Starbucks in summer is a peculiar place. It attracts a wildly disparate group united solely by a craving for caffeine, Internet access, and air conditioning. Within these soothing green-and-brown walls, coffeehouse rules apply. You can linger as long as you want, eat breakfast all day, and slug potent beverages without judgment. It’s like the Port Authority with better chairs.
Full disclosure: I love Starbucks. More accurately, I am downright addicted to their drinks, some of which should require a prescription, and I find myself in the throes of a migraine without them.
I started out slowly, sipping Dunkin’ Donuts in flavors like toasted almond and hazelnut. But later, I craved more intensity. To me, Dunkin’ Donuts is the kindly granny who invites you into her living room for a French vanilla pick-me-up. Starbucks is the personal trainer who’s brusque, powerful, and sometimes hard to swallow. The trainer you’re too afraid to quit.
This is especially true of their newish Trenta size, 31 gluttonous ounces of cold caffeine. (“Trenta” could be code for “desperation” in Italian.) Working on your resume? A few sips of Trenta iced coffee, and you’re the CEO. Feeling unsure about a major life change? A Trenta iced tea and you may just consider revamping your career, filing for divorce, or buying a one-way ticket to California to join an improv troupe.
Starbucks gets this: Lest you feel antsy about your yen, there’s Oprah beaming down from the wall, touting her Teavana chai tea. Every sale of Oprah Chai goes toward the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation. Drink it for the children.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I worked at Starbucks during one mid-1990s summer, and it was a different planet. There were merely four drinks on the menu: coffee, espresso, latte, and mocha. (There was also an exotic new test beverage called Frappucino, which we hapless teens mixed in a back room — three parts powder to one part something that looked like motor oil.) There were no celebrity endorsements, no yacht-rock soundtracks, no regulars nibbling on bulbous boulangerie pastries. Bob Marley played on a catatonic loop, and nobody stayed longer than five minutes.
Now, of course, Starbucks harbors its own cast of summer characters, attracted by temperate climes, edgy muzak, and speedy Wi-Fi. They include:
The Great American Novel writer
This lovable mascot, the Norm of coffeehouses, is here for the long haul. He or she arrived at 7 a.m. and has been coddling the same perspiring espresso for several hours. This person is usually identifiable by a laptop that’s treated like a large pet. When he or she wants to use the bathroom — even creative geniuses have personal needs — a trustworthy bystander will be asked to baby-sit it.
The corporate titan
This slick, well-tailored viper is exceedingly important and wants you to know it. So important, in fact, that he must conduct business at Starbucks, not within the confines of a typical office. He or she commands a wide berth and turns his seat into a posh corporate suite: laptop, briefcase, phone, stacks of paper, earbuds. Maybe even a plant and a family photo. Occasionally, he or she receives a phone call, which is intercepted while striding through the seating area and bellowing.
The mom with Madonna arms
She’s fresh from yoga class and needs a smoothie.
The retired husband
Identifiable by socks yanked up to knees and cellphone holster in pocket, this poor fellow has been reading the same page of The Economist since last Monday. He does not want to go home.
The awkward duo
This is typically an interviewer and an interviewee. The interviewee is usually auditioning for a thankless job and appears pained; the interviewer gesticulates wildly to compensate for lack of charisma. An untouched caramel pecan sticky bun — purchased by the interviewer to show what a generous, down-to-earth guy he is — congeals nearby.
The trysting couple
They arrive at 10 a.m. on the dot, usually sporting corporate ID badges from an office park a safe distance away. Apparently the cafe is their secret go-to for a morning canoodle, because their romance is rare and special. Usually found on couches.
This person has needs: culinary, dietary, and otherwise. It was for this customer that the iced triple skinny vanilla caramel no-whip latte with room was invented, and because of this customer that Starbucks associates get health benefits.
Often found in troupes of no fewer than six. They are blissfully oblivious and extremely loud. No conversational topic is off-limits or too mundane to share with the entire store. Occasionally the subject of furtive, wistful glances by the Novelist, who has found new inspiration.
I state this with confidence because I’m writing from a Starbucks at this very moment. I’ve been here since 9 a.m. The air conditioning feels wonderful, the coffee is strong, and if I could only find someone to baby-sit my laptop for a few minutes, I’d never leave.