Gravel & Grind – 124 S Carroll St, Frederick, MD 21701
A bike shop + espresso bar. I don’t think a better combination exists. Yet, here I am, at the Gravel & Grind on Carroll Street, in the heart of downtown Frederick, trying to figure out how I didn’t know about this place before. Does the rest of Maryland know? If not, you should.
My thoughts are that we have coffee and a bike. How do they go together? A bike is a mode of transportation. The entire point of riding is to start at one place and end up at another. Coffee is the antithesis of all this movement. There’s a lot of sitting down, taking slow sips, and staying. Put the two together and you get friction.
The same can be true for writing a romance novel. The two main characters must work against each other in the beginning. They don’t immediately go together as a couple. One of them is at a stationary point in life (our coffee drinker). The other is moving in a different direction (our bike rider). A story is divided into three sections. The before, the in-between, and the after. Characters each carry with them their own bag from the past. A heavy bag full of inner-struggles, faults, even lost dreams. As individuals, they can only avoid their problems for so long.
Until the location forces them to meet.
A setting is pivotal to the story. A coffee shop like Gravel & Grind, for example, is where one might start the story. A business man stands outside, debating whether to go inside. He’s never been here before. This isn’t his scene. His luxury car has broken down and he decides to go inside and grab a cup of coffee while waiting for the tow truck to arrive. He’s in a bad mood.
He walks up the stairs to the entrance, passing by the stacked tables and chairs—filled no doubt during better weather. He steps inside the all-brick building. The reader knows he will find something unexpected, as did I upon entering the shop.
Immediately a row of bikes lined against the wall catches his attention. The last time he rode a bike was…? It sparks something in him. A reminder of long Saturdays meant for getting on a bike and going somewhere. Touring the city. Mountain biking in the country. A lifetime ago. Freedom. He narrows his eyes and sees there’s more than bike riding available. There’s equipment he can rent for weekend camping. Bikes and camping. He loosens his tie. He wants to ditch his suit jacket and rent a bike. But he can’t.
He looks around. Bike gear and bike racks hang on the wall. Shelves are full of bike-related accessories, mugs, bags of coffee beans, water bottles. Candles are for sale. Camping gear for rent includes a two-person Nemo Tent, mummy bag, headlamp, cooking kits…It’s been forever since I’ve camped. The writer hints that the story might unfold if he would try something he used to do as a kid, something that brought him joy.
Large white lights are strung from the ceiling. Around the corner he finds a large coffee bar with a chalkboard menu. The laid-back atmosphere isn’t his type of place, but he looks at the menu, checking out the latte, espresso, even breve (espresso with steamed half & half). There’s food too, biscotti, bread from local artisan bakeries with a side of almond butter and jam. He orders a mocha with a shot of cayenne pepper, still thinking about how it would feel to rent one of these bikes and tour the city or the countryside, anywhere else—and get away.
She is sitting at the counter off to the side with her laptop open. Our heroine frequents the place. Her schedule has more time for sipping coffee. She’s trying to figure out how to do life. Maybe, she lives around the corner on Church Street. This is her place. She bikes in the good weather and camps with friends. She sees him and he sees her. That’s where a story begins, the moment two characters acknowledge each other.
They are now in the same space.
“Do you bike?” she says, knowing she’s never seen him here before.
Their adventure might be just getting started, but for those of us looking for something in the real world, I’d recommend this place to anyone. Bikes, rental equipment, coffee, all you need is right there waiting for you.