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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the January 7, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Kathleen McGinn Spring
My friend Margaret works high up in city administration in Trenton. Her job requires her to live in the city – but not to buy her morning coffee there. So, bypassing the city’s cafes, she heads out of state each morning, crossing the bridge to Pennsylvania, site of the her favorite Dunkin’ Donuts outlet. Margaret is addicted to the chain’s coffee and cannot start her workday without it.
But her coffee run has been the subject of nasty speculation. Questions have been raised about whether she actually lives in Trenton. If so, why on earth would she be traveling in from Pennsylvania at 8:30 a.m.? She doesn’t care. Her morning pit stop of choice matters more than anything.
I understood just how she feels on the horrible morning last November when I complacently turned the corner at Alexander Road and University Place in Princeton, spied an unoccupied parking spot, and pulled in, happily anticipating the start of my own workday morning ritual – a visit to the WaWa convenience store.
It was closed. Closed! Not permanently, thank God, but a sign said it would not reopen for a month.
Where was I to get my morning papers, bagel, and fountain diet Coke? Beyond these basics, the well-stocked WaWa had been a fine source for the Pepperidge Farm very thin oatmeal bread I often run out of mid-week, as well as for cat food and other essentials that need to be dragged home, but that often don’t seem worth a trip to a supermarket.
Then there was the issue of cash. WaWa’s twin ATMs (no waiting) carry no surcharge. Where was I to get the cash I might need for lunch or a little noontime shopping?
No single spot on my drive to work from my home in Trenton contains all of the above basics. And certainly none supplies them with the cheer and efficiency that characterize that wonderful WaWa. My drive to work, up Route 206, had been planned with the WaWa stop in mind. I needed to find another route.
Trying Route 1 North, getting on at the Brunswick Circle, I found little comfort. The one gas station on that side of the road, I learned, does not carry either the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal. It doesn’t have fountain soda, either.
The only other pit stop near the busy highway is Einstein Bagel on Route 1 North. Pulling in, I stumbled into a whole different world. My bustling WaWa is populated with construction workers in coveralls, many of whom seem to know one another, big contingents of Princeton University employees, white collar and blue, students in shower shoes, a few moms with strollers, and quite a few elderly townies doing substantial shopping. There are office workers in line, but for some reason most are dressed casually. There are few ties.
At Einstein Bagel, by contrast, suits were everywhere. Laptops, calculators, and spreadsheets were much in evidence. People were obviously interviewing one another, pitching one another, and helping one another prep for meetings.
It was a parallel universe.
Sadly, there was little to recommend the place beyond some fascinating eavesdropping. The fountain soda machine was broken for long stretches. The newspaper boxes outside were frequently empty. On days when they did happen to contain papers, invariably, it was raining. Or snowing. Feeding eight quarters into the boxes in the teeth of a cold rain was no fun.
As for service, the less said the better. My service memories are encapsulated in the one morning during which three employees fought, pretty loudly, over which one would have to wait on me. There were sociological insights to be gathered, though. No other customer seemed to fare any better, yet good manners prevailed on at least one side of the counter. No one stormed out; no one complained.
But all of that is behind me now. The University Place WaWa is open once again, all fitted out in an industrial chic metallic black. There is still a little confusion over how the line, now winding around a large new octagonal center service island, works. But no matter. The pleasant young man manning the lone cash register in service at 9:44 a.m. was quickly joined by a colleague when the line grew to four people. It appears that quick service will remain the order of the day in the spiffy new store.
There were stacks and stacks of newspapers on hand, 24 pots of steaming coffee were lined up, and seven more pots were brewing behind them. Nine flavors of cappuccino were at the ready in a new machine. The two fee-free ATMs were in good working order, and the conversation was pure Princeton. Two construction guys joked about their kids, while two co-eds discussed the unusual ways in which they had recently observed Africans carrying their money.
There was not a suit in sight, but all was right with the world. A month of cobbling together the morning essentials – a soda from a fast food drive-in, newspapers from boxes outside of the West Windsor train station, cash from a $1.50-a-pop bank ATM – were over.
I appreciated as never before the importance, the sacredness really, of the first commercial transactions of the working day. I now fully understand why my friend Margaret travels out of state first thing each morning. The joy of morning coffee – or diet Coke – served up in just the right way, with all the essential accompaniments, cannot be underestimated.
Welcome back WaWa!
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