Teresa and Carol (not their real names) both started working for my local Starbucks six years ago. We first met when I came in with my newborn, looking for a quiet place I could be out of the house without committing to crowds or to conversations I was too exhausted to hold up. They admired him in hushed whispers and gave me space and light conversation with a decaf latte - exactly what I needed in that moment.
Fast forward to the first day of Kindergarten. I had left Monkey happily exploring the world without the slightest concern that I was not part of it. Very little clinging or gratifying declarations that he could never leave my side. The turncoat sauntered in eagerly and even encouraged me to “just go Mommy” when I took too long to take my leave. I was perfectly calm as I drove to Starbucks to wait to pick him up. I was perfectly calm as I stood in line for my turn at the counter. Then Teresa recognized me and asked how Monkey’s first day of Kindergarten had gone. I burst into tears.
Not that ladylike welling of tears that trickle gracefully down one’s cheeks in the movies. No. In front of about 20 people, I burst into the sobs of a mad woman, replete with runny nose and ugly facial expressions. Horrified and unable to control my reaction, I covered my face with both hands and wondered how to navigate the displays of Tazo tea and coffee cups in a lunatic dash to the front door.
Instead, I was smothered in hugs from Teresa, Carol and even a couple of strangers. It was shocking and yet I accepted the comfort in a way that my more formal personality would not usually have found comfortable. They got me water and told me stories about their own children’s first day of Kindergarten. They had strangers sharing the same. They made me a cinnamon dolce latte with skim milk and made me less embarrassed at my social gaffe. They were warm and supportive and exactly what I needed in that moment.
There have been hundreds of other moments. The mornings when the lack of caffeine prevents me from making a coherent order. Those are the mornings when all I have to do is nod at a recommendation and nothing else is required of me accept payment. For all the world, they made my local Starbucks into a version of Sam’s bar in the TV show, Cheers. They knew everyone by first name and, though we didn’t always know each other, we all knew a lot about Teresa and Carol from stories they would share about their own families and lives. Our favorite baristas connected us as a community in a way that brick and mortar cannot –they were the friends of a friend that magically create a network of friendly acquaintances.
I’ve come to realize that I have enjoyed a wonderful, low maintenance (no compromising on how we spend our time together or expectations of how long), high yielding (I always get great coffee!) friendships with these women. My two favorite baristas will be missed. All I can hope for is that we will run into each other from time to time. I know that when it happens I’ll be sure to invite them for a cup of coffee. My treat.