Cate Roser

If there’s one thing New England is known for other than Tom Brady — and subsequently the Patriots — or the iconic color change of the leaves in autumn, it’s the Dunkin’ Donuts at every street corner, highway exit and service plaza. Once you cross the New Jersey border, kiss Starbucks and any other coffee chain to ever exist ever, goodbye. Fuck your $6.50 venti latte in that skinny ass cup. I’m drinking a delectable vanilla iced coffee for $3.57, and I added six shots of espresso at no extra charge.

I’m from Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m not proud of that — no one is. Even Michael Jordan says he’s from Chicago, and he’s Michael Jordan. Anyway, we have three total Dunkin’ Donuts locations and they all opened five minutes ago. For every 500 cars that pass through the Starbucks drive-thru, there are about 3.5 — Priuses only count as half of a car, and there’s always a fucking silver Prius in the North Carolina Dunkin’’ drive-thru — to pass through Dunkin’’s. There are various possible explanations for this. The first is staffing. Sometimes, you walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts in North Carolina, and there is no one behind the counter. Or outside. Or in the bathroom. The second is people, for some reason, like consistency with their coffee. These are the same people who don’t give a fuck about consistency in their relationships, but when it comes to coffee, they aren’t risk takers. And sometimes, you walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts in North Carolina, and you order the exact same matcha latte that you did two days ago, but today it has a sour twinge with a hint of rancid instead of the just-whole-milk-in-a-cup taste you experienced two days ago. The third is that Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t always live up to its name. Sometimes — sorry, most times — you walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts in Raleigh, North Carolina, you discover they do not, in fact, sell donuts at all. Because somehow, at nine in the morning, they are “Out of everything except bagel bites, and while we recognize those get sold in pairs, we only have one left.”

I have a prime-time, New England Dunkin’’ Donuts right under my apartment on Chapel St. in New Haven. Like literally, right under. Like so right under that if I tried to plug it into my GPS from my apartment living room, it would just say “Arrived”. And I dread going. All I have to do is take the elevator downstairs, and I never want to fucking go. And they’re staffed. And every time, you know what you’re gonna get. And they’re never out of donuts. But God — getting off the couch and going downstairs is harder than it seems.

When I’m home though — in the gloriously below-average state of North Carolina, I make the 15-minute drive to the local-we’re-out-of-everything-roll-the-dice-for-which-drink-you’re-gonna-get-today Dunkin’’ Donuts. And I can’t go a day without it. Even if I have an 8 a.m. commitment, I’m in the Dunkin’ drive-thru line at 7 a.m. Sorry — not the drive-thru-line — right at the window because no one was in line before me and no one was there to take my order at the ordering microphone either. 

I started drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee about 8 months ago. It was my third semester of college online, and I decided to spend the second half of it living at home. My brother, who was a high school senior at the time, had absolutely nothing to do. So, he made one of his new hobbies driving to Dunkin’ Donuts every morning and bringing it back before finishing his last days of high school from his bedroom. I never woke up early enough to go with him, but every morning, I’d wake up to a large cup of coffee waiting for me on the top shelf of the refrigerator.

The coffee thing sort of slipped into routine. I always thanked him, but it wasn’t an emblem of our siblingship or the love between us or anything like that. Whenever either of us went out, we just asked if the other wanted anything. It was a basic exchange of goods made on our father’s credit card. There was nothing to lose and airline miles to gain. For every $1 spent, you earn 1 airline mile! And also for every $1 you spend, your flight gets delayed 9 hours! What a fucking fantastically shitty deal!

But then my brother Paul — an 18-year-old brown boy with a 60-year-old white man’s name — went to college in Chicago. And at the end of September, I came back home for a weekend to visit, and for the first time, he wasn’t there. And when I went to the refrigerator that Saturday morning and there was a 3-pound bag of goat cheese on the top shelf and no coffee, the shit hit hard.

But seriously, the coffee sitting on the top shelf every morning subconsciously became an ode to our siblingship. Opening the refrigerator was a reminder that he was there. That I always had a friend. The consistency of that coffee was something I didn’t realize I had taken for granted until he left. Anytime I needed to scream or complain or laugh or just aimlessly talk because I was in need of human interaction, he was there. And that coffee — the first thing I looked for when I woke up — told me that he was. 

Paul is on the quarter system. I’m on the semester system. Our winter breaks had very little alignment this year. But sure enough, the new breakthrough of Omicron kept us at home for a little longer. We were back on Zoom school and had five weeks together ahead of us.

This time around, I set my alarm at 8am everyday so I wouldn’t miss him pulling out of the driveway. Sometimes I’d run out with no shoes, sleep in my eyes, mascara smudged on my face from the night before and half a shirt on, but I never missed a morning drive to Dunkin’ Donuts. Sometimes we’d vent our frustrations. Sometimes we’d talk about our favorite comedians and comedy bits. Sometimes we’d pull over and watch funny cat videos together. Sometimes we’d listen to history podcasts or Bob Dylan. Sometimes he’d drive, sometimes I’d drive. He always got donuts, I always got coffee. But he’d always let me have a bite of his donut even though he never asked to take a sip of my coffee. And every time, we’d always take new roads home which ended up extending a 30-minute round trip to a 90-minute one. We’d drive through our old neighborhood and reminisce on our childhood. Or find new sitting spots by the lake.

Those drives in the morning were my equilibrium. They cleared my head and provided me with a baseline of happiness before I started my day.

Paul left for college last weekend, and I’m still here for another two weeks. The day after he left, I set my alarm to wake up at 8. I went to his room to ask, “Ready?”, but got met with a bare mattress whose sheets were already in the washer.

I still make those drives to Dunkin’ in the morning even though most of the time, the coffee is fucking awful, and they’re consistently out of everything. It’s not the same without him, but sometimes I take the long way home and listen to the Bob Dylan songs and history podcasts he showed me. New England Dunkin’ coffee might be the best tasting coffee, but it can’t beat the Raleigh Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. For no other reason than the fact that rancidness is so in right now.