parking lot right next door to the coffee shop. I stepped out of the truck and took in the cold mountain air and stretched my arms to the sky. It was good to be out of that truck.
As I walked toward the coffee shop, I could see that the building was made from what appeared to be ancient brick and stone. Walking through the door, the scent of freshly baked muffins mixed with the seductive aromas of the different coffees lingering in the air. The brick and stone walls continued to the inside of the building as well. The floors were original hand laid wooden floors. My boots made that unmistakable thud and pat sound as I walked across the room and the floors creaked and groaned as if to remind me that they had been here longer...much longer than I'd been alive.
A couple of older gents were huddled up to a table in a corner...they eyeballed me. I was a stranger...a anomaly in their otherwise normal routine. I tipped my hat to them and said, "Howdy". They just nodded. I smiled and turned toward the bar.
I was there greeted by what I guessed to be an 18 or19 year old girl. She was friendly and said good morning to me and asked me what I would like. I placed my order for a mocha latte and a blueberry muffin. Then I took a seat in the corner. After a few minutes, the young lady brought my order and said "Enjoy". I did.
The muffin was one of the best blueberry muffins that I've ever had...and that's saying a lot. The mocha latte was awesome....so I had two of them. I spent an hour or so just eating and drinking slowly. Soaking it all in. The big glass jars filled with homemade cookies...the counters filled with pastries of all sorts...cakes...pies...oh my lord at the pies and the cheesecakes. The menus on the wall were chalkboards with all the menu items written in chalk...not because it's trendy...that's just how they do it.
In all, Almost Heaven was just that...almost heaven. There's not much that they could do to improve their little business. I can't imagine that they make a killing running that place but I don't think they need to. They obviously love what they do and I'm sure the local community loves them for it. It was my pleasure and good fortune to happen upon Almost Heaven and it's an experience that I will not soon forget.
So, if you're ever traveling, take the time to stop and check out the little family owned places along the way. Whether they be eating establishments or little shops. Visit with the people there and spend some money. You'll be contributing to their local economy and just as important you could gain something that you can't put a price on...memories.