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.

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The Ups and Downs of a Nomadic Existence

Moving around is hard. Trust me, I know. New York is one of the many stops in my young adult life, and along the way, I have learned a cornucopia of things about living life on a pogo stick.

For starters, making friends in adulthood is virtually impossible, like actually landing a ring on one of those ring-toss bottles at the fair or making it through a first date without at least one awkward silence. I say virtually impossible because it is actually possible, just really difficult to do. The American way, as we all know, is to work work work and then catch life in little pieces as we find the time. Now, there are definitely benefits to this, namely our economic superiority (our GDP is still over 2x as large as our closest competitor, FYI) and our universally-known work ethic, both praised and ridiculed at the same time and often by the same person. But, on the downside, we have become a society that is only concerned with the “ME” in “TEAM.” Casual conversation is hard to come by, and without an already established social circle and avenue through which to meet friends like a college campus, sports team, or an acceptable pool of work colleague non-weirdos, meeting people is akin to going to the dentist, painful at best. People walk with their heads down and a neon sign on their chests that says “Don’t talk to me. Ever.,” especially in the amalgamated metropolis of New York City.

I have never been one to have extreme trouble making friends. I am not the most outgoing person; in fact, I am quite shy. But, I’m not quite weird enough to scare people away and my southern accent oddly intrigues people. I’ve learned that accents are kind of like Woody Allen films; for reasons that no one can explain, most people like them. Even with those things on my side (lack of extreme weirdness and southern accent), making friends is still proving to be incredibly challenging.

I looked into taking Spanish classes to meet people (even though I already speak Spanish), but they want to claim your first three children and garnish your checks for life as payment. No.

I go to coffee shops and do work, serving the purpose of getting out of my tiny apartment while also thinking in the back of my head that I might bump into someone and somehow strike up a conversation. Nope.

I take walks in Central Park, always aware of the lingering possibility of falling into conversation with a stranger. Not so much.

I have gone to a few gatherings organized by colleagues after receiving the ever coveted I-know-you-just-moved-here-and-have-no-friends pity invite. Ultimately though, I had some conversations with new people but didn’t meet anyone that struck me as “friend material.” Maybe that makes me pretentious and/or picky, but I think that as an adult, being a bit picky is good when it comes to friends.

I had a bit of a romantic encounter that I managed to ruin after about a month, which as you will find out over time, is not at all unusual for me. But, at this point, my social life pretty much consists of playing guitar, watching TV, doing work, and cooking. Alone. With time, I know that it will get better. I will meet more people, make friends, and have a chance to really explore the city; however, none of those things are the case at the moment, and sometimes, I have to consciously remind myself that things will change with time.

Not all is lost, though. In my short time here, I have gotten pretty good at navigating the city. I walk almost everywhere, and when I do take the subway, I know where to transfer and how to zig and zag through the intricacies of New York City transit. I have been to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and a Mets’ game at CitiField. I have walked all over Central Park. I live next to the Hudson River and can go check out that view any time I’d like.

Overall, I am enjoying my experience in New York and I have enjoyed my experiences in my other cities. Being a nomad at this age has given me the chance to live in several places and to learn about many different ways of life while not yet having to worry about some of the more adult issues that will inevitably crop up as I get older; i.e. wife, kids, real responsibility. The loneliness that I feel when I first move somewhere is admittedly difficult to handle, but I honestly believe that learning to cope with loneliness is a worthwhile endeavor. Many peoples’ fear of being alone is a key motivator in their life decisions, and while I am not in any way knocking that tendency, I would like to keep it out of my personal repertoire of reasons for doing things. I know that when I look back at this period of my life, I will look at it fondly and be proud of the places that I went and the things that I accomplished.

Nomad spelled backward is Damon. If my name were Damon, that would be a cool fact.

More to come.