The first time I entered a Starbucks was the fall of 2000. I’d lived in Charlotte for about a year, renting an old red brick bungalow on Lennox Avenue in Dilworth. One night a friend from work asked me if I wanted to “grab a Starbucks,” which I found bizarre because up until that point in time, beer was the only beverage anyone had ever invited me to ingest with them. And I’d never been to a Starbucks.
Like any first timer I found the menu overpriced and baffling. I wanted to order a small coffee and get a small coffee. Like in the movies when someone orders a beer and gets a beer. My friend ordered a latte, which I later learned was a big warm glass of milk with an ounce of strong coffee in it. How disgusting. Soon after that night he began wearing sport coats with elbow patches. We don’t talk anymore.
Since that day I’ve spent a good amount of time in Starbucks. Why Starbucks? I don’t think the coffee or food is all that great. It’s the lazy person’s coffee shop. A kneejerk reaction that requires zero thought. I’ve tried other coffee shops. When I lived in South End I frequented the Caribou on East Boulevard (now Mayobird). When we moved to Madison Park, I was a regular at Mugs on Park Road. Now I live in Lake Norman, and the place closest to my home would be perfect if I was a recent divorcee who wanted to commiserate with other dudes about my dating life in a conversational style that evokes the salon in Steel Magnolias. Alas, I’m not there yet.
So, I find myself at the Birkdale Starbucks once or twice a week. Decent size. Usually lots of seats open. It’s also a two-minute bike ride from my home office and on the way back from Kid #2’s daycare. Proximity to home being the most important thing in my life outside of my family. And comfortable pants. And one to two beers if I have to put my kids to sleep.
Breaking down the stereotypes of weekday coffee shop regulars has been done many times, but let’s do it again Charlotte Agenda style. Here are mine, gleaned from more than 15 years frequenting Fivebucks from Cornelius to SouthPark.
I don’t have any idea what these people do on a daily basis. They’re always dressed in business attire but don’t have anywhere to be. If they have jobs, why are they at Starbucks at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning? If they work from home, why are they dressed up? They’re usually men over the age of 45. They’ll sit around and discuss successful franchise businesses that other people have opened, and rehash what they read that morning on the Yahoo business page. Five years ago they were talking about “the power of social media.” Nothing says cutting edge communications like a Lipitor patient on Yik Yak.
Drink order: I’d like a cup of coffee, please. Any kind is fine. Just a cup of coffee.
Sensitive dads with kid in tow
Wispy beards. Dressed in REI gear in case he gets a phone call to go on a last minute trek (if this was the 80s, he’d have a ponytail). He has no idea there is a world moving around him at a pace faster than a snail. He believes the front of the line at Starbucks is the place to teach his child how to complete a financial transaction using the new chip-enabled credit cards. He thinks Starbucks is the place to allow his son to order a la carte from any one of the 38 food items in the display case. Sir, I also find it adorable when my child calls a Cake Pop a Cake Poop. Guess what, no one else finds your kid, or my kid, adorable. Order and move to the right. And when you get your order, please don’t bring your child, his stroller, your wife’s 10 lb Lilly Pulitzer diaper bag, and his binkie to the condiment bar while you debate whether today is the day to switch from Sweet N Low to Truvia.
“Starbucks: where self-awareness is left next to the door like an empty stroller blocking partial access to the condiment bar so it takes three times longer than normal to get a napkin.”
Drink Order: Hmm, what do I want today. How are you? It’s so nice outside today. I love that top (yes, he uses the word top). Let’s see … I had a Mochachino yesterday but I missed F3 today. Let’s do a Grande Sugar-Free Chai with Almond Milk. Grant, what do you want honey? Grant? Noooo, that has GMOs. You’re silly spoons. We’re going to bake cookies later with Nana. Do you want some oatmeal? Nooo, not a brownie. Here let’s get you a Strawberry Smoothie.
Life coaches and clients
I’m certain there are life coaches out there who make differences in their clients’ lives. But the ones who frequent Starbucks are the sycophants of the self-help scene. I blame Oprah and all her spawns for allowing people to believe that an untrained mental health professional is best suited to help them work through issues. If you need some life guidance, why would you hire someone who wants you to air out your problems in a packed coffee house with jerks like me overhearing everything you say? I see the same life coaches time after time, and overhear them asking question after question without offering up any actionable advice. You have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to stand up, walk over, slam my open hand down on the table, and yell to the client, “Get some balls and DUMP HIM / QUIT YOUR JOB / MOVE OUT OF YOUR MOM’S HOUSE / JUST EFFING DO IT.” There are outlet mall chiropractors who have a higher cure rate than Starbucks life coaches.
Drink: Life coach – Kids temperature Hot Chocolate. Client – Tall Blonde, extra room for cream and sugar.
I feel for you. I’ve been there. Lost in a sea of confusion, unsure what you want to do or how to do it. But unless you’re meeting with a director to audition for the role of Eeyore in the stage production of Winnie the Pooh, maybe bring a little energy? Maybe show some excitement? Maybe smile? You sir, sitting up at the bar, have the ability to finally end a five-year stretch of unemployment that began in the summer of 2008 when you decided it was a good time to leave your career in IT to take your real estate exam! And you, 2013 graduate of Overpriced Private University who has no discernable life skills. You have the hope of landing a job and continuing to accept undeserved praise from an elder other than your parents! Stop acting like you’re in a therapy session with your tenth grade guidance counselor! Annnnnnd, too late. You missed your chance. On your way out make sure you check out the life coach on the sofa, nodding to the middle-aged balding man with slumped shoulders, hefty paunch and general air of disappointment. You don’t need a time machine to see the future, my friend.
