My Starbucks Love Story

Blah blah independent coffeeshops blah blah fair trade blah blah coffee bean prices blah blah blah.

Blah.

I love Starbucks. Here’s why.

Blah blah independent coffeeshops blah blah fair trade blah blah coffee bean prices blah blah blah.

Blah.

I love Starbucks. Here’s why.

The first time I understood what coffee truly meant was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. The small Wisconsin town where I grew up had numerous “coffee shops” that opened at 4 a..m. for the early shift workers, but boutique coffee had not yet arrived. Cappucino could be had in Italian restaurants, sometimes. Order it at Bessie’s Donuts, and Bess was likely to spit in the cup of brown water she poured you.

So during that fateful summer, I was taking a creative writing class in downtown Chicago, coming down to the big city by myself twice a week on the train and walking the six blocks to the college building where it was held. And on the way, right on the corner of Jackson, was a Starbucks.

One morning, no tepid half-decaf available at home, the smell of strong coffee drew me inside. There was a menu with about 20 words I didn’t recognize, hissing and banging noises coming from a huge machine, and a guy in an apron who looked at me expectantly. I blurted out the same thing I’d heard the guy in front of me say. “Cappuccino, please.”

The people behind me shifted and bumped until I was at the end of the line with an impossibly small cup, my wallet $3 lighter. I poured in sugar, again, because the man ahead of me, in a gray business suit with a black briefcase, did the same. And sipped.

Cappuccino tasted like the big city to me, strong and harsh and burning on my tongue. Around me at the counter, standing (no room to sit down, or time) stood people in stockings and sneakers, two girls with blue and purple streaked hair, and one guy with a bike wheel over his shoulder. People pushed past us, the revolving door turning like a ferris wheel, slow and steady. Every morning I came up out of the train station and onto the sidewalk and these buildings, taller than anything I’d ever seen before, formed canyons down which rivers of people walked, all in one direction, steadily, before 9 a.m.

I vowed right then and there that I would work in this city, I would come and live here, I’d drink cappuccino every day and feel this rush of energy, the sound of the train going by like an ocean wave crashing overhead, even in sleep nobody relaxed here. And the people I met in this class, from all over, ravers and students and descendents (one girl told me, tracking down her ancestry for a story, that she’d found the actual ship her relatives were kidnapped and brought on) of slaves, big city people, who were loud and argued, just like me.

At my high school reunion a year ago, people asked, “So what are you doing now?” I’d dieted for months, tanned, paid too much for a dress and haircut because I wasn’t rich when I knew them and they’d made fun of my poor clothes, my frizzy braids. I’d told them, in one of those stupid class exercises way back when, that I’d wanted to be a writer and live in the city. Everybody wrote down their childhood dreams and their current situations. Few matched. Mine did, and I wondered for a moment if it was foolish, that kind of consistency. People say single-minded and it’s not always a compliment.

I thought about telling them I was drinking cappuccino. How that first sip always reminds me of the hazy summer mornings, the train, the street. How the taste reminds me how far I’ve come.

There’s a Starbucks in that small town now. They’d have known what I was talking about.

But I didn’t think they’d understand.

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