An Icebreaker at Starbucks (With a Touch of Simon)

He was disheveled. Unshaven. Dirty. He was standing in line ahead of me, waiting his turn. Get these mutts away from me You know I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore

I live in a city where coffee shops are ubiquitous. I visit them all and enjoy them, each with their particular ambiance. I have noticed something these caffeinated oases have in common: The enemy is Starbucks. In at least one case the PR is explicit – We are not just another Starbucks. In Burlington’s hyper-localvore context corporate coffee is a blatant affront to our sensibilities.

Burlington has three Starbucks within about three miles of each other (one is technically in South Burlington). I go to all of them. One of those Starbucks is downtown – in the Marketplace. That’s the one I frequent the most. And that’s where “they” are. He is surrounded by the sound The sound Cattle in the marketplace Scatterlings and orphanages

It has been noted that coffee at Starbucks isn’t cheap. I have wondered: How can “they” afford it here?

He wanders in – an older gentleman with a war injury that has left him with pain in his jaw. “It hurts me to talk,” he told me once. And so he keeps to himself.

I always get the same thing – coffee. I’m not a latte or cappuccino kind of guy. And I always opt for the smaller size. The less coffee I drink the more I enjoy it.

She was introduced to me as an 18 year-old homeless girl. She was struggling with drug addiction, trying to get her life back on track. She wasn’t drinking anything – she probably couldn’t afford it; but she sat for quite a while talking … He ducked back down the alley With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl All along along There were incidents and accidents There were hints and allegations

Occasionally I will get an espresso and just slowly savor in small sips the intense flavor of the brew. Usually I get a croissant to accompany the coffee. Why am I soft in the middle The rest of my life is so hard I need a photo-opportunity I want a shot at redemption

He is schizophrenic. And when he comes to town I always see him at Starbucks. He sits at one of the tall tables talking to the invisible partner who is ever present. When he sees me he interrupts the conversation with himself to greet me and wish me well. He looks around, around He sees angels in the architecture Spinning in infinity He says Amen! and Hallelujah!

This isn’t a criticism of the other shops. Their coffee and pastries are delicious. But it occurred to me recently when, by happenstance, I was in a “local” establishment in the morning and the Burlington Marketplace Starbucks in the afternoon. That’s when it dawned on me. As often as I’ve been to the “local” coffee shops I’ve never run into the young, disheveled, unshaven man. I’ve never seen the guy with the painful jaw. Not once have I encountered the young woman struggling to stay off the street and clear of drugs. The schizophrenic has never greeted me anyplace but that Starbucks.

I won’t forget the hot summer day when that disheveled, unshaven and dirty young man was ahead of me in line. When it was his turn and the barista asked: “What can I get started for you,” he hesitated for moment; then he lifted a clear, plastic cup that was empty. “Could I have some water?”

The barista’s response was civil enough as she took the plastic cup from him. In fact, she seemed more than civil; she was friendly. And then came the surprise:

“Would you like ice with that,” she asked. It was if he had ordered a specialty drink and she was clarifying one of the ingredients. Her tone wasn’t patronizing. There was no hint of impatience. It was completely void of any frustration.

I realized what had just happened. “They” had been treated like “us”.

It is stated in two different books of the Christian Testament – “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” (Romans.) “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female: for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians.)

I don’t presume to think every Starbucks is like the one on Church Street. But it’s good to know there is at least one Starbucks which has set the bar high when it comes to inclusion. It gives the competition a noble goal to aspire to. And it’s as simple as: “Would you like ice with that?”

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.