Drink: (Is he gonna buy me coffee? I’ll just stand back and wait … and … no he isn’t) I’ll just have an ice water please.
I get that it’s torture to spend the waking hours inside with a kid that can’t control his bowels and only asks for stuff all day. I get that when you get the kids off to school, it’s nice to leave the house and have an adult conversation with a friend. I support all of that to the end and back. But holy hell, some (NOT ALL) of the conversations are like two intertwined monologues of self-absorption. One person outlines a problem or vulnerability, and instead of nodding or offering advice, the other person comes over the top with her own problem. The words “I” and “me” appear at least once every 8-9 words in these conversations. Lots of frantic texting like they’re spearheading a Beltway PR crisis. Who are they frantically texting? Please don’t bother Ted with your angry emails. I was a stay at home dad for a period. There’s no one to frantically text.
Drink Order: Grande, hot soy with extra foam, split shot with a half pump of sugar-free vanilla and a half pump of sugar free cinnamon, half packet of stevia, in a Venti cup. Separate checks. (Turns to friend) Do you have the Starbucks pay app yet? It shaves sooo much time off paying with a credit card.
Typically dressed nicer than the average midday Starbucks customer, but not as nice as the Business Associates. There’s an unwritten Alpha law that says only one salesman at a time can loiter in any one Starbucks. Usually identified by cologne and/or a puffed out chest. They always sell a cog to something that is a major part of our daily lives. Of course, the general public has no idea what that product does because, who cares. When I click the red power button on the remote the TV turns on; I don’t care what makes that happen. They typically speak on the phone during their entire visit, and generally at a volume that is only acceptable during a nursing home happy hour. There’s always a problem in the mid-Atlantic. And don’t get them started on the shipping department. They will mentally undress every woman that walks through the front door. If she’s attractive, they’ll nod in approval. If she bends over to pick something up they’ll sprout a look of satisfaction typically only seen from a first grader on Christmas morning.
Drink: Triple Venti Varona and two double smoked bacon, cheddar and egg sandwiches
Retired Damn Yankees
On the spectrum of the worst people in the world to get stuck next to at a coffee shop, it’s an older person transplanted from southern New York / North Jersey who has the ear grinding accent and painful conversational style. I have so many questions for you. Why do you talk so loud? Why do you repeat the words in your questions so many times? “I ASKED HER I SAYS I SAID, WHY? AND SHE DOESN’T KNOW! SHE DOESN’T KNOW? HOW DOESN’T SHE KNOW?” Did you hear someone honk at a car in the parking lot? It was the New Yorker, who doesn’t understand that there’s no need to honk in the South.
Relax, you’ll get to where you’re going when you get there. I grew up in Boston and, like New York, coffee shops at 9 a.m. are no place for a child. They’re like morning stag bars where foul-mouthed Truthers disguised as house painters perpetuate whatever garbage they heard the prior night while watching Fox News at the Charlie Horse. But this is the South. Watch your language and tone it down. A New Yorker will pollute the air around your morning coffee faster than you can say Tappan Zee Bridge.
Drink order: You guys really need to get Tastykakes here. (Turns to wife). MARIE! Do you want CAWFEE MARIE! The bagels here are terrible, I think it’s the wortah (said to no one in particular)! Marie. MARIE! Cawfee is five bucks. Is that what you want? MARIE!
The road bikers are more prevalent on weekends, but they’ll pop up from time to time during the week. They often nod to each other, but they don’t share that nod with runners, even though I would expect them to form a common bond around exercise and inappropriate public clothing. Listen cyclists, I totally dig that you found a new midlife passion. I always hoped to play soccer until the age of 50, but at almost 40 I fear my years remaining are fewer than I’d hoped. The team aspect is what I’ll miss most, so I love the camaraderie that you have with your cycling buddies. After soccer we grab beers. After cycling you grab coffee. You know what we don’t do? Take off our shorts and go drink beers in our cleats and boxer briefs. And you know what else we don’t do? Treat the one-seater public restroom as a repository for bodily sewage that makes the Duke coal ash ponds look like a mild EPA infraction. You already did 45 miles today. Ride the two miles home, use your own bathroom, take off the tap shoes, and put on something that covers your shaved legs.
Drink order: You guys still don’t sell GU packs, huh? You guys should really sell GU packs. Have you had the raspberry GU pack? You should totally sell those here. I’ll have an ice water and (rubs midsection) I’m not sure I’m ready yet for coffee. How about some oatmeal with all three toppings?
Typically writers, designers, marketing/PR/advertising people, or work from home folks. Almost always alone. Over the age of 30 because their younger versions wouldn’t be caught dead in a bastion of corporate greed like Starbucks. Winter headwear even when it’s not below freezing. Shorts every season but winter. Too old to be rocking Converse All-Stars. Too old to be using the word “rocking.” Too old to know if people still use the word “rocking.” Macbook. Owns the beach cruiser out front with the Bluetooth speaker zip tied to the handlebar. Will cast disapproving glances around the room when your kid – from whom you deserve a 10-minute break – starts watching Netflix and chokes the Wi-Fi bandwidth. Gets unnecessarily impatient at nice business associates who can’t navigate the condiment bar in less than eight seconds. Moves seats every time a crew of moms or New Yorkers sits down. When an attractive woman in yoga pants bends over to pick up something, he keeps looking at the barrel-chested guy in the corner. Repeatedly approaches life coaches but returns to his seat without saying anything. Stares in a confused manner at people on job interviews. Probably has undiagnosed adult ADD and takes blood pressure medication. Clearly needs to relax.
They hear everything, EVERYTHING you’re saying, by the way.
Drink: Tall Pike, no room for cream, and a plain toasted bagel with cream cheese, no receipt, name is Jon, J-O-N. Thanks.