Tony Phillips in Signature:
A big blue bus is parked in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. It is now branded with the familiar logos of a verdant sun, leaf and lightbulb certifying it an environmentally-friendly green, but other than its solar panels, sustainably forested wood and hybrid generator—and the fact that today it’s dispensing $16 cups of imported coffee—this is your bookmobile of yore, launched in 19th century England as a horse-drawn “perambulating library” and gaining traction in our own country as a pre-war, WPA project. But today, it’s been hijacked by bestselling author Dave Eggers and his latest subject, Yemeni coffee impresario Mokhtar Alkhanshali.
Alkhanshali is, in fact, standing on the steps of City Hall, mere blocks away from his free-range childhood in the rough and tumble Tenderloin district that plays in Eggers book like a Steven Spielberg-directed Oliver Twist. The City Supervisor, borrowing Eggers latest title, has proclaimed today Monk of Mokha Day and now Alkhanshali—I’m just going to start calling him Mokhtar because everyone else does—is at the mic. And knowing San Francisco’s head librarian Luis Herrera, who fought hard for and won his city’s impressive seven-day library week, is in the crowd, the fast-talking Mokhtar can’t resist a play for clemency. “I said I may or may not owe the library a few books,” he relays on a call the following week, “so I asked him to give me amnesty.”
It’s something the 29-year-old is quite used to – both chasing the American dream here at home to deliver a coffee from his homeland, ranked number one by industry bible Coffee Review, to being chased himself when a Houthi coup at the beginning of 2015 interrupts his bean-grading tour of coffee’s birthplace, which has unfortunately also birthed a civil war that seals all exit points. Guns? Sure, but that’s nothing new for Mokhtar, having seen his first gun in our country at the tender age of 11. And the aforementioned fast-talking? It’s a bitch to transcribe, but he’s able to put one of his $16 cups of coffee into play to jive his way out of a hypothetical parking ticket. It’s also handy when you’re mistaken for Houthi by opposing forces still loyal to ousted president Abdrabnuh Mansour Hadi, blindfolded, and tossed in the back of a pickup, then casually informed, “We plan to kill you.”