Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Liberal Oasis in A Conservative Corner of Colorado – With Great Coffee

“Look, a real coffee place,” my lovely, eagle-eyed wife said as we drove onto the main drag in Cortez, Colorado.

We had decided at our son’s birth that he would see the splendor of the American Southwest and, nearing the end of our 12-day odyssey through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, we had arrived in Cortez to view the beautiful Mesa Verde National Park. While I’ve learned to deal with the thought of spending precious vacation time and money in states that have -- in all cases but New Mexico in 2000 -- twice voted for George W. Bush, accepting almost two weeks without a decent cup of coffee was a sacrifice I had not anticipated.

But there, like a beguiling desert oasis, sat the Silver Bean, a coffee and espresso bar housed in a vintage, 1969 Airstream Overlander trailer.

While the Silver Bean had a convenient drive-up window, I was surprised to see a sign welcoming me to “come on in” and sit in the 17-foot morning savior. After getting my coffee and opting to plant myself on the tiny patio in front, my blue-state ears perked up when I overheard some decidedly anti-Bush dialog coming from other patrons – who, incidentally, all had a look about them that suggested they would be equally at home in New York City or San Francisco.

I then spied some of the cars in the Silver Bean’s dirt parking lot and was equally shocked to see a collection of bumper stickers, on multiple cars, in support of the Green Party and Kerry-Edwards. I even saw one sporting a “no W” sticker.

My first thought was that I had spent too many days hiking in the sun. This was not possible in a rural area of Colorado. I had to get to the bottom of this.

I thought earlier that I had found a kindred spirit in Wendy Mimiaga, the woman working the Silver Bean’s counter when, while talking to another customer about the Dick Cheney shooting fiasco, I heard her make a comment that warmed my heart. “If it’s going to be open season on Republican lawyers, I’ll learn to shoot a gun,” she said with a sweet smile.

When I entered the trailer to get a refill on the best cup o’ Joe I’d had in 10 days, I introduced myself to Wendy. She laughed when I inquired about seeing such a liberal bent in such a conservative place – Cortez is in Montezuma County, which voted for Bush to the tune of 64 percent in 2004.

“Let’s just say that very like-minded people gravitate to here,” she said cautiously.

It turns out that, in addition to being co-owner of the Four Corners Free Press – a local newspaper, whose name refers to an area 40 miles away where the states we had visited share a common corner -- Wendy is also the chair of the Southwest Colorado Green Party.

Given her strong Green Party affiliation, we talked at length about the shortcomings of the current incarnation of the two-party system, with a good amount of time spent bashing the current band of crooks running the executive and legislative branches of our government.

With a degree in Economics and having previously lived in Atlanta and other larger towns, she manages to keep her activist spirits up, despite living in a part of Colorado dominated by the GOP.

“It’s hard sometimes, but somebody’s got to do it,” Wendy said. “And we’re making real progress here.”

As she took time to help and exchange friendly chit-chat with other customers, I marveled at how much the Silver Bean managed to cram into such a small space. Founded in 1998 by Gigi Schwartz, the business serves everything you would find in a Starbucks – and then some, including some magnificent-looking breakfast burritos that made me wish I had not already eaten.

The indoor “reading room” consists of the refurbished Airstream’s built-in sofa, kitschy knick-knacks and decorations, magazines and an ample supply of the Four Corners Free Press.

I left elated that I had found such a liberal paradise in this conservative part of the country and vowed that I would keep in touch with Wendy Mimiaga.

You may never get to visit the Silver Bean but, if you’re ever anywhere near Cortez, you’ll be very glad I told you about it.