OK, now for some light-hearted, fun writing. I love Starbucks. People tease me for that, often saying, “But it’s so expensive! You pay $6 for a cup of coffee.”
I try explaining that I do “star dashes” and gather little gold stars on my smartphone that count toward free coffee and food. Plus, I get anything I want to order on my birthday! People usually roll their eyes or shake their heads, not believing that it could be fun and not-so-horribly expensive to frequent a designer coffee business. I don’t go out to dinner at restaurants, I argue. Doesn’t that count for something?
When my kids were teenagers, we often went to Starbucks in Southern California, sitting together outside under a green umbrella, wearing our summer t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, squinting in the sun. We talked and planned together, ate the Best in the World Lemon Cake, and got free house brew coffee refills because I have a Starbucks Gold Card.
When I was teaching English in China, Starbucks was very important to me. It was a SAFE, something-like-America place where I could hide away from crowded foreign streets. I got a cute keychain with dangling golden stars from the Starbucks near Shanghai (my favorite Chinese city). I took my high school students on a field trip to the Starbucks closest to their private school. We rode a bus and walked together, practicing English all the way. They ordered their food and drinks in English. We sat at connecting tables and laughed and joked in English. What better way to practice speaking like an American than in our own native coffee store?
Even in Turkey, where I lived the longest, I found a Starbucks in the port city of Antalya, its new sign next to an ancient wall and someone’s red scooter.
When I returned home to horribly expensive California after 5 years overseas, I was homeless for a year and a half. I drove for Uber Eats in Los Angeles, from Hollywood to Korea Town, from Beverly Hills to Old Downtown. I would deliver food and drinks all afternoon until late at night, then find a place to park my Chevy and sleep in it. In the morning, I would GPS my way to the local Starbucks, wash a little in their restroom, and sit down among script writers and film directors.
Starbucks was a leveling space where we all could be equal. I did not look homeless. I had my Apple laptop and iPhone in its unbreakable Otter case. I dressed nicely, wore silver and crystal jewelry, and brushed & clipped my curly hair. I sipped my usual grande, skinny vanilla latte with just a little whipped cream. Starbucks was always tolerant, like Los Angeles can be. Staff allowed homeless people in to sit awhile and use the restroom, despite disheveled clothes or wistful conversations with the air. Thankfully, I got a good teaching job in the Inland Empire and left LA.
Now I am back in Starbucks for hours at a time–finally able to write, to create something in this creative place. I lost my job teaching in a California High Desert prison. I used to bring Starbucks napkins in to my classroom so that my student inmates could use them instead of toilet paper for a runny nose. One of my paid inmate tutors told me,
“When they did count yesterday afternoon, the Correctional Officer listed contraband items found in our dorm. ‘One Starbucks napkin,’ she wrote in her notebook. I couldn’t stop laughing.”
Sometimes I miss that prison (and the steady income it provided). But now I finally have time to write again! I balance my silver laptop on my crossed legs as I recline in a padded chair near the wall of windows. I sip green tea I brewed at home and laced with lemon slices. At least it’s in my metal, banged-up Starbucks travel mug! As I eat my Premier Protein bar and orange slices, I justify my choices by noting that Starbucks doesn’t serve those 2 food items. If they did, I think they wouldn’t care that I bring my own sustenance when I have very little money. I thought of applying for a job here, but I’m a natural klutz who always spills or breaks things, so I had better stick to teaching. It does not involve liquid or ceramic cups.
On Valentines Day, I snapped a photo of the peppy Starbucks barista posing behind the counter, near the heart-shaped, pink balloons hanging with the ceiling lights.
In Starbucks, you can find amazing people in trendy LA fashion or creative costumes. At a Comic Con in Phoenix, I spotted girls dressed up like their Super Heroines. At a wintry, snowed-in Starbucks in the California mountains, I spotted monks warming themselves with hot drinks. In Los Angeles, I watched a girl enjoy her Quincenera, dressed like a princess.
I listen to romantic songs while checking out the bulletin board of local events. I ask the cute family sprawled at the long table if I can take their photo for this WordPress blog. I hand them my writer’s business card. They agree with smiles and pose for me. They are, most of all, why I love Starbucks. It feels like family.