IMG_2913The view from the comfy chair at Starbucks is occasionally sad, sometimes strange, but always interesting. Upon entering this day we nod in silent recognition to the woman in the long down coat. Purple, or perhaps more fashionably lavender or even periwinkle, she wore the same coat no matter the weather. An older woman, we could count on seeing her every time we walked to our local Starbucks for lunch. A sort of sadness envelopes her, yet her expression isn’t gloomy. Nor does she smile, or talk, or engage with any customers.

I can’t help but recall an old song by Dan Fogelberg. Windows and Walls tells the story of an older woman, her husband long since dead and her married children living far away. Nobody every comes by any more and mostly she sits and stares at the windows and walls. But sometimes she takes herself outside:

Maybe she’ll go to the corner today
And pick up the new McCall’s
If just to escape for an hour
From her windows and walls

I picture this woman’s routine a version of the song. Walking whatever distance to camp for a while in the corner at Starbucks just to see people. Of course, her story may be vastly different from what I imagine, but to me her life seems sad.

On this particular day there was also the strange. At first I paid no attention to the table next to us. Two women seemingly in their 20s or 30s sat there chatting; perhaps friends meeting for a latte or mocha Frappuccino? But then the tarot cards came out. As one flipped over individual cards, the other became increasingly enrapt in their meaning. Or at least the meaning that the first woman – should I call her a medium? – was inventing with each turn of a card. Oddly enough, on this very day I had been researching a “spiritualist” who preyed on Mary Lincoln after the death of her son Willie in the Civil War White House. Charles Colchester was a noted spiritualist at the time, who not surprisingly was later run out of town for scamming his gullible clients.

So yes, I had to chuckle at the goings on next to me. I wanted to stand behind the tarot card reader with a big sign for the other woman to see: “It’s a Scam! Run!” Alas, I didn’t. Who am I to impart my views (and facts) on those who choose to believe.

Ah, then there was the interesting. A tall, classically pretty, blonde woman came in. But that wasn’t what caught my eye; instead I was immediately drawn to her feet and the fluorescent green flipflops. The footwear seemed as cheaply made as they were brilliantly bright. Only after several minutes did I realize they were the temporary fold-out ones given out by massage parlors for use on the premises. Such a massage facility was next door to Starbucks, so my bewilderment seemed to have an easy remedy, although it was still odd to see someone wearing them out in public. Perhaps she was headed back for Round 2?

But that wasn’t the oddest part. While these flipflops were thin and flat (as flipflops are wont to be), the woman was walking on her toes. Only the balls of her feet were touching the surface. My guess (or perhaps I should say my hypothesis, after all, I am a scientist) is she so routinely wears high heels that she feels uncomfortable walking on flat feet. I’ve seen other women who walk this way in flat shoes, recently even while she was wearing more substantial sneakers. And then today I saw a waiter doing the same, which really made me start to wonder if there was a new fashion trend I had somehow missed (like all the others).

But our allotted time in Starbucks this day was running out and it was time to start our hike back home. The round trip is roughly 2.5 miles so we mostly go to Starbucks for the exercise and change of scenery, but I have to admit that people watching has become a reason in itself to go.

Anyone have their own interesting experiences at Starbucks to relate?

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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