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Where Everybody Knows Your Game

In the months following my move to sunny California, I find myself bored and longing for more of a sense of community around me. I often feel detached from my New York lifestyle. I find myself missing the deadlines and the mad rush to finish one task after the other.

In an attempt to retreat to something familiar, I find solace in a brown leather chair by the window of the Starbucks at the corner of my street. I set my laptop on my knees and work away the late afternoons sipping on my cappuccino the way I used to in New York, hoping to suddenly recapture that “NYC energy” that always inspires my writing and my art.

Just as I prepare to lament the absence of those colorful New York characters I used to encounter on a regular basic, I am suddenly reminded that this Starbucks which I have somehow made my temporary office, provides enough entertainment and life if I would only observe my surroundings.

This entertainment is of course unknowingly provided by the “regulars”, the characters that enter this coffee chain on a daily basis with their predictability. To name a few… the following are the minor characters of my new LA experience. (They have obviously been renamed for effect).

My earliest encounter was with Bob, a middle aged single man who struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder. He comes into Starbucks to study, but can never concentrate on his open book for longer than five minutes. He is the friendliest bloke who makes friends with any stranger who walks through the door, completely oblivious to the judgmental stare he gets from the middle aged Hispanic woman beside him. He knows everyone by name and has a detailed explanation for just about anything. He usually orders a tall cup of water. However on the rare occasion that he orders a cup of coffee, I think to my self, “NO! The last thing you need is more caffeine!”. I secretly hope that the unhappy girl behind the counter would have the good sense to give him decaf.

At least Bob is harmless unlike the forty something Joe Smooch, the Casanova of West LA. His love life is always the talk of this Starbucks. Everyone knows about his careless relationship with the 22yr old blond Tricia who worships the ground he walks on. Their sex life and dramatic fights are often the topics of discussion over a hot latte. Like Bob, Smooch also has a short attention span, only his attention is usually gravitated towards the chest of a female stranger. His lack of subtlety drives the tormented Tricia to tears and anorexic behavior. In the end, her crying and yelling makes her look like the psychopath while Smooch somehow comes off as the innocent victim.

Just when I think I have experienced crazy, I am suddenly aware of the older gentleman who has just sat beside me and can’t seem to stop staring right at me! In an attempt to divert myself from his attention, I turn to the young Iranian man on the other side of me to ask a random question about how to get someplace. He actually turns out to be normal. But then he ends up sharing his life story with me proceeds to ask me for advice on matters of the heart! I am so desperate to make friends in this new city so I indulge him.

Then there is Madam Chatter, an older Jewish woman who stops in after her Kabalah sessions. She is the official CNN of our Starbucks. If there is ANYTHING one needs to know about any of the “regulars”, Madam Chatter has the scoop. She comes over with her walking stick and hints whenever someone is seated on her usual seat. The sitting customer is usually guilted into giving up his seat for Madam Chatter. She is a nice lady but can’t stop talking. In fact she can’t keep a secret if her life depended on it.

This afternoon, I finally pull out my ear phones to get up for a minute. These are the earphones I wear when I am pretending to listen to music but really just want to be left alone while I work. “Will you kindly watch my stuff?” I ask Madam Chatter as I go towards the counter for more coffee. As I finish paying, my sharp ears pick up Madam Chatter’s voice whispering to the lady across from her. “… and he does commercials. He just moved here from New York. His father was Indian…”

I then realize that Madam Chatter is talking about me! Yes, … I have somehow made it to her list of juicy topics! It suddenly dawns on me that I might have become one of those Starbucks “regulars”. Amidst the junction for homeless friends, colorful characters and caffeine addicts, I have found a familiar ground in Los Angeles. My favorite jovial Starbucks server, Chad knows my name, and now everyone seems to know my story.

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