In Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, coffee shops sleep in late.
I’m navigating the blue cobblestone streets of a 500-year-old town — the oldest town under the U.S. flag.
In my caffeine-deprived state, my steps look like a newborn giraffe trying to gather his first unbalanced steps.
The tiny hotel we are staying at is 45 minutes past getting the 6 a.m. morning coffee out — and with no signs of an employee around.
So, taking matters into my own hands, I venture out in search of the inky-black liquid energy drink my body craves with the breaking of each sunrise.
The rusty black wrought-iron gate slaps closed behind me — and so comes the realization I didn’t think to learn the code. I hope coffee will jumpstart my brain cells to life, manufacturing a creative life-saving solution. But my immediate plan remains to find coffee. And fast.
The newly minted sunrise warms my body like a heat lamp. Summer is a perpetual state in the Caribbean islands.
Squatting two-story buildings brushed in pastel watercolors line roads so narrow the rooftops seem to hug one another. Parked cars quietly line the streets like a long colorful gemstone necklace stringing to the horizon.
And then picture a mind-numbed only-rolled-out-of-bed-10-minutes-before caffeine junkie looking for his first fix of the day. Of course, I know this tanks the romantic vision, but so be it.
After a few moments, I realize there are more bars open at sunrise than coffee shops. Thump, thump. A slow, low boil of panic builds inside me.
Wandering takes me to the doorsteps of a half-dozen small coffee shops yet to even consider opening. The start of the day in Old San Juan is at 8 a.m. I feel like an outsider in his own country.
After enough stumbling around to confuse even a compass, I see two tall, dark wooden doors propped open ahead on the left.
I enter a small lobby where a young man sleeps in a burgundy wing-back chair.
“Buenos dias,” I say. “Como estas?”
The young man grunts awake. I must look desperate — or at least a big disappointment compared to whatever he was dreaming about.
I quickly get down to business.
“Si,” he says. “Un Momento, por favor.”
He walks across the black and white tile floor to a slumbering stainless steel cappuccino machine.
The machine sounds angry about being awakened so early, fighting him with every tweak and adjustment.
We both begin to laugh, each sharing the same desperate state of waking unconsciousness.
“Si, por favor.”
The machine returns to combat mode, emitting creaks, and resentful hisses echoing into the cavernous room.
Moments later, he finally smiles. His efforts successfully extract a tiny cup of caffeinated juice from the beast. He’s won a hard-fought battle.
He hands me a small paper cup. I offer to pay — he stops me, drawing his palms together, pointing them upward.
“The first cup of the day is always on the house,” he says in English. “It is good luck.”
I smile, and bow respectfully, thanking him. My day is suddenly perking up.