My self-challenge today is to do two things; get out of my comfort zone and write what I see. So here I am.
I’m sitting on a bench lining a twenty-foot wooden table at Starbucks. On the wall behind me is a chalkboard map showing the “Three Coffee-Growing Regions of the World.”
I’m uncomfortable here. I don’t like being alone in public places. I don’t know what to do with my hands or where to look. I slip past the double doors, head down. I round the perimeter of the room, practicing my order in my head and then place it. I opt for a tall, hot, caramel macchiato and a spicy chicken Panini because this Starbucks doesn’t offer a sweet green smoothie and I’ve just finished exercising and must eat something. The drink is simply a treat.
I slide into the least visible spot I can find before I breathe again. I don’t have my laptop with me. I wish I did. If I had, I could prop up the screen and hide behind it—becoming the cliché of a writer feverishly typing while downing multiple, twenty-ounce coffees. Instead, I have a dinky notepad that’s spiraled on the top.
At a square table on my left, is a group of four chatty females; two are likely in their forties, the others are teenagers. All talk simultaneously at one another.
To my right is a twenty-something-year-old man clacking away on his silver laptop. He might be attractive, from my peripheral he has waves of honey-colored hair cropped on the sides and uproarious on top, but I don’t dare to look directly at him. Opposite him is another twenty-something-year-old woman, with long hair, wearing dark glasses, also typing on a computer. Occasionally the woman tosses her hair over her shoulder and speaks to the man. I’m unsure if they know one another or if the proximity and their nerves make them talk.
Another man, quiet, mid-thirties, bald and wearing a dirty brown hoodie, sits on the other side of my bench. He’s also on his laptop, working, and rarely looking up even at the explosion of voices coming from two teenaged boys who’ve entered.
Two men occupy the furthest tables in the restaurant, both sitting by themselves, both on their laptops and close together, but alone. One has a shaved head and is wearing a navy sweater and polished leather uppers. His jeans look newly pressed. His right knee jumps and bounces to an undistinguishable rhythm and without the man’s notice.
The second man gets up. His hair is dark and disheveled. He leans against the counter, in a gray striped hoodie and blue jeans, waiting for a coffee refill. A black backpack hangs off one shoulder. With his renewed coffee, he backs out of Starbucks, staring over his shoulder as if considering something he’ll soon forget.
In the middle of the room is a tall table with café-height chairs running down each side. A young woman slouches on one of the chairs. She has spiraling black hair that spills from a red-knit beret. She holds a phone in her hands, her thumbs whittling at the screen, her head not moving. Periodically, her right hand snatches the Venti-sized coffee cup in front of her. She tips her chin up, takes a sip, replaces her drink, and continues typing. Her eyes have not deviated from the screen, nor has her posture straightened. She reminds me of a tortoise poking its head out of its shell to drink the hot beverage and text.
A handsome man with chocolate skin enters. He’s probably six feet tall. He’s wearing compression tights under navy basketball shorts and a body-hugging t-shirt, exposing arms that mimic braided bread. He scans the room before approaching the sweet-faced blonde barista behind the counter. He orders a coffee, takes another visual swipe of the room then sits four chairs down from the tortoise.
The Sesame Street song, “These are the People in your neighborhood,” plays on a loop in my head. After three and a half bites of my overtly spicy Panini, I’ve decided I don’t like it, and my coffee is waning.
The black man takes his order without his name called. He leaves. The tortoise looks up and watches him go. I’m surprised that during her texting she’d noticed him. He disappears into the parking lot. She returns to whittling at her phone.
The chatter has died down with the teenaged boys and the four talkative women gone, despite their replacements, a bottle blonde amongst two brunettes. I finish my macchiato. The sun is out, poking holes through woolen clouds.
Suddenly, I’m aware I’m not uncomfortable sitting here anymore because I was distracted by being in the moment. I realize, next time I’ll be okay being at Starbucks by myself because living in a community, I’m never truly alone.