Sunday, March 3, 2024

Where Everyone Knows Bear's Name

As my health improves and my legal cases wind down, I’ve begun applying for post-lawyer and law-adjacent jobs. Recently a friend suggested I reach out to a local bar leader to chat about his experiences. Although we have mutual friends, I wrote in my introductory email that we hadn’t met.

He graciously invited me to lunch next week. But he disagreed with me:

“By the way, we have already met in Fairhaven. Your dog Bear and my dog have met at least.”

Everyone knows Bear. And Bear knows everyone – especially everyone who’s ever offered him a treat.

Bear’s ideal walk is a six mile “Grand Slam,” which involves three treats in Fairhaven, two along the Boardwalk, and four downtown. The newest addition to our route is the bank. Recently their security guard saw us in the parking lot and asked where we were going. I told him I was using the ATM after going across the street to the post office to get my mail and Bear’s treat. The guard told us our longtime Chase branch also has treats. Now Bear is a regular customer.


When the tellers first met him last month, Bear was still wearing a tee shirt to protect his bite wound. I got to tell everyone the story of how an unleashed bulldog named “Bubbles” almost killed Bear at Christmas. On our next visit to the bank, the goofy bro teller was the one who brought out the dog treat. He asked if my wife had been in a couple of days ago with Bear. He remembered a lot of the details about Bear and Bubbles. But he didn’t remember me. 

Most days our first stop is at Village Books in Fairhaven. As Bear lunged toward the front door yesterday, I heard a gentleman on the sidewalk with his golden retriever marvel “They let dogs into the bookstore?” 


Not only are dogs welcome in Village Books, but there are treats waiting behind each counter. Bear knows our rule – only one treat per establishment per walk. But he’s allowed to say hi and get backrubs from his friends at any counter. So Bear will try to get me distracted enough for him to bum an extra biscuit off some weak-willed bookseller.  


I heard the internal Village Book staff newsletter announced Bear had a haircut this week. Everyone is startled by the contrast. Yesterday a clerk at one of the counters leaned down to ask my dog if he wanted a treat. Then she saw me and realized it was a shorn Bear. 


At least she recognized me. But she only knows Bear’s name.

The best treats are at Chrysalis Inn, the biggest treats are at Rumors, and the most treats are at Village Books. But Bear would say the best company is at Acme Ice Cream. 

A sign on the door identifies Acme as “dog friendly.” The photo montage of canine regulars on the wall prominently features Bear. In addition to sharing waffle cone fragments and gourmet treats from Mud Bay, the ice cream scooping baristas have taught Bear to shake. On busy days, Bear charms new customers while patiently waiting in line. On quiet days, the ice cream scoopers and I socialize while Bear enjoys getting scratched. 


When Bear and I started our long daily walks during covid, the manager Maddie asked me to introduce myself. Since then every Acme employee has always greeted both Bear and me by name.

When Eleanor and Lynn had frequent braces appointments on the other side of downtown, Bear and I would often go on waterfront walks through Squalicum Harbor. There used to be a coffee shop in the marina with homemade dog treats. Whenever we’re in the neighborhood years later, Bear will drag me across acres of parking lots to see if this particular coffee shop has reopened.


The former coffee shop’s owner recently opened a pastry place downtown. Yesterday I went in to check out the wares, tying up Bear outside. The cashier looked out the window and exclaimed “I love Bear’s haircut!” She told me she knows Bear because she’s friends with one of the ice cream scoopers at Acme. 

The bank, post office, and gay bar are all closed on Saturday mornings, so Bear’s only treat option downtown is Avelino Coffeehouse. I go to Avelino for the exceptional baked goods and to show off Bear’s manners.


Yesterday a man with two canes ahead of us in line was invited to give Bear his treat at the counter. The man walked out beaming, and said “That made my day!”

I never tasted coffee until I was twenty-five. Now I’m a terrible coffee snob. In fact, since the Terminal Building burnt down in December, there’s only one place in Bellingham where I’ll order coffee.   


A couple of years ago Facebook kept sending me links to articles with headlines like “Best Coffee Shops in America!” that highlighted Bellingham’s Camber cafĂ©. Eventually Bear and I passed Camber on one of our walks downtown. Here’s the sign next to the door:

We love dogs, we love your dog, however:  for health and safety reasons we must ask that you do not bring your dog past the front counter. The only exception is if they are a registered service animal with a vest.


Please wait outside with them and we will bring your drink out to you.

Everyone is very welcoming to Bear as we wait to be served at the counter. Then Bear and I go outside on the patio where I give him water and a treat from my backpack. 


I’m sure their dog treats would be delicious, but Camber doesn’t serve pets. Instead, Camber has amazing coffee. The ambiance is elegant yet comfortable. And they remember my drink. Last month the barista came outside and said “the order said an Americano with walking room and three shots, but I assumed it was a mistake and you wanted four.” 


Although I only visit Camber a couple of times a month, I’m always greeted by name. The last time I stopped by alone, the woman at the counter called me “Roger” and asked how “your dog” was doing. I’m sure all the baristas at Camber know Bear’s name. But they know I don’t need to hear it with my coffee.