All the Starbucks-haters can suck it. Where else can you buy a muffin and get a receipt for a "pumpkin muff"? Sure, there is generally one ultra-perky ringleader who grates on your 7 a.m. ears like a swarm of rabid bats, but the rest of the minions just go about their business, delivering you a fresh cup of predictable coffee with that same soothing, flat smile. (The baristas are the real power in the machine; who else can give out the bathroom code 186 times a day?)
I go there a lot to write. Not only is there free wifi, but the music is usually so bland that I can tune it out and concentrate on the brilliance flowing from my fingertips. It's also a good place to hear inane conversations fueled by caffeine, not booze. If you are really lucky, the person next to you — also there alone, on their computer — will read your open smile as an invitation to talk your ear off, making it easier for you to avoid work.
I was at the Starbucks on Third Street, which is probably my favorite, because it is big with plenty of seating. The franchise is so keen to open new locations that it seems to inhabit any space with at least two walls and an electrical outlet. But this Starbucks is a grand dame, she is. Aye.
I sat on the banquette, which flanks the farthest wall. I always drink the same thing, a grande latte extra hot. To its credit, Starbucks is the only coffee shop that I have been to that actually makes sure it is extra hot. One location even made me accept a verbal waiver of sorts before they handed it to me. I always say the same thing: "As long as the top layer of skin on my tongue peels off, it's all good."
I was searching "Disneyland," because something has been gnawing at me for months now. When I was in the Magic Kingdom a year ago, the Ariel's Undersea Adventure ride was still under construction. I was very curious what exactly went on in the ride. No less than three people I know have since been to Disneyland, and even though I have pointedly asked them on Facebook to please describe to me what happens "under the sea," no one has. Recently my friend Justin returned from Disneyland, and I excitedly asked him to spill the beans, but he said that the ride was closed when he was there. Damn. "C'mom Katy," he said to me. "Can't you guess? There's a pah-ty, mon, and all her friends are there." He conveniently left out the fact that Ursula the sea hag pops up somewhere along the way.
"Is that the new Mac?" said the guy next to me, leaning over and into my airspace.
"Um... I think so?" I said, painfully ignorant of all things Apple. He quickly pointed out that it was not the newest one, and that he had the newest one. He then reached into his bag and pulled it out. He turned it on and began to give me a tour of his laptop, which was actually okay with me, because of my painful ignorance of all things Apple. He showed me how to access the same things on my own computer, and the two of us began to compare widgets and squidgets. While he was edifying me, I gave him a good look-see. He was wearing a big, bulky leather coat, polyester pants, and a leather newsboy's cap; he looked like Fred Sanford's bingo buddy. He then pulled out some other gadget and started to explain it to me. He was jolly, though, so I figured he could take a joke.
"Do you drive your wife nuts?" I asked him. He laughed and answered in the affirmative, then went back to showing me his new iPhone. My mind began to wander, and I really wanted to open the link to the Undersea Adventure ride that I found on YouTube. Lucky for me, another of his friends came over and they greeted each other with an intricate handshake. Then his friend pulled out some playing cards and began to practice some card tricks.
Good ol' YouTube: Someone had taken the time to film the entire ride, and it was just as 1964 rinky-dink as I had hoped. But at least now I had a genuine visual — something to go on until I could finally be there in the flesh.
"Is this your card?" asked my computer nerd's pal, towhich he replied in the negative."Damn."
"Don't trust this guy," I said about the card shark. "I've seen him running a monte game down at Fisherman's Wharf." Har har, chuckle chuckle.
"Is your name Katy?" said the computer guy. I reluctantly responded, wondering how in the hell he figured that out. "You have the Bluetooth connection on your computer on, and I can see into your system entirely." Oops. He showed me how to turn it off, but he made sure to let me know that people like him have probably been spying on my computer at Starbucks every time I come there. This means that everyone now knows I have a penchant for Disneyland and bukkake.
"Man, thank you for helping me," I said, and he gave me his business card.
"If you ever need me again," he said, tipping his hat. I had a feeling I would.
"See ya," I said, surrendering my seat to the next customer. His friend shuffled the cards and started over.
"Let's try this again," the computer guy said, rolling his eyes.