Each morning for years and in different cities, I have dragged myself out of bed to head to Starbucks to pay my $3+ for the same thing I have ordered for over a decade: “Trenta-black-iced-tea-no-sugar-no-water-very-light-ice-with-a-Venti-cup-of-ice-on-the-side.” I would pop in throughout the day and evening to refill my drink and greet the new shift. This may sound dramatic; but, this seemingly mundane routine was de rigueur at a time when I was sinking quickly into despair. My $3+ tea somehow saved me.
And, pain is relative, so don’t judge.
At Starbucks, I have gotten to know the baristas, the one who stay and the ones who go. Sometimes, if the shop is not busy, they come around the counter and give me a quick hug. Other times, they see me saunter in and have my drink ready before I even place my order. I rarely spend more than five minutes from entry-to-exit, but those few moments have given me something predictable and have allowed me to stay connected to people at a time when I was drifting toward hopelessness and isolation. Seriously.
One day was particularly difficult for me. I walked into the shop to order my regular, like always; but, the tears in my eyes betrayed my pain despite my smile and stabilizing ritual. Andy – his real name because he deserves to be recognized – looked at me concerned and asked me, “What is wrong?” I blurted out a couple of dismissive words but he could tell I was having a hard time. Not pretending to be a psychotherapist, he dug into his resources and pulled out a little tea bag. He gave it to me and said something like, “Sometimes a wonderful hot cup of tea helps.”
He was right.
I still carry the tea bag wrapper in my business portfolio. I look at it often. That red torn package is my tangible reminder to pay attention to others, remain compassionate, take the time to care, and be kind.
Let’s talk about Miranda. Smart as a whip and extremely observant. She was well aware of my uneasiness when a particular someone was in line in front of me. The wait for drinks was a moment too long. Miranda tuned into that immediately and instead of having me endure that extreme discomfort, she quietly got my drink ready and put it on the counter with a “nod” my way that told me to pick it up right after I placed my order. I left the shop in tears of gratitude for that simple act of compassion. I still cry when I think about what she did. I will never forget it.
Darrius is yet another one who deserves a minute. Each time I enter the store while he is there, he has never once failed to greet me, have a very brief conversation, or walk around the counter and give me a hug. It delights me to my core.
Tristan. I met him several years ago. I do not see him often but when I do, I share brief snippets of my life and he does the same. He has been empathetic, compassionate, and caring. In fact, I was stunned beyond belief when a friend of mine - but a "stranger" to Tristan - ordered "Kelly's tea." Tristan not only knew exactly what "Kelly's tea" was, but said to tell me that he missed me and hoped I was doing okay because he had not seen me in the shop lately. Talk about feeling special. Wow.
Laura has the kind of heart that reached out and touched me without ever saying a word. Her smile, her whimsical headbands, and her gentle demeanor always make me feel welcomed when she greets me. She has taken an interest in my life and has shared meaningful bits and pieces of hers from her future plans, her health quest, fashion, family, and pets. When I see her, I feel linked and connected in a momentary albeit lasting way.
Damien and I share a passion for working out and eating protein bars. I have dropped off my favorites for him and we have brief conversations about how our workouts and lives are going. He makes me feel like he has enjoyed our brief visits beyond crafting my drink. I know I have.
Liz. I adore Liz. She notices when I have been out of town and haven’t been in. For such a soft-spoken soul to notice my absence has made me feel like I matter, just a little bit, to someone. Even though I hardly know Liz beyond the shop and an interest in sign language, her words are meaningful to me. Acknowledgment and validation are keys feeling worthwhile and Liz is a master at doing that for others.
John. I have a soft spot in my heart for John. He is always so concerned with making sure he gets my order right that it has led to him being a bit flustered at times. He calls me, “Miss Kelly” and takes his job seriously. It is refreshing to see someone care that deeply about what they do. It is contagious.
Malik’s attitude is flooded with positivity. He never fails to greet me with a smile and ask how I am doing. He has shared tidbits of his life with me and he seems to have a way of refraining from negative talk, regardless of what is going on. Without knowing it, Malik has taught me how to just go with life’s ebbs and flows with a smile and a good attitude. What a gift.
Recently, I met Trey, but it only took a minute to connect. He has a customer who speaks in sign language and I am going to video some phrases for him to learn so they can converse. Anyone who takes customer service that seriously is a keeper in my opinion. Besides, he is kind, fun, and engaging and I really love that.
Kelly. Oh, my Kelly. Is it any wonder that she manages the store? She is smart, kind, compassionate, thorough, and – gosh – so beautiful inside and out. (I want her hair.) With Kelly’s background, she seems to have a way of understanding the human condition without too much explanation. Kelly has taken the time to greet me, hug me, follow-up on previous conversations, care about how I am doing, and introduce me to her dear friends who have been in the shop at the same time I have been. Kelly has a strength to her calmness; an agility to her regimen. I think the world of her and she has worked herself into my life as a continuous thread in the fabric of my personal challenges and joys. I have come to consider her a friend through my Starbucks journey.
Others have come and gone but have meant just as much: Ben, Drew, Anthony, Sandy, and the “floaters” from other locations. I know there will be more changes as the years go by, but I will keep these freeze-frames in my mind and in my heart like memorable dangling trinkets of my life.
They have all made indelible marks on my soul. Each act of kindness they have shown to me and every mini-conversation has faded some of the emotional scars on my heart and replaced them with treads of kindness, compassion, validation, and hope.
To some people, Starbucks may just be a place to get coffee. For the record, I don’t even drink coffee. But, for anyone questioning the value of my $3+ “Trenta-black-iced-tea-no-sugar-no-water-very-light-ice-with-a-Venti-cup-of-ice-on-the-side” let me clarify, in case there is any confusion: Is it worth $3+? No, it is not. It is priceless.