begins in a flat, nearly lifeless town tucked somewhere between Dallas and Austin - called Killeen, TX.
I was fresh out of college and made it to a top 100 television news market in Waco, TX. I never thought I'd be able to attribute myself to a real news station and call myself a real reporter. I was tired of associating myself with my college television station or as a mere intern. I finally made it and was finally on my own.
But soon the whole, "holy crap I'm a reporter and I made it!" faded and I didn't even know what "it" was anymore. It would turn out that I'd be assigned to work in news bureau, 45 minutes away from the main news station in Waco. Killeen - home to Fort Hood, and the mass shooting in 2009, and, a few other shootings - would be my new home. Honestly, the people of the town were incredibly welcoming and genuine, but they themselves were always stuck in this middle ground of "I can't wait to get out of this town" to "Eh, I like it enough, I can stay."
Either way, this is how nearly every conversation began in Killeen:
Person: "Hi, so are you from here?"
Person: "Are you in the army?"
Person (eyebrows furrowed with curiosity): "Oh, is your husband in the army?"
Me: "Don't have a husband."
Person: "Is your family working for the army?"
Person: "Do you go to school here?"
Me: I know I look young bud but... "Nope. Graduated."
Person: "Then what the hell are you doing here?"
Then I would gather all the excitement I could to convince that person that I came out there for a television news reporting job and that I was really excited to be there. After several months I realized maybe I was only trying to convince myself.
News is extremely rewarding. You get to create something out of nothing everyday. You have the ability to make a difference in someone's life. You get to become an expert at something new everyday. And more importantly, the people you meet along the way completely humble you. You think you may have had a hard day, or a hard life even, and then you hear a stranger's story and it deeply moves you.
However, there is a balance in news stories; hard news vs. feature news. It's hard for a community to trust you when they can't trust your brand.
I was told once to go knock on the door of home where the parents just lost a daughter that had been hit by a train on the railroad the night before. I parked on the street with my photographer (or camera man - camera woman in my case) and called the producers and lied. I told them I knocked and no one answered. I couldn't do it. I couldn't find the news worthiness in that incident or the humanity in that. I hung up and looked to my photographer and she nodded in understanding.
Anyway, I lived alone in a remote city with higher crime rate than I would like. And I swear the only normal place to hang out was at the Starbucks off the freeway and the Starbucks in Barnes and Nobles. I frequented often - and I mean often. Eventually I grew tired of the same environment (Never grew tired of the books! Just the coffee... and I didn't know a damn thing about coffee back then.)
So, then I decided to Google other coffee shops in town. After visiting all two shops - one being a small booth in a parking lot where server girls that were very similar to your Hooter girls served coffee. There's a "double D cup pun" in there somewhere, but I just don't have the energy to remember it.
So, I said to hell with it - I am going to Austin. I drove to Austin to run and for a coffee shop.
I forgot to mention I'm an avid runner and couldn't even find places to run in Killeen. So I packed my backpack and laptop and clothes to change in the car and headed to Austin.
I don't think a city could be as colorful as Austin was that day - or any day. After running 12 miles up and down Ladybird Lake, I found solace (I found - and I don't think I'm exaggerating) a little salvation in Mozart's Coffee. It sits lakeside with a food menu and bottomless cups of coffee.
Now here is where it really clicked - and it is so simple. I walk up to the side table with the different coffee blends and in laminated tags the names read across the coffee "Guatemala Blend, South Africa, Ethiopia" and I think for the first time I really thought about where does coffee come from? Suddenly, the thoughts in my head rushed at me like a massive wave as I sat on the outside porch facing the lake:
"Where does coffee come from? How does it get here? What is even the difference from where its from? What is coffee anyway - like I know it's roasted but so they pick the bean?" (which now I know they pick coffee cherries! It's so trivial and I am still wildly entertained by this little fact.)
And so I began reading, I began going to other coffee shops and just bombarding poor, lovely baristas with an infinite amount of dumb questions.
Then I figured, why not blog about it. Coffee was my next big story.
And during that time I learned that sometimes you need to let go of things that are not meant for you, because greater things are ahead - and I kind of feel like coffee is going to take me there.
And so I began blogging on the simple idea of coffee shops and their stories. I've always loved travel and my friends started calling me a "nomad" long before I ever began travelling.
I think it is because I cannot stay put in one place for too long (okay, the coffee is partially to blame).
But honestly, I'm pretty enthusiastic about life and can get so passionate about a place that I just ... go after it.
One summer I lived abroad in London through my school's program. But because it was a very, structured program, I felt like I never really put myself out there, I never really got out of my comfort zone. I came back from the trip wanting more - not feeling at all satisfied.
I decided to go to a place I've longed to go to and to do it through a program that was outside of my university's (and three times cheaper) that I knew no one in - and lived in Barcelona for 6 months. Long story short, I lived out of my comfort zone, befriended a local and travelled to many, many places. You can check out my amateur blogging at thebarcelonadventures.tumblr.com :)
For me, traveling is that feeling you get once you step onto a plane - Or maybe it's a car! or Hell it's just a step toward to somewhere you have never been before! It's a little bit of excitement, fear, endless curiosity and adventure. Travel is made of the conversations you have with a local street vendor. Travel is the moment you decide you don't need a map; you will wander through the streets and discover more about the city than you ever could have with GPS. (This is the reason why I love going on runs in new cities and places.) Travel is also the food, the people, the culture.
And of course, it's the coffee. While living abroad I found coffee shops to be my comfort zone. People took their time to talk, to listen and to connect. It's funny. No matter where you are in the world, I believe you can find home in a coffee shop.
One day I hope to travel to all the different places that produce the amazing stuff. South America. Ethiopia. Rwanda. Indonesia. Guatemala. It's a hefty list.
So, until the next time I board an international flight, I will make due with all of the amazing coffee shops and cultures America has to offer. It is why we are so great. There is endless diversity, craftsmanship and stories among the establishments here in the good ol' USA.
So, for every good cup of joe made with passion in this wonderful world,
The Coffee Nomad
(And since we got a little personal and all - My name is Erica :)
Editor's note: As of January 2017 I started working for a green coffee buying and sourcing company. Dreams do come true.