Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coffee with Audrey

There was a lovely lady no longer with us named Audrey Ovington, who lived down in Santa Barbara.  She owned a restaurant that was literally made of out old western stagecoaches when it was first opened.

It is called The Cold Springs Tavern, and it was originally a stage coach stop - one of the last on the trail west and I believe, the last pony express stop as you really couldn't get much father west.  

It sits on top of the pass between the west coast and the Los Olivos/Solvang area where so many winemakers are now.

Audrey was a dear, close friend of the great actress Jane Seymour, OBE, from the James Bond movie "Live And Let Die" of primary note but of so many more film and theatrical triumphs space forbids.

Everyone in Santa Barbara used to say, "Oh, you have to meet Audrey - she's best friends with Jane Seymour."  Even back then as a young screenwriter new to the west coast Hollywood scene people named dropped unfastidiously and with too much ceremony.

But I was smart enough then to know you didn't go knocking on Hollywood's door unless you had something profitable to sell, so I didn't press my friend for an introduction.

As time went by, Santa Barbara being the small town that it is, I eventually bumped into her with my friend at the Farmer's Market on State Street and got introduced.

We conversed awhile as I had been introduced as a writer about the business and I slowly turned the conversation away from deal sniffing to the art and craft of screenwriting, as that is the most important thing 'in town' as is said.  

Audrey was somewhat taken aback at my disinterest in the business and overwhelming appetite for writing, and reassessed me anew; liking what she learned.

She asked what I was shopping for and I said I'd come down but found nothing I desired at the usually fantastic farm stands, and was thinking about going home and writing on my new sci-fi script.  

People in the editing world of that genre used to go bananas when you used the abridged term for science fiction back then, but things have changed.  It was so improper they felt.  

That is when Audrey looked at me and asked me if I wanted to come instead to her home for a real cup of old west trail coffee, made in a cast iron pan.

Being the gentleman I always am, and having a serious affinity towards real Americana, I graciously accepted, and we strolled over to her famous house off Carrillo Avenue.

The house is famous for being the narrowest house (back then) I believe in all California.

It was about ten feet wide and a good ninety feet long. Quite a piece of architecture, and I've been involved in many a unique as well as historical developments architecturally in my younger years.  

It was quintessential western theme, with all kinds of rope, brass and copper and bronze fittings and nails that were made a hundred or more years ago and all wood throughout.  

She sat me comfortably in the kitchen at the rear of the house and proceeded to pull out cast iron and roasted the beans some right in it until this amazing smell permeated the air.

She cracked the beans with another pan (I wasn't paying attention that much as she was a delightful conversationalist and keeping up with her quick and broad mind was plenty to pay attention to), put them in a blue trail pot flecked with white specks.

In a few minutes more, an absolutely fabulous mug of coffee was set down before me.  "We drink it black," She stated, adding, "I got some sugar though, if you like that."  I added a little.  

'What an amazing wife she must have been,' I thought to myself as she settled in with her cup across from me at the old wooden table.  I felt so at home there it counts as one of the top coffee and conversation experiences I have ever had.  

Making you feel right at home was a vast understatement.

Then the plot twisted a little.  

I was just about to bring the cup to my lips, but didn't want to have bad manners either, so I waited some for her to take a sip first.  

She said to me as she reached for something on the side of the table with the sale and pepper shakers, "We have a little family tradition I like guests to go through before we drink together.  Would you please spin this little top for me?"

She held out a tall spinning top with delicate blue painted details on it and a thin, long stem coming out the top toward me.  I said, "It looks like a dreidel.” 

"It's not.  We're not Jewish," she replied, adding, "its just a little game we play - a kind of a test.  You can't drink your coffee until you pin the top.  Go on, give it a spin.  Humor me."

She smiled sweetly and how could I refuse?  What would you do for a classic American cup of trail coffee?  

At the time, I was a well trained martial artist with very powerful hands, but my dexterity was also quite high because I typed thousands of words a day as well as worked in surgery at St. Francis hospital.

I grabbed the little stem, rolled it back and forth between my fingertips to get a sense of its balance, and its center of gravity and then called upon my chi and let it rip onto the tabletop.  

It leapt out of my grip like a tiger, whirling at astonishing speed on the table.  Faster than I thought I could make it, but that is the way chi works. 

Her eyes went wide for a second before she regained her composure and looked at me with cool regard for a moment. I watched the thing spin and it eventually slowed down, wobbled awhile and finally toppled over.

"Do I pass the test?", I said with a smile.

"Exceedingly so," she replied with a wide grin and some astonishment in her eyes.

Not knowing the appropriate historical phrase for thanking her for the coffee in an old fashioned western way, I simply parroted the great Bogart (one can hardly ever go wrong there in Tinseltown) toasting her, "Here's mud in your eye."  

"Mud in your eye, pardner," she replied with a wink. 

We touched our trail mugs together with a tinny tink and drank. 

It was without doubt one of the deepest, richest, most delicious cups of coffee I have ever had.  

"Mmm, delicious," I commented.  

Then we had a conversation so delightful it could have gone on for hours, would it have been appropriate.  But I was a guest in her house for the first time and didn't want to be impolite and overstay my welcome.  

She asked about my writing and I began to hold forth my vision of my work, the film industry I'd journeyed west to be a part of and all sort of other things creative.

After awhile, I said, "I don't want to hog the conversation, Audrey, why don't you tell me a little bit about you?"

She began to talk about the Cold Springs Tavern, and its history and her family to the degree it was polite without getting too private, as classy people do.  

After that we sat in comfortable silence drinking and just about the time my cup was half gone, I said, "You know Audrey, everyone talks all the time about your friend Jane -"

"Yeah, they do," she replied, with a slight wariness coming to her eye as she thought I was steering the conversation in that direction.  "Well, I just gotta say Audrey - they are a little insensitive when they do -", I said.  She looked a little relieved.

"And," I added, "they are also a little ignorant of something else."

She looked at me and said, "What's that?"

"You, Audrey Ovington, are well worth conversing about entirely yourself, no matter who you know," I replied, smiling and giving her a second tink on her mug as I took a big drought of the delicacy she had taken the time and care to prepare 
just for me.

I ginned my big horse grin as she laughed and laughed and laughed, banging first her fist, then hand, on the old wooden table till the shakers shivered some.

Then she said, "You just might make it in this town, if you keep up that attitude, Arthur."  

I laughed and we toasted again.  My coffee was nearly empty.  I could see the rough grinds at the bottom of the mug, testimony to the authenticity of the old western tradition I'd had the privilege of enjoying in the delightful company of this lovely, classy and cut from the true cloth of the nation lady.

The sun was getting low and she mentioned so.  I took the cue and replied it was time to get home and boy what a good night of writing ahead I was looking forward to now that my mind was settled and sharp.

She took it as a compliment with all the graciousness one could and told me how much she had enjoyed our conversation, inviting me to come up and see her at the tavern soon.

I said I would and thanked her again for the hospitality and she said I was welcome.

I walked home from there as it was not far away and in remembering this story I recognize that in some writer's lives such genuine warmth and comforting experiences can be few and far between.  

I decided to write about it tonight to remember a fine lady, the history she represents and the kindness she shared with me that afternoon long ago - millions and millions of words since then - but as fresh in my mind as ever any cup of coffee was ever brewed on the face of God's green earth.

Happy trails, tinseltonians.  

Warmly yours,
The Lone Comic TM
Defender of Creativity and Entertainment SM
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