Keith was the owner of the Renaissance Cafe on Pacific Ave in Tacoma. Michael and I became regulars (or the irregular regulars as he called us) eating there at least once a week for 5 or 6 years.
We loved how Keith on quiet mornings would just come sit down with us and start chatting. The three of us would lament over the direction of our government, technology, and the general problems plaguing society today. It became this little alternative safe haven. The three of us toying with ideas and potentials for change. We admired how Keith operated on a cash basis and hated debt as much as we did. We watched as his business expanded and contracted with the season or economy.
His battles with Starbucks, while infuriating, were quite hilarious. Every now and then, the employees at the Starbucks next door would put their coffee grounds down the sink drain and it would overflow into Keith’s cafe. We watched as he went head to head with them until they fixed the situation. Some days we would count how many people would come and go with their stupid red cups. “Their coffee tastes like burnt shit, but people can’t stop paying $8 for it,” he would state emphatically. When he was feeling particularly spunky, he would put out a sign, right by the entrance of Starbucks, that said “50 Cent Espresso!” or “$1.00 Lattes at Renaissance cafe” and we would laugh all morning that literally NO ONE would come in and redeem the offer. People are conditioned to hand over hard earned money to that huge corporation.
Keith always joked that his place was “like a bed and breakfast only you supply the bed and I supply the breakfast.” Keith’s was the place we would go to disconnect. Most of the time when we left, we had no idea what time it was. We would feel as though we had been gone for hours, or when life was really stressful, like we had been gone for days.
When Michael decided to become a therapist after the Army he was cautious about who he told. When he would tell military friends they would scoff, “Oh captain Long is going to talk about feelings all day.” His own family were “concerned it wasn’t right” and laughed it off. But when Michael told Keith there was nothing but respect. Keith encouraged Michael in a way that I couldn’t.
Keith and his cafe were so much more than a friend and place to us. It held a space in the world to embrace ourselves. Seeing Keith be so authentic and passionate made us want it for ourselves. As we spent more time there being our weird selves, dreaming our unconventional future got easier and easier.
“I am retiring somewhere warm where my hard earned money will go a long way,” Keith declared. We responded, “we are sick of having to go on vacations, we wanted to live where we vacation.” At the time these felt like more of our whacking idea exchanges. But as time went on taking steps towards these ideas became more and more of our conversation. Keith started to share he was growing tired of the cafe and of Tacoma. Mostly he was tired of how cold society has become. That young college kids would come in with their computers and cell phones and be “like freaking cyborgs!” The three of us longed for a slower life with less concrete. “Tacoma has become sterile. How many birds have you heard today?,” he asked one day as I came through the door. I began to feel the same. Must we pave everything?
And finally, in October 2014 when Michael and I returned from Europe and were in the process of moving to Bend we visited Keith. He announced, “I’ve sold the cafe. I can’t believe it.” It would be owned by someone else by January 2015. Though Keith didn’t like technology, he agreed to a family photo (pictured above).
Michael and I left that day with equal parts joy and sadness. We were so happy that Keith was going to retire and we were going to live where we vacationed but we all knew it was possibly the last time we would see each other.
And it was.
Keith’s final lesson he left us with was a reminder that life is too short to do things you hate or to pretend to be something you are not.
We are so grateful to have met Keith and to continue living out some of his truths.