Tomorrow morning, Thanksgiving morning, Bette and I will go over to “our Starbucks” and meet friends who will have family obligations the rest of the day. I am tempted to say that we will all have “other family obligations” that day, but that would be getting ahead of the story.
“Our Starbucks,” in the Multnomah Village section of Portland, Oregon, is an amazing place. It isn’t oriented to people who stop in and get coffee on their way to somewhere else, although of course, they serve them too. It is oriented to the community of people who meet there, who meet each other there. And that’s why everybody will be there on Thanksgiving morning. On Christmas morning, too, if it works the way it has for the last several years. Very often, the baristas hand around samples of the pastries. Apparently, that is what is happening in the picture below.
This morning, the usual crew met in the usual space: the northwest corner of the store. We’ve taken to calling ourselves the Northwest Corner Caucus. There are very few mornings when “all of us” are there. Apparently lives have other demands as well as coffee and conversation. But some of us will be there, for sure, and when we get together in that corner, certain habits of conversation are presumed and, in most cases, practiced as well.
We try pretty hard, for example, to have conversations where there aren’t any losers and where everybody who has a story to tell has a chance to tell it. That means that while there is a “discussion of political issues” side to the conversations, there is a “soap opera” side as well. I know you were anxious about that conversation with your boss; how did that go? I remember that you said you were trying to move over into a new line of work; is that going well? So…that woman you met on eHarmony…has anything come of that?
This morning, for instance, there were a lot of family stories, partly because everyone is setting up for a Thanksgiving of some sort. But one son is thinking of a bold new business venture and the Caucus has been following the deliberations. Does water exercise really offer any hope for rehabbing bad hips and ankles? Looks pretty good so far. So I know you have been checking out some local senior centers in anticipation of moving into one. What have you found out that you’d be willing to share?
And, this morning, we spent a lot of time on Ferguson, Missouri. Can you really deal with a case like that at the grand jury level? Wouldn’t it be better to bring it into court where cross examinations can make a difference? Is there a way to make police more strictly liable for the consequences of their actions and still find people who are willing to be police officers? Does the culture of the police department exercise a lot of influence over how police behave in crisis circumstances? Will the commission report about the killing and the burning in Ferguson help at all, or is it just the standard process by which we put things like that behind us.
Are labor unions victims of their own success? Now that so many workers have pension benefits and weekends off and rights to arbitration, is there really any need for “a labor movement?” Does the labor interest work better when it is expressed directly through political parties, as in many European social democracies, or is the American approach of trying to influence policymakers better?
Did the twelve-year-old Jesus of Nazareth get lippy with his mother when she reproved him for hanging around the temple instead of going hope with his parents? Actually, I introduced that one. There was a line from a blog I posted yesterday that I was proud of and every time a new member showed up, I would read it again. Here’s the line: “Jesus, a master rhetorician as many twelve-year-old boys are, knew that if you buy the premise, you are stuck with the question just the way your mother asked it.” We don’t actually make it a habit to talk about Jesus of Nazareth, but we did this morning.
There isn’t a starting time for the Caucus. It starts when the second person arrives and continues thereafter. I have no idea what we will talk about tomorrow, but the full crew should be there and I am eager to find out.
I decided to write this little note when I realized how genuinely grateful I am for our Starbucks. The manager understands that this is a neighborhood coffee house and she does everything she can do to make it work. She teaches each new barista what superb customer service looks like and every day she is there, she is a walking tutorial in how to do it. She introduces people to each other—people whom she knows but who have not yet met each other—and very often those introductions turn into conversations and sometimes into friendships. Every current member of the caucus is someone I met at Starbucks, including my wife Bette.  So our Starbucks is a gentle and generous place. It is kept that way by a manager and a corps of baristas who know what kind of gift they can provide—well beyond the rich coffee and the goodies—and greet people by name and start preparing the drink they always order. The Caucus is kept that way by a very solid and stable understanding among the members that the levels of trust and understanding we have built up simply can’t be readily duplicated, so they have to be protected.
And they are. And that’s why, first thing tomorrow, I will remember to give thanks for Starbucks.
 When I was dating in January 2005, I met women at Starbucks when I could. Bette lived right across the street from a Starbucks—not the Multnomah Village Starbucks—so we agreed to meet there. It was stimulating in a way that had nothing at all to do with the caffeine, although I had a tall dark roast coffee, myself, and I bought Bette a tall latte.