A Cup of Coffee at the Starbucks Circus

Going to a coffee shop to do some work or to relax a bit is a very popular thing to do in New York City, especially after the 12+ hour work day that most of us endure. And, while I am sure that there are local options for grabbing a cup of Jo or tea and hitting the interwebz on your laptop, “a coffee shop” here refers almost exclusively to Starbucks, seeing as how the Seattle-based chain has a virtual monopoly on WiFi-providing, nonalcoholic beverage-offering establishments in this city. Perhaps it doesn’t have an actual monopoly on this market, but it sure has the appearance of one. Starbucks stores dot this city like freckles on a redhead, and finding one is as easy as stepping outside of your apartment and simply opening your eyes.

With Starbucks’ popularity comes a downside, however. Getting a seat in a Starbucks in New York City is like winning some sort of lottery about which you get way more excited than any adult should about a chair. The number of customers looking for a place to sit and sip their drinks is astounding, and most Starbucks have a relatively constant line and a perpetually occupied floor of tables and chairs. If you are lucky enough to win one of these golden seats, you have also won the privilege of being stalked by vulture-like creepers who pace about the store, lingering around particular tables and staring, waiting for you to get uncomfortable enough to surrender your seat. Some people even approach you, letting you know that they have decided that it is now their turn to sit in your seat and use your table as if there were some sort of unwritten time-limit or perhaps they have been declared Ruler of the Universe without your knowing about it.

The best part about winning one of these highly-coveted seats is the free ticket that comes with it. You see, New York City Starbucks stores are actually part of an apparent traveling circus in which various acts mosey around Manhattan and the other boroughs performing their side show routines for anyone needing a little impromptu entertainment along with their drink that is inevitably way too hot or way too sweet to actually enjoy.

Here are some of the observations from my New York City Starbucks adventures so far:

  • A tiny little old Asian lady in a sailor outfit was standing by her table at a relatively busy Starbucks angrily yelling at the employees and customers. The thickness of her accent made it basically impossible for anyone to understand what she was saying, but I’m pretty sure the gist was this: She was mad. It was our fault. The End. And, I know you probably think that I made up the part about her wearing a sailor outfit. I didn’t.
  • A man, ostensibly homeless, with soiled clothes, a long yellow-tinged beard, and an incredibly dirty backpack decided to get a cup of coffee and rest in a Starbucks. He was filthy, and so were his belongings that were sitting in the chair opposite him at the table. Because of the incredible busyness of the store, an employee came over and very nicely asked the man to remove his things from the chair so that other people could use the unoccupied seat to sit down if they wanted. He responded by saying that he doesn’t like putting his bag on the ground because the ground is “dirty.” The very confused employee looked at him, looked at his filthy bag, looked back at him, paused and quietly walked away.¬†Ostensibly Homeless Man – 1. Starbucks – 0.
  • A man came into Starbucks once and set up his post at a table near the door. He took out a miniature Christmas tree, placed it on the table, and then began pacing back and forth across the restaurant mumbling to himself. Every so often, he returned to his seat, removed something else from his bag, placed it on the table, and then continued pacing. I never saw him purchase a drink. His Christmas tree was beautiful.
  • A strange old lady frequents the Starbucks at 75th and Broadway. She carries large grocery bags full of who knows what. She finds a table, sits down, and places her bags on the floor. She has a walkman, circa 1990, that she uses to listen to some sort of music while she rocks back and forth and stares at everyone. Making eye contact is the equivalent to openly challenging her to a staring contest, which she will win. Every. Time. Also, I’m pretty sure she uses a red Crayola marker to apply her blush.
  • Some of the baristas prefer that you order twice, once to the drink maker and then again to the person at the register when you get up there to pay. This is especially useful at the busier stores because they can go ahead and get drinks started while customers are still waiting in long lines. The problem here lies in the fact that this is not a universal policy or practice, and you never know when walking into any given Starbucks whether you are going to be expected to order once or twice or to whom you should direct your one or two orders. Naturally, most people assume that the register is where you place your order, and usually, they would be right. But, I have seen many a barista yell “Hello!!” or “What do you want!?” or “Hey! Excuse me! Hello!? Hey! Sir!” at many an unsuspecting customer who has no idea what to do because there are now two people taking his order and he doesn’t know how to react. Pick one, Starbucks. Do you want me to order once or twice? Getting yelled at is embarrassing. And, yes, “many an unsuspecting customer” is me.
  • Many people who go to Starbucks in New York City are incredibly impatient. They spend four whole minutes reciting their unnecessarily complicated and pretentious drink order at the register and then go stand at the delivery counter that all of us know and love. Even though they see fifteen other people waiting on their drinks, all of whom were there before them, these impatient folks continually ask the barista if the grande coffee in a venti cup with 2 pumps hazelnut, 2 pumps vanilla, 2 pumps caramel, 2 equals and 4 sweet and lows filled to the top with cream, with extra cream on the side, double cupped with no sleeve, a stir stick, and stopper put in the top is ready. No. It’s not. So how about you go stand over there where I can’t see you and wait patiently like the fifteen other people that were here before you are doing? Hm? It’s either that or I slap those fake Gucci glasses off your face and give you a noogie in front of all of these people while they cheer me on and shower me with confetti. You choose. Ass.

Over time, I hope to add to my crazy-things-I-have-seen-while-minding-my-own-business-at-Starbucks list. I have a feeling that updating this list could become one of the highlights of my existence.

More to come.