I woke up this morning to find myself watching a Coursera video. Alene signed up for a Coursera MOOC and it started today. It’s Labor Day, and the library is closed, so she got up early and went out to Starbucks to load up her laptop with course materials for the first week.
I’m only three hours behind her now — in Hawaii for a few days on my way back to US mainland — catching some summer weather I’ve been missing out on — and enjoying mai tais, etc. I haven’t had a whole lot to share on this blog even though I’ve been very busy. Funny how I could find so much to share when it was just me and Allen holed up in a cabin through a Patagonia winter! It’s OK. Alene writes in a notebook almost every day, so she’s never short of something to post on a blog. But the early-morning Starbucks visit brought back lots of memories — and we’ve been enjoying them.
Twelve years ago, Alene started a retail job in downtown Seattle. She was almost out of money and could not be choosy — but she was really happy to be going back to work at anything and quickly found a new routine — part of which was stopping in at Starbucks before getting on the bus to downtown. In those days, she didn’t eat breakfast and found that a venti latte made with whole milk tided her over nicely until her first break. She no longer drinks those on a daily basis, because she eats breakfast now, but still enjoys one occasionally as a treat. She recently won a $5 Starbucks gift card in a brain-teaser challenge at work and thought this would be a good occasion to spend it.
This Starbucks has been re-modeled several times since then, and we’ve lost count of all the managers and baristas that have rotated through. Even the regular clientele has mostly turned over. But there are a few “usual suspects” (as our bus-driver friend Allen likes to call those little gaggles of people that you always see hanging out in certain spots like bus stops, library reading rooms — and Starbucks.)
The “usual suspects” were occupying seats near Alene. I guessed that her presence there this morning had thrown them a wobbly — and Alene confirmed that. She got there shortly after opening time at 6am and found the place wide open — so she took her favorite seat in a corner of the room — completely forgetting the knot of old farts that has owned that corner at that time of the morning for many years. When the first of them arrived (she told me) he looked at her like she had totally messed with the fabric of the universe. I know his look — I’ve seen it many times — and after Alene was pressured to reseat herself elsewhere early one Saturday morning in 2010, she has always steered clear of his table. But the latest remodel has drastically altered the seating layout of that corner of the store — and the visual cue of the table was no longer there to remind her. This time though, she chose to ignore him.
When she was finally reading to leave, she walked back to the restroom and passed another gaggle of old folks that we remembered from years ago. This group is less territorial — perhaps because it’s couples instead of men only — but they were also busy discussing the affairs of the day. Retired people are regular fonts of wisdom at breakfast.
Breakfast groups have fascinated Alene for decades. She and her husband used to take a lot of road trips — coast to coast, and border to border. And everywhere you have breakfast in America, from small-town diners to neighborhood Starbucks, you can find a gaggle of retirees holding forth from a table that they have claimed as real estate. Sometimes there’s a “reserved” tent-sign on the table — but there’s at least an understanding amongst the staff and the regulars that they sit there every morning. They might be joined briefly by a mailman or local law enforcement type — but by and large, they are retired. They are Republicans — although there is always one dissident Democrat — and you get the sense that the experience would be ruined for the Democrat if another of his ilk were to show up. We haven’t identified a reason behind the partisanship of such groups — unless it’s truly the case that Democrats sleep in — in which case, anyone running for president needs to consider that when on the campaign trail at breakfast time.
Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone who has no job to go would be in a coffee shop or diner so early the morning (unless the breakfast is really good and not served all day.) I’m in my late sixties and although I haven’t really retired, I certainly have no place I’m obligated to be — so unless I have a meeting or Skype conference at an early hour, I’m inclined to let the morning rush die down and go for coffee and scone around 10:21am.
The coffee shop groups in Seattle are a little different. Our impression is that there are more Democrats in these groups — but it’s highly probably that these guys would have been Republicans had they not spent their entire working lives in union jobs (Allen being an example) — so the distinctions are bit blurred. One kind of place we do NOT see them are at the more hip, funky indie coffee shops — but the hipsters and other cool kids will be old one day — and fifty years from now, funky coffee shops may have groups of tattooed-and-pierced-and-mohawked old farts holding forth from a regular table.