I wrote the following sketch early one morning while sitting in Druber’s, eating a peanut butter doughnut and a coffee stick:
Druber’s is kind of like a cave. It is old and full of old things: an old oval mirror by the entrance, matching nothing else in its near vicinity; old coffee mugs hanging on the walls; an old tube television for firing up and gathering around in the case of a national emergency, no doubt; old stained wallpaper and wood paneling; old, cloudy-yellow, sagging counters installed in some former decade; Old plastic plants, old stains that have slowly, secretly sealed themselves into their respective crannies as time has passed; an old ceiling that has developed holes like a well-aged cheese; an old microwave, from the dawn of microwaves; and, in the morning hours, old people, reading morning papers, laughing throatily, discussing local news and sports (at the moment, boy scouts, blue algae and Bill Self) telling stories, cussing, kidding each other about getting older, taking careful stock of strangers who come through the seating area, complaining about the government; saying, “Take care; see ya,” when their friends get up to leave and “Where y’been?” when they show up. This is their haunt, and as their spirits grow older they become more attached to it and haunt it more often. At intervals, one of the older men picks up a pot from the coffee counter and walks from table to table topping off cups and joining the table’s conversation. Like good patriots, they drink a whole lot of coffee.
Ah, the coffee—It won’t win any roasting awards and might even be called “weak” by snobs, coffee-shop types and hipsters (depending on the degree of hip in the hipster). But it is a workman’s coffee—mild, simple, effective, consistent. It tastes slightly old, no matter how fresh the batch, taking on the character of the place—incorporating its particular aura, age and smell. That smell is chiefly of doughnuts, frying and cooling at various delectable stages behind the counter. There are all types of doughnuts: bear claws, coffee sticks (highly coveted), peanut butter, maple and chocolate long johns, cake doughnuts, classic glazed, wheat glazed, cream filled, fruit filled and more. And these are the center of the business, what the people come to see (and not just to see!). Their smell makes the air thick, warm and pleasant, morning or night.
But Druber’s is not only for early risers. On Friday night at eleven o’clock, it takes on a whole new character like an actor playing two parts. The average age of its customer drops from seventy-something to twenty-something, and its description goes from, “Local haunt of the old and talkative” to “Cool place to be” (not that those two things are mutually exclusive). The tables are full of people and the air is full of sounds—a din of laughs, yells, orders, cash registers, jokes, cell phones, exclamations, doors closing and doors opening. There are Tabor College students from Hillsboro, Berean Academy students from Elbing, local Newton High students, families, visiting friends and relatives there to see the famous Druber’s Doughnuts, people of all colors in all manner of dress and disposition. Some sit alone, looking sullen, nursing a milk and a long john; some play card games; some only pass through; some stay and talk until 3AM. And still the cheerful employees, make doughnuts, sell doughnuts and give away smiles like the pleasant, hard working people they are.
After the long night, comes another morning and with it comes a steady stream of customers-in-a-hurry wearing their work clothes, filling flimsy dozen or two dozen boxes with doughy delights, paying hurriedly (cash only), and racing off to work, school or home with their treasures. Druber’s, in a very real sense, is a hub of city activity—a triumph of local economy—spreading its wares from Applewood Lane to Victoria Road. On a given day, its doughnuts can be found in classrooms at the High School, in the hospital, police station and city offices; the road construction at Highway 50 and Anderson road; in a tractor cab planting a field just east of town; in the sticky hands of a happy child at Centennial Park and on countless kitchen counters on both sides of the tracks. I have lived and traveled in Europe, and with all their culture, crumpets, croissants, strong coffee and cafes they have nothing more sui generous or less ostentatious than Druber’s Doughnuts of sixth street, Newton.
R. Eric Tippin
In the Study on 8th Street