Monday, January 3, 2011

Aurora Nibley: Wish Upon a Starbucks

I always get a pastry when I go to Starbucks, and only God can judge me for that. I like pastries.

But the other day, I went to Starbucks and the girl who got my pastry out put it in a bag and handed it to the guy who was going to charge me, and he (not having seen its retrieval) thought it would be cute to try to guess what it was by feeling the bag. Now I understand that this is hardly an outrage on the level of being fondled by TSA, but watching what should have been a sweet and delicious breakfast get palpated by some sweaty stranger who thought he was being funny pretty much ruined my morning. It was a scone, by the way, and there was icing on it. I try to make it a point never to be rude to cashiers because I assume they all hate their jobs and I don't need to make it worse, but my, “Hey. Next time, just fucking ask me what's in there,” did not feel inappropriate. Especially because (did I mention?) he didn't know that the bag contained a scone, because he had refused to take my order (“She'll take care of you”), even though he had been free when I got to the head of the line and he knew all along he was going to have to ring me up.

You don't need to start platituding at me; I know that if this kind of thing is the worst problem I have, my life is probably pretty all right. And it is. But the cut is especially deep because the particular Starbucks location where I suffered this indignity was, up until very recently, a place I looked on with great fondness. I might even go so far as to say it was a refuge for me. Therein lies the sad, ill soul of my generation, right there.

I thought of. Starbucks. As a refuge.

Mostly it was just that one specific Starbucks; it's a block away from my job and all the employees there were surprisingly smart and competent. I could tell when they were having their off days, but I wasn't their only regular, and several of the staff would greet multiple customers (including me) by name. I always ordered the same drink, and there were a couple of times when I went in during a lull and they actually had my drink ready for me before I got to the counter. When life was rough, and it was early and the weather was bad and I felt battered from my public transit commute, I knew that I could go into Starbucks and somebody would smile at me and make me a pretty drink.

But that all changed in October. They shut down that Starbucks location. It wasn't permanent, just for a couple of weeks while they remodeled the place, so nobody worried. This is Brentwood! There are plenty of other places in the neighborhood to grab a morning beverage, and who doesn't love a good remodeling? People remodel their faces here, they love it so much.

Starbucks lost no customers by being closed for two weeks. I went back in as soon as they reopened and it was as crowded as ever. One of my old acquaintances from pRe-modeling days was working, and we had a nice chat, and all seemed to be well. Which may have been why it took me so long to notice that all the rest of the staff had changed. I thought that all my favorite, multi-ethnic hipster baristas were simply not working when I showed up, for a while. But it gradually became clear that I would never see them again. They had not been supplemented by a couple of new employees, they had been totally replaced by the moon-faced white guys in their mid- to late thirties who sang disco music while they mixed my drink in the wrong proportion, and didn't wait for the line to thin out before they decided to restock the fridge bar. One of them even introduced himself to me one morning, in a strange, forced, Dale Carnegie kind of way. So you have to understand, the scone palpitation incident was not an isolated case of bad judgment. It was the last straw in a string of indignities.

And now I find myself at a crossroads. I feel that continuing to patronize this Starbucks location can bring me nothing but sorrow and frustration. I have other options, as mentioned, but for some reason most of the drinks at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf taste a little bit slimy to me, and Peet's has the best pastries hands down but I dislike the feeling I get there of being raped by my coffee (it may be a bit late to point this out, but I am actually not a coffee drinker. My beverage of choice is a green tea lemonade, which neither Peet's nor the Coffee Bean have on offer). Also, the local Peet's has virtually no place to sit.

I suppose I could make a drink at home in the morning, or not, and skip the whole beverage-purchasing part of the morning, saving myself both money and time. But the drink was never the point. The point of going to Starbucks, for me, was that whether I was in a hurry or I had to kill time before work, I knew that someone would smile at me and give me a nice treat, and maybe ask about something that didn't matter, like whether I was in a play, or if I had a vacation coming up, and I didn't have to worry about what I said because my entire relationship with this person was being played out right there in the Starbucks. No feelings, no commitments, no possibility of insult or injury. Just some lemonade and a pastry. It was my five minutes of Utopia.

And now it has been replaced, by a fat pastry molester.

Aurora Nibley lives in North Hollywood with her husband and cat. She used to write about football, but gave that shit up. If you want to look at the things she Tweets, find your way on over to


  1. This gave me many feelings.

    It gave me a poignant, melancholy feeling when you said that you thought. of Starbucks. as a refuge. It gave me a creepy feeling when your pastry got felt up through its bag. I laughed, with amused feelings. And now it's left me with a mildly hopeless feeling, which will not abate until you have a satisfactory alternative.

  2. love it love it love it... I went to a starbucks in west hollywood and I think it was designed in the future.