My Starbucks is just across the street from the Metra and Amtrak. That accounts for some of the folks who are regulars I guess. Commuters and wanderers.
I come here too many times a week to admit in public. It’s one of the few places I can focus and work. Despite the tweens. God help us all. Kids have to learn to behave like grown ups somehow, and our Starbucks is apparently part of the process in my little town.
I used to come here and immediately get to work, but now I have to say hello to all my fellow regulars. They change by time of day. A group of retired folks are the ones I end up talking to the most. They make me want to retire. They’re lively and opinionated and friendly and warm. I’ve gotten to know them pretty well over the years.
Starbucks is my home away from home, as pathetic as that might sound. The baristas are lovely. The other day we got to meet two of the kids of one of our baristas. It was like meeting family. They know us, they keep up with us, they notice new haircuts, and they notice when we’re not here for a few weeks.
The nighttime crowd is a bit different. When I come here at night it’s usually because my family isn’t home and I don’t want to be alone in the house. I keep to myself at night. I put my headphones on and avoid eye contact.
There’s a sadness in the nighttime crowd. There’s the woman who is here every single day, at least every day that I’m here, with her bag on wheels. I don’t know if she’s homeless, but she certainly carries a lot with her. She also has a credit card and is able to purchase food and drinks. She has angry eyes and has no time at all for pleasantries. She sometimes watches me, especially when I’m with my daughter.
I held the door open for her the other day as she was going out and I was coming in, and irritation flashed across her face. She talks to herself sometimes. Just a little muttering like I do at home when I’m washing dishes. I worry about her, but I’m not sure why.
There’s also the young woman who writes and writes and writes in a Moleskin notebook. Huge looping letters made with a ballpoint pen that seems to engrave the page as she goes. She surrounds herself with stuff—bags, pens, notebooks, purses. She spreads the stuff out like a wall to protect her from the rest of us.
She erupts in conversation sometimes, talking to someone, but not to anyone the rest of us can see. I can’t make out her words, but they’re animated. Sometimes she looks scared. Most of the time she looks vulnerable. I’m glad she has her notebook and her words. I hope they comfort her like mine comfort me.
There’s a guy I see occasionally, too. I started up a conversation with him once about his glasses that were almost covered with glitter. As we talked for a few minutes, it occurred to me that he wasn’t making much sense. The words were in order and referred to real things, but they didn’t go anywhere. And then his eyes wandered and his conversation changed and he wasn’t talking to me anymore.
There’s also the old guy who comes in and all the baristas brace because he shouts. He’s friendly, but he shouts. He says cheerful things, but nonsensical things.
I’ve noticed that a lot of these people aren’t buying anything. Sometimes they have a coffee. But mostly, they’re just living their lives in a Starbucks. The shouting guy just comes in to go to the bathroom. He shouts all the way in and all the way out.
The baristas treat me like they treat everyone else, with respect and kindness. There’s no judgment, at least not where I can see. They take us as we are. For better or worse, these are my people. I’m here living my life in Starbucks, too. I’m just one of the regulars.
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