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Column: Fill 'er up! Grab a cup of coffee and read on

WORTHINGTON — I am thinking of something from a long, long time gone by.

A young man — a friend I won’t name — is sitting at a Worthington lunch counter, and he is holding a coffee cup at eye level. “Fill ’er up,” he says to the waitress behind the counter, and she fills his cup with coffee for the second time. There is nothing remarkable about this. This was America of that time. In the exact instant a Worthington man was saying, “Fill ’er up,” there could have been 1,000 other young Americans at coffee counters all across the vast land holding out cups and saying the same words.

That expression came from the nation’s experience at gas stations. When an attendant came to pump gas in your car you might tell him, “Fill ’er up” or, maybe, “Fill it up.” It tickled people to say the same thing about their coffee.

In the time I am recalling coffee was five cents a cup. Oh — maybe a dime a cup in Fantle’s tea room at Sioux Falls, but a nickel a cup at Worthington’s Victory Cafe on 11th Street or Doni’s on Oxford Street. Lynn Anderson’s cafe on 10th Street or the Green Lantern across the way.

I have sometimes guessed America’s coffee packers took a lead from America’s gas refiners. When the packers saw the gas refiners charging $4 a gallon they looked at their bank accounts and said, “Fill ’em up.” So it came to be that restaurants bring their patrons a full thermos of coffee and charge accordingly. “The Bottomless Cup.” Worthington stores that boast of low prices — stores across America that boast economies — offer 7.5 ounce packets of coffee for $12. Sure. Oh, there are 10.5 ounce cans for $4, but the price of coffee probably exceeds the price of gas.

When you hear restaurant customers with gray hairs on their heads saying, “I’ll just have water,” you should know some of them are saying, inside, “I’m never going to pay a dollar (or a dollar-and-a-half) for a cup of coffee. I’ll just have water.”

We all have many remembrances of coffee drinking. Just now I am recalling Worthington’s City Council and City Hall staff, mostly in the era of Mayor John Fenstermacher. In that era, local residents often stopped by only to tell City Council what about Worthington was irking them. Council meetings adjourned at 11:30 p.m. or midnight. Everyone then headed for the Depot Cafe for coffee. Discussion of city affairs ceased. Talk might be about the new Plymouths at Buysse Motors or the asparagus crop or a new television antenna.

Could everyone sleep after drinking coffee at midnight? Well, I think so. No one ever seemed to complain or to decline. Each of us is the same/different, and I certainly cannot know how coffee may affect you or how you feel when drinking coffee. I have to make this a personal experience. First off, let me say I may be one of the first latte drinkers. My mother’s family was a coffee-drinking family. All of them. If you went to visit Aunt Paulina or Aunt Anna, the first thing they did for you was brew a pot of coffee.

This made me want coffee, but the rule was I was too young. Nevertheless, someone would pour a teaspoon or tablespoon of coffee for me in the bottom of a cup and then fill the cup with milk or cream and some sugar. I was enjoying a latte and I didn’t know it.

I continued on coffee through the passing decades. About two years ago I got put on a medication that made a mouthful of coffee taste like a mouthful of coins. After all those years: “I’ll just have a glass of water.”

Lately the medication was changed. I am back with The Golden Brew once again, now in moderation. Ahhhh —

Talk of coffee keeping someone awake; I look forward to my coffee because it takes tensions out of me. Coffee relaxes me. I feel better. For me, coffee seems more an opiate than a stimulant.

Coffee is no longer the ubiquitous, universal drink of times not long gone by. Many people prefer a Coke. They just don’t know.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.