A few weeks ago friends invited my husband and me out to brunch. This would be outdoor patio dining, of course, they assured us.
We're all aware that Covid cases are rising so alarmingly in our area that the mayor had to issue another indoor mask mandate. The hospitals are at capacity again, and everyone I know worries they might become one of the vaccinated breakthrough cases, even though this is supposed to be fairly rare.
Still, we can almost pretend the world is normal when we're brunching on an outdoor patio. An engagement party at one table. At another, they're celebrating someone's birthday. While I sip my mimosa and eat my eggs benedict, I tell the story of the Starbucks at the end of my street and how I want to go on record that there's going to be a Showdown there any moment.
The place is a freaking powder keg.
Every day you can hear the car horns honking. An occasional shout from a rolled down window. It's the poorly designed drive-thru lane, how the cars back up onto my street and into the intersection. This was a major topic of conversation on our neighborhood facebook page even before the pandemic. How could they put a Starbucks there??!! Why do people want to buy overpriced coffee anyway??!! Why don't we support our local coffee shops??!!
But mid-pandemic the irritation has turned into rage. The perfect storm of bad traffic and the fraying of society's last nerve. Add the caffeine addicts who NEED THEIR COFFEE NOW, and I'm surprised there hasn't already been a serious altercation.
It occurs to me that this Starbucks has been my way of measuring the real time collapse and adaptation of the world over the past year and a half. During the initial lockdown, the drive-thru stayed open, a beacon of normalcy in the first scary days. But then, in winter, at the height of the crisis, the store was closed. Too many workers sick to keep things running.
Which brings us to now, where it's very much open and popular, and yet... possibly about to capture the moment we all tip over the edge into some new kind of dystopian nightmare?
I finished drinking my mimosa and ordered a cup of coffee. I have to tell you that this brunch was the best brunch I have ever experienced in my life. Not the food (although it was tasty) and not the company (although it was lovely) but the exquisite ordinary-ness of it, the kind of thing I lived most of my adult life totally taking for granted.
Home, and I walked the dog past the Starbucks. There was the usual long line, the cars desperately trying to squeeze their way in, the irritated honks. But also something so comforting and beautiful about the people sitting on the sunny patio. A man tapping away on his laptop. A table of laughing teenagers. A mom pushing by with a baby carriage. The chirpy voice of the Starbucks barista in the drive-thru window saying,
Have a nice day!