I had been a New Yorker for two days. At 5:15 on Monday afternoon, I told my wife, Carol, “I’m going to buy bagels.”
This was the first time in my life I said, “I’m going to buy bagels.”
I went to Cranberry’s on Henry Street. The door was open. The lights were on. I walked in to an empty store.
A voice from the back, which sounded very New York, shouted, “Who’s there?”
I said, “It’s a customer.”
He yelled, “Can’t you see we’re closed?”
I was a little thrown: “Not really. The door’s open, and the lights are on.”
He growled, “We close at 5:00. Come back tomorrow.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think so.”
That’s when he came through the door smiling: “Fair enough. If we had been open, what would you have wanted?”
“I just want a couple of bagels.”
“How long ago did you move here?”
“How do you know I moved here?”
“You don’t have enough stuff with you to be a tourist.”
“We moved here two days ago.”
“What part of the South are you from?”
My accent was thick enough that I didn’t bother to ask how he knew I’m from the South: “Atlanta.”
He had not asked what kind of bagel I wanted, but he was busy behind the counter. I was wearing a Georgetown T-shirt. My son had just graduated from Georgetown, and Jim’s daughter was about to go to Georgetown. We talked about how much debt he was going to incur over the next four years. Then he handed me a bag filled with a dozen bagels.
I said, “I’m not sure I need that many.”
“It’s a sampler. Figure out what you like.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“On the house. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
This is the perfect welcome to New York — someone yelling at you and then being generous.
“I don’t like to brag, but I had two years of high school Spanish.”
A few days later I got in line for an iced coffee, The New York Times, and a chocolate croissant —the breakfast of champions. The woman in front of me ordered in Spanish. I thought, “I can do that.” I don’t like to brag, but I had two years of high school Spanish: “Quiero una gran café con leche y azúcar y un croissant de chocolate.”
A kind but dishonest woman in her twenties said, “You speak Spanish.”
I lied: “Si.”
She handed me a chocolate croissant and a hot coffee, because apparently I don’t know the Spanish word for ice.
This became our routine. I try to say something in Spanish, and she pretends I said it correctly.
I joined Cranberry’s “Buy ten cups of coffee and get one free!” club. This is a promotion for people whose math skills are so deficient we believe this is a deal, but I must have gone through a full deck of cards.
I thought about my four years of going to Cranberry’s when I saw the sign on the door — first in Spanish, then the English translation: “Since 1977, Cranberry’s has served the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood with love and support. Whether it was pouring a fresh cup of coffee to start your day, serving delicious sweets to bring home after work, or anything in-between, it’s been our pleasure to be part of your lives. As of July 2020, we have decided to close our doors and say farewell after 42 memorable years. Thank you for being with us during this journey. You will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
There are dozens of photographs in the windows of employees through the years. There is a Polaroid of children sitting on the sidewalk with a note: “Dear Jim and Everyone at Cranberry’s, thank you for being so kind and generous to PS 8 and the neighborhood for so many years. We’ll miss you so!”
A customer stuck his own note on the outside of the window: “Hey, Cranberry’s crew, so sad to see you go. Thanks for the memories — the muffins, coffee and hard-working staff. You will be missed.”
“Is it just me or is a coffee place closing more painful than it would have been a year ago?”
Is it just me or is a coffee place closing more painful than it would have been a year ago? It feels like everything is falling apart. You cannot pick up The New York Times where you used to. You cannot go where they know how you like your coffee. You cannot practice your Spanish.
When I had my last cup of coffee at Cranberry’s I could not have imagined where we find ourselves, in the middle of a pandemic, on the rise again, with no end in sight. If I had known it was my last cup, I would have appreciated it more. I wish I had felt this gratitude sooner, but this is a case of “better late than never.”
Unfortunately, we are going to get used to saying “goodbye,” so we need to make sure we say “thank you” while we are at it.
I have nothing to do with my “Buy ten coffees and get one free!” card — and I had seven — but I feel like I should keep it in my wallet to remind me to be thankful.
Brett Younger is the senior minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the author of Funny When You Think about It: Serious Reflections on Faith.