They call it “the Starbucks experience.” Yesterday I visited the a new local Starbucks while waiting for a diagnosis of my Volvo air-conditioning problems. The folks at Starbucks strive to manage every detail of the customer experience; from lighting to layout to light jazz… The pendants hanging from the gold spraypainted exposed ductwork looked like egg-shaped Alien pods missing the bottom third so the stellar rays could emerge. The pods hung precicely by carefully choreographed electron transporters. The lighting, artwork and focus-group color schemes are all part of the “set” that is Starbucks.
However, on any stage, it’s the players that are the big challenge…the human element of the production requiring direction. As this once aspiring actor stepped into the spotlight, he felt an odd, but familiar glance from a woman in her late 50’s in the corner. She was waiting for her “date,” a similarly aged man decked out in jeans and a grey Red Sox tee shirt. I wondered if I’d still be doing the “meeting for coffee” thing ten years from now.
Taken right out of Starbucks Central Casting, the 20-something hipsters were busy behind the counter doing their cool Starbucks schtick. Nearby, one apprentice was meticulously cleaning, oblivious to the Splenda wrappers beneath his feet… I was so overwhelmed with the brilliance of the theatre, I didn’t hesitate to buy a $3.89 “Venti” (that’s “large” for those of you playing at home) Iced Latte.
I took my seat for the rest of the show. Mysteriously, both soft, green velour upholstered chairs seemed occipied. Not with people, but with some stuff… an application, a large steaming coffee, a pen… some rolled up paper. Maybe their owner was in the bathroom. Several minutes passed. The couple to my left continued their nervous dialogue. Traffic flowed onto Route 2 in front of me like a relentless river into the sea. To my right, a man about 60 sat alone. His hair was askew, but not on purpose like so many wear today. I sat. I sipped. Slowly, the older thespian rose and slowly walked to center stage. He wore a white t-shirt with a credit card ad and chinos. He picked up the large coffee that was no longer steaming. He took a sip, or maybe just acted like he did. He put the coffee down and began his silent, solo performance. He wore an “American Tourister” bag tag around his neck on a black shoe lace. His hands gestured adeptly and toward the State Police barracks 150 yards in front of us. He slowly stopped for another small, phantom sip. He then leisurely spun around, almost like dancing. He bowed down and picked up the Splenda wrappers. He was at an age that he knew what clean meant. He flailed some more. Then he put his coat on…a navy blue windbreaker, and walked outside with his coffee. The application stayed on the table with its partner, the pen. It was nearly 90 degrees out, but the man seemed to have no perception of the heat. Maybe he was preoccupied with the demons in his head. He sat. I wondered what happened to this poor soul to thrust him into this … solitary… lonely… state of mental illness. A divorce? The death of a loved one? Unemployment? I wondered just how far from that are any of us?