Starbucks (a story of making meaning)

How can I really feel at home in Ft. Wayne?

When I was in college, I never imagined I would someday be selling enterprise software, of all things. It sounds like a cliché now, but back then I wanted to be a novelist. I spent a whole summer at a café in Florence, writing in that decrepit journal, drinking way too much espresso, and getting to know a bunch of like-minded bohemians hoping that graduation could be put off another year or two.

Of course, I’m much more practical now. And, leaving the whole practicality thing aside, I actually like your work. Traveling around the country, meeting exotic people (and the people in small towns seem awfully exotic to me, since I’m from New York), I find that a lot of that youthful spirit of adventure still means something and still has room to operate.

On the other hand, Ft. Wayne, Indiana might be pushing the “exoticism” a little far. I check into the Comfort Inn, call my client, and get everything arranged for our meeting tomorrow morning. I’ve got some time to kill, so I work out, but feel restless. I get in the car and drive down this characterless, endless six-lane highway with the same old fast-food and “family style” restaurants I see on all the other highways I seem to stay on.

And then I see the Starbuck’s, and something just changes. I drive into the parking lot, and the moment I walk into the place I’m transported back to Florence. I can’t say why, exactly (Starbucks is a fairly far extrapolation from Florence), but I’m at home. Maybe it’s the smell of the freshly-brewed espresso. Maybe it’s the delightfully-disheveled look of the pile of newspapers over in the corner. Perhaps it’s the dreadlocked young woman behind the counter with the nose-ring and the right attitude.

I order your double espresso, sit down on the plump couch, pick up the crumpled newspaper (how many people have read it already? I wonder), and just imbibe the vibe. The guy next to me looks up and smiles. We get into a great political conversation, something I really needed but didn’t realize until it happened.

And, I feel “at home,” not in location but in “place,” nonetheless. Others, like my girlfriend, think that one Starbucks is identical to the next (and view that negatively), but to me, that’s what makes it comfortable. I know I can always find my place and meet people I’ll enjoy talking with.

No matter where I go, I depend on Starbuck’s to evoke a feeling of the place I really live.
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