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Friday, December 02, 2011

My First Starbucks Experience

The first Starbucks opened in 1971 at Pike Street Market in Seattle. Back then the store, named for the first mate of the Pequod in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, specialized in fresh-roasted whole bean coffees. That original outlet is still there.

(Click here for Romanian version)

First time I entered a Starbucks I didn't know anything about. I saw a coffee shop and suddenly I felt the need for a cup of black coffee.

It was in Watertown, Massachusetts, on Mount Auburn Street (the Holy Avenue, as some were calling it names, for the multitude of churches). I opened the door and looked around. An old lady was sitting alone at a table. The walls were painted with maps showing routes to imaginary countries with exotic names, funny to pronounce. I thought at Sindbad the Sailor. No, it was Ishmael, only I didn't know it by that time. Two or three armchairs were placed near a fireplace, and you could help yourself from a pile of newspapers. Some of the tables had chessboard inlaids on them. It looked like an invitation. Three or four blue lamps with elongated shapes were hanging over the counter.

I advanced toward the counter. There was one person in front of me, an old black guy who ordered two tall Lattes. Seemingly he was well-known there, as the barrister had greeted him with a hi Joe, how are you buddy? My turn came and I ordered my coffee. It was funny to call a small coffee tall.

Joe took the two cups of Latte and left them on the table where the old lady was sitting. He went then and took a newspaper from the pile near the fireplace and returned to her. From the naturalness they had with each other you could guess they were husband and wife.

The two started talking in German. It was my first visit to America and I was excited about everything. Okay, I already had seen in Watertown a lot of Armenians, they had their churches there, on Mount Auburn Street, and an Armenian library. I had seen people that were from Latin America, and to my surprise a woman I had asked for directions on the street had been unable to answer me. She knew only Spanish. I saw her again after a couple of days in a deli and I wondered how could she talk to the seller. He was a Korean. Well, Korean people sometimes know Spanish, if they are in Watertown, Massachusetts. To hear German in that place was however a new experience.

During the years that followed I heard lots of tongues in America: people speaking Chinese or Korean, Russian or Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese or Farsi, Arabic or Kurd, Hebrew, Dimotiki, Romanian sometimes, even English in rare occasions; I heard, especially in New York, people speaking a Creole version of French that was making the French impossible to be recognized. I never saw people speaking German. Except that time at Starbucks.

I thought the two had met in their young years in Germany, he in the US military there, she a teenager falling in love for a G.I. Now they were old, sipping their Latte in a Starbucks in Watertown, browsing American newspapers and talking German. Call me Ishmael.

voyage of the Pequod (where the chief mate was Starbuck)
illustrated by Everett Henry

(New England)


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