Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How I Became a Starbucks Stalker - Pt. 1

About ten years ago now (gosh that long ago?), I found myself sipping on a pipping cup of dark roasted coffee and pounding away on my keyboard. I was in my typical zone of getting work done before actually going into the office and doing some more work. I had found that Starbucks opened early and I could arrive promptly at 5:30AM and grab a cup and work in relative comfort and privacy and as I settled in to tackle that morning's project, my perspective was about to be altered just slightly.

I was knee deep in crafting a new sales strategy for my team when a kindly older gentleman sat down at the table next to mine. I looked up ever so briefly, made eye contact and smiled. A favor he returned as he unbuttoned his jacket and settled in to enjoy his morning coffee. A few moments passed and the buzz and noise level began to rise within the store because more people were filing in and grabbing their jolt of java. I looked up from my laptop to survey the scenery and he must have noticed and he let out a sort of half chuckle. I looked over at face filled with amusement and a smirk that told a story - though at the time I didn't have the foggiest idea what that story might be.

"Look at 'em. Everyone is in such a damn hurry to grab their coffee and get to where ever they need to be going. Sort of sad don't you think?" My attention now squarely focused on him and the look on my face must have noted my confusion in his comment so he clarified. "People. I mean the people in line. Look at them." I did. "Everyone is so antsy and so focused. They all look the same but are so different too. And no one is talking to one another, did you notice that?" I hadn't before but now, as if discovering some rare trinket of treasure, my eyes shot wide open at what his observation unveiled to me. No one was talking. Heck no one was even smiling. It was sad. I remember that feeling wash over me to this day.

It was one of those moments where I could have easily dismissed this complete stranger's ramblings and decided that no work would be possible with chatty Kathy (no offense to any Kathy's out there -- mine especially) sitting next to me and packed up right then and there. But for some odd reason I didn't. In fact I just sat there. A minute passed by, then two, then three. I have no idea how long we both sat there fixed on the endless parade of people coming in and out of the door.

Being a people watcher I have always enjoyed watching people at airports and malls and places like that but before that fateful day, I had never thought about doing it at a Starbucks. I was an entranced when suddenly I realized the old guy was now in full conversation with someone at the next table. They chatted like old friends, which at the time was what I assumed they were. As they continued their conversation I opened up a new word document on my laptop and typed the word - People. I had no idea what it meant at the time as I my eyes darted between the black lettering, the blinking cursor and yet more new faces each minute coming in and out of the Starbucks door.

"Sorry about that. Made a new friend. Two actually," the old man said leaning closer to my table.

"Oh no big deal. New friends? I figured that was someone you already knew," I said.

"Nope. Just met them today. A husband and wife that come here every morning. They share a car into work. Fascinating people."

"Fascinating people? How do you know that if you don't know them," I asked sort of annoyed at his insistence that they were new friends but so obviously not.

"My boy almost everyone I meet at a Starbucks is fascinating. They all have a story and so desperately want to tell it and will...all you have to do is ask."

It seems my new friend has no problem starting a conversation with just about anyone who walks by his table. Despite going to that same location for a while, I had never seen this man before but he insisted that he had been there every day and I had simply failed to notice him. My mind was atwitter thinking back at the many early mornings I had been there wondering if he even looked familiar. Nothing.

"Easy tiger, don't strain something. We haven't met until today because you weren't ready." With that my new friend leaned back to his table, took a long sip of coffee and smiled at me.

Ready for what I wondered.


Arlin K. Pauler said...

This is going to be a good one Steve!
I am looking forward to what come next.
Your friend and colleague, Arlin

Anonymous said...

You should really think about writing a book of your stories. You always tell good ones and they are always inspiring. To suck people in so quickly with just a few paragraphs is a real talent and one that should be explored.


Lisa G said...

This is sounding like one of Dan Millman's stories of his friend Socrates - and that's not a bad thing! If you haven't read his work, Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a great one to start with. Can't wait to hear more about your own Socrates and what wisdom he shares with you...and us

Cindy Sloan said...

I agree with Drew - you totally suck me in with your stories. I was hoping to log on this morning and see the next edition but alas...I suppose I must be patient.

Great stuff Steve!

Ripple On Yourself!!!


Sue said...

Oh my.. this makes me think. He sounds SO familiar. I can't believe I missed your updates in my reader!

hehee, what took me so long? hahaha

Steve Harper said...

Arin, Drew, Cindy, Lisa G and Sue,

Thank you, thank you, thank you! You all are awesome. Thanks for your comments. They mean more than you could possibly know.

Ripple On!!!