Not once in my life did it ever cross my mind that I would be living on Lake Michigan, far from my house and land in the Idaho Rockies, and even farther from an ocean. I told my son, “We don’t have to move to Grand Haven. Your grandfather can afford to fly you and your mom back and forth.” His ten-year-old brain answered, “You’re writing a book. Your girlfriend Nancy is gone. Why not move there. I don’t want to live so far from Mom.”
And suddenly we were camping across Montana and South Dakota in July and August only to find ourselves in an alien culture. A church at every intersection and an American flag in every yard. Well. At least we knew what country we were in.
I rented an old funky house two blocks from the main street downtown. My first morning was a serious wake up call. What the hell was I going to do in this town? The locals treated me like a tourist. If they engaged at all, they quickly realized how alien I really was. What was an ex smuggler doing in “The Coast Guard City of America”?
Then one day I saw a sandwich board sign advertising coffee at the restored Grand Haven Armory and everything changed. It is amazing what a great coffee in a welcoming café can achieve.
8:30 in that late September morning, just having dropped Casey at school, I groggily walked up to a bar artfully built of recycled lumber. The barista was a young woman who moved and spoke with a maturity that could only come from extensive travel, so I was hopeful she could make me a proper cortado. It was good, and even came in the correct glass. I hunkered down at a bar table in the brewery end of the room, set up my MacBook and started working on my story.
Over some years I had been working on a nonfiction narrative, a story of a five-year slice of my life as a smuggler in the Indian Ocean. That very day, I started writing, and continued until the book was finished. It turned out that the Armory was far and away the most sophisticated community in Grand Haven and, for me, Aldea was the epicenter of that community.
The Aldea staff has made it possible for me to live in this town. Having worked in Honduras with coffee growers, Jeremy and Andrew returned to Grand Haven to put together a retail outlet for their coffee. They started with a business model much like the one Yvonne Chouinard used when he created Chouinard Equipment… Hire great people and treat them fairly.
They initiated a kind of incubator for their customers to pursue creative endeavors, friendships, and to have intelligent discourse. Every person who worked at Aldea while I was writing “A Smuggler’s Guide to Good Manners” owns a piece of that book.
I have always been a storyteller, but at that point had not written anything since English 304 at City College of SF. My writing technique was to order a coffee and tell the tricky part of what I was working on, while whoever was barista made my drink. If I could keep their interest, I would take my drink to my table to quickly get it down before I lost it .
Then there was my heroine’s diary, sent to me from Kenya. Arianna was a wonderful character, a true hero in every sense, but her writing needed an editor. I arranged for Brittany to talk to Arianna in Kenya. Brittany is a barista and an administrator at Aldea. Close to Arianna’s age when the story took place, she was the perfect editor for Arianna’s journal entries.
A shout out to the Aldea creators, Jeremy and Andrew, for all their advice, editing, and encouragement. And thanks, to all of you at Aldea for all the input on the new story.