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Chris Erskine: Plying a lot of coffee gift cards

So I am in my second week of getting up too early; 5 a.m. some days. Staring back from the mirror at that hour is a bushy-browed James Whitmore, the avuncular family man from “Guns of the Magnificent Seven.” Who knew that personal renewal could be such a shootout?

Fortunately, I received $3,200 worth of coffee gift cards for Christmas, a sign of our times. I am always impressed by the Big Idea, and to think of all the coffee shop owners throughout history, up like me before the sun, grinding, brewing, barely making ends meet.

Then one day, some madman decides to make coffee as you would a milkshake – filling the cup with sugar, whipped cream, chocolate bars and every other known confection, and boom! … Starbucks, Coffee Bean, et al.

Next thing you know, I have $3,200 in coffee gift cards in my wallet, the biggest financial asset in my portfolio.

Oh, what an overly caffeinated holiday apocalypse we had. The girls bickered and the boys bongoed on each other – the usual.

The best gift: a late-afternoon Christmas hike with the kids, just before one of them flew off to the heartland. My heart grew three sizes that day, another sign of personal renewal.

My own quest for personal renewal is more subtle. It involves waking up earlier, as discussed in a recent column, after I realized that many of my buddies – at least the overtly successful ones, the ones who drive oversized BMWs and smugly park them on my lawn – all wake up at 5 in the *&$^#!%*&%$ morning.

It was a holiday epiphany, this waking up extra early, though what I would do with the additional time was a mystery. Go out for 60 cups of coffee? Fight for a treadmill in the busy, post-holiday gym?

Strangely, I did none of these. I wrote, which is something I’ve done many times before. I wrote.

I write early and often, and occasionally to great effect, though not nearly often enough. Even a blind pig finds an acorn of truth once in a while. Keeping at it is most of the battle. People rarely fail; they merely quit.

I tell that to aspiring writers all the time, that writers usually fail because they give up on themselves. I also tell them that writing is a muscle, and you have to jump on that treadmill every chance you get.

I’ve always been very blue-collar about writing. Get up, get at it. Assemble words as you would a large, delicious drink.

So in the spirit of new things, I now rise before the sun butters the horizon, seeking the next Big Idea.

To date, all I’ve come up with are retirement strategies. The best, and most hopeful, is to pinball across the country, stopping in towns along the way. Kuralt meets Kerouac.

I’d travel by foot, or by mule, or occasionally by canoe. I’d stay in each place a week, and at the end of it, I’d write a letter to the editor of the town’s paper giving my impressions:

“Dear editor,

“Think it was Ibsen who said a community is like a ship, and everyone should be prepared to take the helm. So for a week now, I have studied your fair village and come to the conclusion that your shipmates are completely and gloriously nuts. Some certifiably so. But good souls, mostly.

You have a remarkable and fetching little hamlet, marked by the faint body odor of hobbits. I blame most of your problems here on poorly timed stoplights and the lack of a first-rate vineyard. But there are other reasons, both geographic and psychotropic. Many of your townsfolk simply sleep too late. Let me explain. …”

When finished, I’d drop the letter at the newspaper office and move on to the next little American town, hemmed in lilacs, oaks and Walmart vapor lights.

Wandering around telling the truth may not be my best Big Idea. But, hey, it’s a new year. Give me a little time.