I do most of my errands on my bike. Just last week, I rode to the Laundromat with three loads of laundry bungee-corded to its basket. More often, I travel lighter and with less purpose. I’ll pedal somewhere and stop for a cup of coffee.
I like coffee. The stronger, the better. No foam or sugar or half this or that. Just black and hot. I’m a stereotypical liberal (and proud of it), who often moans and groans about the loss of the mom-and-pop storefront, the standardization of towns and cities and suburbs. I’ve never been in a Wal-Mart — on principle. I’ve never crossed a picket line — that’s an even bigger principle. But Starbucks — so big, so corporate, so the same the same the same everywhere? I count on it. Its coffee and service and pervasiveness have been very good to me. I have different favorite locations for different times of day, days of the week.
For the past year or so, this has been my Sunday-morning routine. Get up at 6. Drink a couple of inches of coffee — enough to jolt me out the door. Ride my bike three miles to Fern Dell. Hike up to Mount Hollywood. Hike back down. Get back on bike. Stop at the Armenian Starbucks at the northeast corner of Hollywood and Western for a proper cup.
This is a good Starbucks. It has a lot of character, though you might not think so, driving by. (It’s in a development with a Ralphs and a Blockbuster and a Ross Dress for Less.) The staff at this Starbucks is unexcitable, steady. They don’t give the bum’s rush to the old lady who comes in only to use the bathroom and talk loudly to herself. They don’t give the bums the bum’s rush. The men, dressed in black, who sit at the outside tables, smoke with focus. The mentally ill homeless guy who drinks leftover coffee cadges cigarettes from them; so does the 50-something-crapped-out-in-Hollywood groupie who talks loud and fast to a tall, expressionless black guy who nods, but says nothing in response to her stories about Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger and various security guards who let her sneak into these superstars’ orbit. Her voice is wrinkled, and the skin around her eyes is, too. I quit smoking 20 years ago, but I love the smell of a cigarette, so I sit outside with them all. The open-air eavesdropping is bracing.
A few weeks ago, when a middle-aged Latino guy, pushing a Ralphs cart filled with three 12-packs of Miller and three bags of chicken thighs and legs, stopped near our Starbucks tables and began to unload his cart, we all assumed he was going to load it into the minivan nearby. It took us a beat before we realized we had it wrong. He was on foot. The loudmouthed groupie, the black guy, one Armenian smoker and I stood up and offered to help him. I pointed at my bike and basket and pulled a bungee out of my backpack. He shook his head no. The groupie persisted, loudly, but he still refused, waving her off. We watched, disbelieving and admiring, as he hoisted and adjusted his bounty and walked off, a perfect balance of grace and strength.
It’s another Sunday morning at the Armenian Starbucks, and when I leave L.A., as I imagine I one day will, I’m going to miss it.