"Wild salmon are the canaries in the coal mines of our own world." -- Just try to wrap your mind around this statement. OK, it's a mixed metaphor, and the president of the Atlantic Salmon Foundation is trying to say that salmon are the canaries of the sea...or something. But aren't "the coal mines of our own world," well, coal mines, with canaries in them, not salmon in cages? Whew. This paradoxical phrase appeared on the side of my coffee cup at the Arlington Starbucks last night, where I witnessed a wide array of troubling social phenomena:
1. The store was crowded with patrons, including a weekly knitting circle who were using all but 8 of the chairs and all but 4 of the tables in the store. The 8 remaining chairs were all occupied. This meant that everyone in line was going to have to stand around, or leave. The knitters (about 10 women of various ages and one son, around 10 years old, also knitting) were chatting and knitting away, and obviously NOT DRINKING COFFEE since their hands were occupied and they don't want to spill coffee on their yarn, now do they? They stay from 7pm until closing. The angelic barista actually went and brought out some extra chairs from the back for us.
2. While I was waiting in line, a woman approached and sort of cut in front of the guy ahead of me, trying to get the attention of the barista behind the counter. The barista was very busy pouring drinks while the only other employee worked the register. The woman piped, "Hi, um, I'm still waiting on a hot chocolate?" and the barista kindly replied, "OK, just a minute." Then the woman waits until the barista has turned around, finishing her drink order, and says, "Um, hi, do you have a microwave back there?" I see that the woman is carrying a plastic tray with what look like knishes inside, like from the supermarket deli. The barista very kindly takes the tray and heats up the food, which they DO NOT SELL at Starbucks, so the woman can feed it to her two little girls. In the Starbucks. The woman meanwhile cuts behind me in the line to reach OVER the cash register and grab a plastic fork: "Um, can I have a fork?" She was petite, with a bandana around her hair, a fleece and jeans. Her two daughters, maybe 9 and 6, were dressed in nearly identical pink tracksuits and raincoats, pulling those rolling school backpacks. They both refused to eat and the woman cut up the knishes and FED THEM to the younger girl, while chatting with her woman friend in an unidentifiable language, possibly Spanish but maybe Hebrew. Cultural differences, or just...WTF?
3. A 30-something guy in the line, slightly shifty, started dancing around to the Starbucks soundtrack music. He was standing there normally, then would suddenly rock out for a few bars, then stand still again. OK, whatever. Then while he's waiting for his coffee, he pulls out a pharmacy bag and begins poring over the many, many pill bottles inside, shaking them and swaying to the music.
4. Another knitter arrives to join the circle. This woman is visually impaired and uses a white cane. She slowly approaches the knitting group, coming up behind one of the queen bee knitters. As some of the other women start to greet the newcomer, Queen Bee turns around and says, "Oh hi, I didn't see you there!" Woman replies, without missing a beat, "Neither did I!"
5. A dapper geek comes in behind me: khakis, turtleneck, leather coat, hat, bald head w/goatee, glasses, laptop bag. He chats with the barista and mentions he won't be in much more, he is moving to North Carolina for work. "I'm gonna miss this place," he says. The barista jokes, "Well, I'm sure there are some Starbucks down there?" Very sincerely, he replies: "It just won't be the same."
6. Around 9:30, an anorectically skinny blonde enters, looking frazzled. She plonks down a huge book and laptop, plugs in, begins paging through the book and typing furiously. At 10:20, the barista comes around to let us know they are closing in 10 minutes. The woman sighs, "I'll have to go study at home." I see that the big book is "The Wine Bible."
Starbucks, I may have misjudged you. Sure, you peddle over-roasted cofee and overpriced doo-dads to aimless Americans in our alienated suburban community nodes. And yes, you charge a lot for your heavily branded WiFi access. Plus your baked goods are really quite poor. But you put up with a lot of shit, too. Carry on.