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The setting: A Railroad Square coffee shop strung with Christmas lights and humming with conversation.

The characters: Three people, alone at separate tables. A man in a black cowboy hat. Another with an armful of tattoos. A woman whose necklace was a polished abalone shell.

The plot: The year ending approaches the year beginning, and glances back blend with looks ahead.

"I never really thought about it, but now that it's coming up, it gets you thinking about stuff," said the woman, Ellen Atzilah Solot of Sebastopol.

"It" is her 60th birthday on Jan. 7, a week into the new year, and the stuff on her mind, as it turned out over the next half hour, is a lot.

But first turn to another table at the Aroma Roasters coffeehouse, where Andrew Kostelak, 56, cowboy hat on his head, is reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" on his iPad.

"I've had people say, &‘Wouldn't it be nice to have everything you wanted,'" said Kostelak of Santa Rosa, an AT&T customer service worker. "I do."

"I do" means no New Year's resolutions. "I do" means a new house and the ability, once thought lost to tendonitis, to play guitar again. It means indescribable memories.

But before those details, cross the crowded room to where Matty Mangone-Miranda, 35, sits by a window reading "The 12th Planet" by Zecharia Sitchin, an alternative explanation of human origins.

"I don't know if this is the truth, but it's interesting to read and it's kind of a new journey," said the Santa Rosa resident with Chinese characters that he declines to translate tattooed on his right bicep.

The tattoos below his neck tell of another journey: fatherhood. They read "William" and "Christian," his sons, aged 8 and 6, prominent figures in his hopes for 2013.

Journeys. Across the room, the woman about to turn 60 considered her own of six decades.

"When you get older, you know some things," said Solot, a therapist, artist and teacher of a Chinese breathing and movement exercise called qi-gong.

And knowing that, she said, this year "I really want to connect with more young people "Suddenly I'm starting to get this sort of sense that some of the people who are coming up ... are really longing to connect with someone like me, because of the knowledge."

You know, Solot added, "I can't really relate to that I'm X number of years old. That's kind of defined, &‘Oh, I'm 60' — but inside, there's all this aliveness."

Andrew Kostelak looks back. His thoughts fly past 2012 to when he played guitar with the San Francisco Symphony in a Christmas cantata performance in Santa Rosa years ago.

"Have you ever played in an orchestra? It would be like someone describing to you what it's like to kiss someone," he said. "There just isn't words."

He carries that moment with him. Some years, like 2012, the pleasures are quieter, if no less meaningful.

"The house is a big thing and a lot of stuff connected with it that I didn't expect," he said. "I didn't think I'd be into doing the yard. I'm loving it."

And the surgery on his hand that allowed him to play music again, the blues, classical. The doctor who did it: "Dr. Mazur — I'll never forget him."

But looking ahead, what will be, he said, will be: "I believe God is going to take care of us."

"I don't know that I've got any big goals. I honestly don't get the whole New Year's resolution thing," Kostelak said, "the calendar date changes."

The year past was full for Mangone-Miranda, who owns two companies that produce films and video games.

"A lot of these projects that I've been working on for a really long time have come to fruition," he said.

On the way to that happening, it became evident, he said, that he'd grown.

"I had every opportunity on numerous occasions to quit — we all can make excuses," he said. "And what I learned is that, unlike earlier in my life, I don't know how to quit. I will see things through."

Still, there was a cost.

"I missed a lot with my children; it's really hard when you're gone for weeks at a time," he said.

"It's double-edged, I don't think I'd have the ambition I do if it wasn't for my two young boys," he said, "but that ambition has also impacted them."

So, there are things that this year he wants. Like, well, he's making a zombie movie. For that to hit it big would be great.

But there are other things, too, which rise to the top, he said: "To be better juggling being a businessman and a family man, and a father."

They were two men and a woman at separate tables who talked at length about the past and the future because one had happened and the other was about to. And in the present, at the coffeeshop on a sunny winter's day, they seemed content.

Around Solot's neck, the abalone shell necklace gleamed in the coffeehouse light. She laughed. The year is to change and she will change with it. And she will remain the same.

"I'm completely owning and claiming my own quirkiness, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jeremyhay