I wanted to eat the yam in my cupboard for lunch, so for breakfast I walked down the road to a bustling coffee shop across the street from Starbucks. I selected a bagel and a twelve ounce drip and I tried to apply for a job, but the internet was down. So I seized the excuse and read 100 Years of Solitude. I sat at the bar, which in the afternoon must be crammed with patrons waiting for their microbrews from Stoup, which is just down the street. The light in the shop was dim and bronze.
At first I didn’t think about where I was, but then I thought of how many photos I’ve seen in National Geographic of people in coffee shops, smoking and doing things they don’t think much of, and how even if the subjects of those pictures didn’t see what the fuss was, someone had taken the time to take their photos and write at least a caption underneath about what they were doing and where they were in the world. And I thought how one time I was in a village in Bulgaria and I ordered coffee from a dirty little counter and the dark sludge wasn’t enough to fill a Dixie cup, but that was a moment I felt I belonged in that village. So I looked around.
The lady two chairs from me was calling a doctor to change an appointment. Everyone else was either talking to each other or on laptops. Each person wore grey clothes and had a white cup and saucer before them. Some of the white mugs had lipstick on their rims, but not many.
Behind the bar was a tall rough wood wall, and at its edge, a small dark alcove with a stool and a plastic bin high on a shelf labeled “Lost and Found.” On the stool sat the barista who had served me. He was taking a break. He was wearing shorts and high socks, and his hair was shoulder length and straight, and he was eating a scone and staring out the massive window to his right and my left. The window looked out to the crosswalk and Starbucks. His name was Matt.
The voices of the seated were a blurry bustle, but the customers standing spoke louder, and the baristas interrupted them by crying out drink orders.
“Twelve ounce latte on the bar!”
“I heard it’ll be sunny and warm today,” said a customer. “Once it hits 80 and 90, though, I’m out, ’cause I moved to Seattle for a reason.”
“Yeah, same here, but today will be nice for once.”
“It’s about time! Where I’m from it’s like 90!”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh nice, that sounds nice! My friend went there once. Nice. But hot!”
“Well that’s why I live here now!”
“Well today, it’s gonna be nice. Have a good one! Hi, what can I get started for you?”
The wall I thought was a wall budged and rolled slowly to the right, revealing a storage space behind it, and concealing Matt. But when the wall returned, he was gone. He had slipped away.
“Let me show you this picture,” another customer said to another barista.
“Caramel quad shot latte!”
“Look at this. It’s a car, someone else’s car, but it was under a tree and all these pink petals fell on in in the night! It’s not my car. And all they had done to get rid of them was run the windshield wipers, and look at that, how the rest of it’s just covered in blossoms.”
“How much for a drip refill?”
“I had to drive around the block two times to get a picture.”
“Traditional macchiato on the bar!”
“I’ll have a double latte. You hear, it’s going to be warm today?”
“One thirty-two for the refill.”
In the book, Colonel Aureliano Buendia had just asked his doctor where his heart was located and the doctor had drawn a circle on his chest. Then, after some lemonade and a scone, Colonel Aureliano Buendia put his pistol in the middle of the circle and fired. The bullet went straight through him without hitting any organs.
“Twelve ounce cappuccino! Sixteen ounce latte on the bar! That’s your friend.”
“Thanks, have a good one!”
“Thanks but we don’t take tips anymore. Now we’re all paid a living wage.”
Matt reappeared. He stood in front of the Starbucks across the street in his long socks and shorts. He jogged over when the walk sign went on and I went back to my book, but he appeared right behind the bar again, which was strange because the entrance was on the other side of the building. Then I saw that he was standing on the sill of that big window there on my left, and climbing down in through it. He went back and sat on the stool behind the wall I thought was a door.
A man in grey walked in with a big grey husky, and the husky was singing. Waves of laughter washed over everyone.
“Shhh, it’s cool,” said the owner and pet the husky’s head.
“Ahhhh! Ooh! Ooh!” said the husky.
Another barista, James, said: “What’s he saying?”
“It’s like one of those awesome seventies movies with the animals,” said Lisa, another barista.
“What’s wrong, boy? Tell us!” said James, and to the delight of all the people in the coffee shop with their white cups and grey clothes, the husky sang again, right on time.
“Ooooooooohaah, ah, ah, oh!”
“Hey Alan,” Lisa said to an old man who stood too far from the counter. “Same for you today, drip? Here you are, and the cream is right behind you, as you know.”
“Keep the change.”
“Thank you, but we’re not doing tips anymore, and that’s why the prices went up. We get living wage now.”
“Okay. Have a good day. It’ll be warm!”
When I got outside, it was starting to get bright like they’d all said. It didn’t smell like coffee anymore; it smelled like hot dogs. Across the street in a brick plaza, a broad shouldered man played guitar and he sang really well to no one. I didn’t know why he was out there, on a Wednesday morning when everyone was at work. He even had a music stand.