The heading of the worn, spiral notebook read: “What is most important to you right now?” As I handed the cashier my money, I glanced curiously through the pages of responses of those who had answered before me. I laughed out loud upon reading one entry scrawled in wild, black ink that simply said: “COFFEE”. Written beneath it in meticulous cursive was a phrase that nearly moved me to tears. It read: “The most important thing in my life is the health of our first born son.” I was so moved by the honesty and the passion of these anonymous replies that I almost didn’t hear the barista yell: “One tall, non-fat mocha no whip!”
So how is it possible that I achieved enlightenment in a Starbucks? The Starbucks empire offers the same comfortable environment and menu of caffeinated beverages at all 15,000 of their locations worldwide. I used to think ordering coffee at a corporate giant like Starbucks was the least personal experience one could have. In a place where regular customers are known by their drink of choice as opposed to their given name, I was at a loss as to how it was possible for our society preserve the most basic of human interactions. It wasn’t until I became a regular myself that I started to see the community that had formed where I least expected it. The Starbucks on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota became a special place to me and made me realize one of the greatest miracles of humankind.
On this particular day, Baby Cash has just taken his first steps. His mother, a woman with pink hair and a figure covered in tattoos, claps her hands while Rhonda cheers him on. The older men at the corner table look up from their espressos at the smiling baby padding across the carpeted floor. One of them yells to me: “Hey kid! Need any help with that economics homework?” I nod my head yes and pull up a chair beside them. We talk about French cuisine instead of supply and demand and they greet every person who walks through the door by name. In this moment, I feel a part of something bigger than myself. The desire for consistency or convenience or simply the coffee itself has brought us together at this place and time. I am a part of this community and we are all just people.
Starbucks is so successful in part because it can efficiently serve many different people in a short amount of time. In the fast-paced society that we live in, it is difficult to form meaningful relationships with people outside of our social networks. For this reason, I was surprised at how easy it was to become attached to the perfect strangers who happened to frequent the same Starbucks as I did. My daily trip to Starbucks became one of social necessity instead of a way for me to satisfy my need for caffeine. I felt a kinship to these people unlike anything I had experienced before. Anonymous except for the drink in our hands, we shared restaurant reviews and stories of our weekends. My buddies at the corner table helped me pass calculus and gave me advice about the opposite sex. The community we formed was uncomplicated and incredibly rewarding. My mornings at Starbucks gave me a true sense of belonging.
My accidental discovery of community changed the way I carry myself in public settings. Now instead of assuming a business transaction is just that, I try to make conversation with those around me in hopes of forming new connections. Perhaps my experience at Starbucks on Hennepin was unique, but I believe communities just like the one that transformed my outlook on life can exist anywhere. Alfred Tennyson once said, “I am a part of all that I have met,” and I believe this is true. Every human being has the power to get involved in one way or another. It is our duty to contribute openly to a community and embrace all it has to offer. I believe in communities amidst chaos and the benefits community membership can have on our individual lives and on society.
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