Photo by Flickr user williamhartz, here. Used under Creative Commons license.
I spend a lot of time at Starbucks. I have three main Starbucks I go to. There's the one near my home in the "gay village," which is always filled to the brim with flirty gay guys; there's the one near the public library, which is kind of a mix; and there's the one downtown, which is visited mostly by lawyers and business men taking a coffee break.
The one I go to most often is downtown. I work as a professor, and after a day of sitting alone in the library working on some writing, it's refreshing to my spirit to go downtown. I like seeing everyone all dressed up. I like hearing their conversations with deal with concerns so far from my own. I like the bustly energy of "downtown" which is so totally unlike the energy of the university.
A lot of people complain about Starbucks, and I understand being frustrated with the feeling that they are taking over. But in many ways it's a very OK company. In my experience, they're for real about welcoming anyone to hang out there, even for long periods of time. They're respectful of the wandering, the confused, and the homeless. They offer a good selection of healthy snack foods, and they're cheerful and encouraging about putting your coffee in ceramic instead of paper. They offer health insurance to their employees.
Today's narrative happens at the library Starbucks, which, as I said, is a real mix. It's kind of close to the University, so there are students, but it's also close to various museum-y things so there are tourists. It's slightly a "see and be seen" crowd, because there's a Tim Horton's right next door, and in some class-distinction-complexity of Canada that I don't quite get yet, it seems that people who identify as "sensible" are faithful to Tim Horton's, though to the untrained eye the two places just seem to offer completely different sorts of things.
I was working at Starbucks, and I had my laptop open. On the other side of the narrow room, there was a weird guy, maybe about 22 years old. At the table next to him, a young couple - maybe like 17 or 18, very quiet.
Some coffee spilled. I looked over, couldn't get the story. Whose coffee was it? Was it an accident? The older guy's laptop was open on his table but it seemed fine. There were some words exchanged, but quietly. It was calm for 5 minutes.
Then angry, louder words. Some taunting: it seemed like the older guy was taunting the younger guy, trying to get something started, and the younger guy wasn't sure what to do. I'm probably just projecting, but it seemed to me like the younger guy would've been just as happy to leave the place and avoid a confrontation but that he also wanted to stand up for himself in front of his girlfriend.
The tension escalated. Everyone could tell a fight was brewing; everyone was kind of looking at them like, guys, just cool it, it's Starbucks. You can't fight here.
Eventually the younger guy started trying to make peace. "It's fine; let's just forget it, OK? Just let it go," he said.
"Good," I thought.
Then wham. The two guys were up, seriously going at it, knocking into the table with the older guy's laptop, which teetered and almost crashed to the floor. They grabbed one another, started careening around. In about one second they were crashing toward me.
I grabbed my laptop and held it to my chest, evidently having some thought that if they were going to crash into me I could put myself between the computer and the floor. I'm not sure.
Finally the staff came over and shouted and called for back-up and shouted some more and made a huge fuss and finally the young couple left and the staff stood over the old guy glaring at him 'til he packed up his stuff and got out.
I do not have the necessary qualities for breaking up fights. It's not just that I'm physically not a fighter (though that is true), and it's not that I'm timid (because I'm not); it's just that I don't care enough. These guys were so mad, they'd have steamrolled right over me.
It's not necessarily because I'm a girl that I don't have these qualities. The staff member who came over and broke it up was a girl and she did an awesome job. Those two piped right down.
I seem to care a lot about my laptop.