A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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March 2008, vol 4 no 1

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Tad Wojnicki


Sipping a Cappuccino in Oldtown Salinas

         I drive Main Street past the National Steinbeck Center, watching the zooming and vrooming. Since the Center opened in 1998, I’ve seen visitors from all over the world showing all possible driving styles and street-crossing habits. I ease off the accelerator and remain alert for joggers.

                                      the health nut
                                                sucking in the fresh
                                                                   exhaust fumes

      I go down Salinas Street till I reach a seedy parking lot behind the Cherry Bean Café where the Steinbeck Feed Shop used to be.

      Oldtown starts at the National Steinbeck Center at 1 South Main Street and ends at Main and San Luis. Three blocks, that's all. "Oldtown is so big," a nudnik says, "the signs, 'Welcome' and 'Bye-bye' are both nailed to the same post." Well, close. I love it, though. It’s homey. Three blocks, tons of guts.

                                                          blooming downtown

     The Steinbeck Center is full-blown postmodern, but it sits well  at the head of Oldtown, lifting its dome off globing fruit, fading its hues into furrows, and sucking its warmth from the sunbaked Toro breast.

                               suddenly the school bus
                                       doesn’t blend with the hills
                                                            --  spring

      I park my Mustang, grab my scratchbook, and slam the door. My horse sinks well into the lot, sponging and fixing the smells of the hood.

                                                    antiques shop
                                              Greek god smashed
                                                   on dusty shelf

      Taking in the air—a blend of rosebuds and bath salts—I look down Main Street to Mount Toro. City parts like a mouth for a breast. Farmland is felt. Fresh furrows fly open for seeds. I smell the sweet smell of dirt. The perfume of globing apples, plums, and peaches thickens, making me slightly sick.

                                        downtown sidewalk
                                                   cherry petals
                                                                clog the cracks

      Cherry Bean is full of laughter. Before the mechanical horses hit the road it was full of horse laughter.

                                                   wasting the time
                                                   at the sidewalk café
                                                 day moon

      I like to plop at the table overlooking Main Street, sucking in the perfumed air, nibbling on my cup, and giving things a thought. I get a kick from the klezmer weeps and reggae chills they pump in through the loudspeakers. For long, when I was rustling up pennies for their basic fare, the Steinbeck Blend, they let me thief refills. One perfumed morning, they gave me hell.

                                 petals drift
                                         to the other side
                                                       wine shop shut

      The Steinbeck Feed Shop closed. The gas had pushed the oats out, but the horse laughter took root. No wonder, bookish men horse around, firing up the imagination.

                                                    eyes down
                                                    between the sheets
                                                    tall tales

        Big brainstorms hit me here, like that day—years into trying to nail my Mexico tale down—when it hit me the tale wasn’t my tale at all, but a biblical bubbie mayse about getting tossed for bad behavior. I just happened to have lived it.

                                           zooming and vrooming
                                              fading into espresso