Thursday, October 13, 2005

Morning Exchange

(The painting above my desk is by one of my very favorite Chicago artists, Marketa Sivek. See more of her amazing work here.)

I stopped at Starbucks after dropping off my daughter at school. I’d already had my morning cup-o-joe but I longed for a connection with other adults before returning to my empty home, if only for a brief consumer exchange.

Starbucks is one of those major franchise operations that I despise on principle, but secretly enjoy. There is a hip, privately owned coffee lounge in my neighborhood that I want to love, but don’t. They have a bigger space, local art on the walls, comfortable seating, and healthier food options. I go there occasionally, but it is usually filled with smoke and the employees are sometimes too cool to be nice and too hip to bathe. The smoke isn’t intolerable. I am an ex-smoker who quit long ago but still love the smell and the sensual curling trails off the end of a butt. I just don’t want to carry it with me for the remainder of the day. Nor am I a clean freak – I think our country has an unhealthy obsession with hygiene. For myself, I’ll settle with a whore’s bath and some lipstick. However, for the morning coffee stop, I find it unappetizing to see the crack of the barrista’s ass because his hipster jeans have failed to meet his hips.

At the local Starbucks, the folks are clean, make eye-contact, and most seem genuinely friendly, at least they try to be. This morning I arrived at the end of a rush. I selected a bag of beans to be ground and ordered a medium pumpkin spice latte. I usually have just coffee – reminiscent of simpler times when coffee light with two sugars and a buttered roll went for a buck fifty. And I refuse to order my coffee size by Tall, Grande, and Vendi. These words still hold little meaning to me. Cute, young, twenty-something with exquisite blue eyes asked how would I like my coffee ground. On some days this question would be really annoying – ground? Isn’t that the answer?

“Paper cone,” I answered.

“Would you like anything else?”

Mmmm, just to wallow in your eyes. “Ah, no.”

“That will be $15.44.” I handed him a twenty. “Let me grind your coffee first.” He returns with the bag. I hand him the twenty again. My hand jitters from my earlier coffee buzz – or anxiety. “Are you in a hurry?”

“Oh, ah, no. Heh (nervous laugh). No – just used to being quickly processed through this place.”

He smiles. “But there is no one behind you.”

“You’re right, what’s the hurry?” He hands me my change. “Just to rush home do the dishes.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Yesterday was laundry day. Hey, have a good day.”

I smile, “You too.” This was what I came for, what I paid for - just enough contact to ward off the lonely birds. I gave the homeless guy two bucks for the new Streetwise issue and went home resolved to write.


  1. Found you through Crazy Us awhile ago, but I usually lurk.

    I don't like the Tall, Grande, and Vendi options either - it seems silly.

    In case you want to needle your local Starbucks one of these days:

  2. Thanks for the link. Very interesting and informative site. It's ironic that the bag that I'd purchased to take home was their fair trade coffee. It was placed right at the register and I'm highly prone to react to product placement. Next time I'll buy it because I'll be a better person ;)

  3. Beautiful story. Great writing. And I know what you mean--about just wanting a moment or two of that interaction sometimes to make things feel sane again.