One morning on my first visit to San Francisco to see Cathy, we got coffee in the neighborhood, at Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club. It’s an eccentric little place, with studiously quirky interior details and a parklet outside, handcrafted from local driftwood.
The coffee was excellent: a smooth, full-bodied medium-dark roast. Rounding out the eclectic yet focused menu were toast (hefty buttered slabs, sprinkled liberally with cinnamon), coconuts, and… grapefruit juice.
But the reason Cathy took me to this specific craft coffee shop in a city full of them, was to meet her friend Giulietta – the owner of Trouble, and an open water swimmer. Cathy knows Giulietta through China Beach, the main alternative to Aquatic Park for OWS in San Francisco.
It’s been nearly two years since my first taste of Trouble. In the interim, Giulietta has become something of a local celebrity, as “artisanal toast” has begun popping up on hipster-food menus throughout the city. Trouble is widely credited as the originator of this trend.
But this story goes far deeper than mere toast, and that’s why Giulietta recently became the first open water swimmer (as far as I know) to be featured on This American Life.
People will find different meanings in Giulietta’s life story. It’s a struggle (and ultimate impasse) with mental illness. It’s a built-from-nothing, up-by-the-bootstraps small-business success story. It’s about the importance of communities and support networks.
And to me, it’s a story about open water swimming – the healing power of the sea, the emotional benefits of cold water, and the camaraderie of swimmers.
Giulietta was struck by a pair of Russian men, climbing out of the ocean after a swim. I should mention here that almost year round, the water at China Beach is cold enough to make you hypothermic after a few minutes.
“These strong men, just coming out of the ocean; and I was so weak. I was the walking dead. I wanted to be that strong and come up onto that sun deck; and they were so alive.”
- Listen to Giulietta on This American Life - Episode 520, Act Three (“The Hostess with the Toastess”).
- And read the Pacific Standard magazine article it was based on: A Toast Story, by John Gravois.