Starbucks, if you are my third place, kill me now –
I can’t recall the exact day, but I missed Live 8, Bob Geldof’s second coming. One summer day in 2005, as the Boomtown Rats “cocked it up by singing I don’t like Mondays, I, a college student, “crafted” lattes, cappuccinos, and those frappuccinos for Starbucks. Never the wiser that some seventeen years later, I would be back in the green apron under the Siren’s watchful gaze.
I, the graduate student, continued through a Bachelor’s and Masters’s degree into positions of responsibility and respect, appreciation and apprehension – until the prospect of professional paramount became too nauseating to pursue – resulting in alcoholism and delusions of reality, sickening positions.
I always said, “If I could be a Barista and make a living…”
One day ground broke on a Starbucks within eyesight of the cell where I made my living.
Ecstatic – as if a call from God or a Siren’s song – I put in my application – quickly returned with a job offer – an offer I should have considered with a bit more caution.
To be back in the environment of third place- Awesome. The peace of an environment which allowed me to be who I am and share the love of coffee and kinship with all who entered – I was back in the green, ready to return to what I remembered before professional life attempted to kill me.
Howard Shultz was returning to his position just as I was returning to mine. We both, presumably, took a reduction in pay to find the spark and connection to people that made us both want to take the time in our day to fuze with those around us, the partners and customers, the fellow Baristas, the smiles, and celebrations.
I only assume that he felt the same reminiscence that I felt. At this point, I can only believe that Howard has found his Starbucks dead while relinquishing the reigns to the new CEO. The loyalty, appreciation, emotion, feel, coffee, mood, and the collection of all that was the third place are gone.
For those Partners who have chosen to strike and speak up, I applaud you – the expectations of those who control you are unrealistic and utterly ridiculous.
However, suppose Starbucks is your definition of a third place. In that case, the police should be called, CPS needs to be notified, and the meaning of love, understanding, and togetherness will have to be reevaluated in the Starbucks dictionary.
Before there was John and Paul – there was Paul and John and those other guys – laying out those biblical love lyrics.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know that John was like, “bigger than Jesus we are.”
I could see Yoda and John, in a bed-in, in that little cave in the Dagobah System – philosophizing – sorry – way off the topic.
John was jealous of Paul – not that Paul, but the Paul that wrote all those letters to those churches. John might have believed he was more significant than Jesus – but as we see in the writing, John has to be humbled by Paul.
Let’s play a game of who wrote it, Paul or John – ready – you go first.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”
Sound a bit like John, right – no it’s Paul.
Here’s one – “let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.”
It sounds like something John and Yoko would have written on a wall of some makeshift art installation – but No – Paul.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one.”
Well, this last piece sounds like something off the Imagine album, but no, it’s New Testament.
“Love is patient and kind” – John could have only wished.
Well, this could go on all day – but I think it proves who is the best lyricist.
And as for that other Paul, the only thing he ever did was Yesterday – hey, finally one by Paul.
Ahh, the romance of train travel. Reclined, relaxed, renewing oneself while gazing lazily at the world through the picture window. The folds of landscape pass, naturally rise and fall, enveloping one into Mother Nature’s picture book – sometimes invaded by man’s dedication to himself. Like the scribble of an adolescent with a crayon – Homeosapians’ relentless progress influences artificial weathering and erosion while depositing his longing for remembrance in deep compaction of fifth and wealth – soon sending Mother Nature’s work to the discard pile.
Wait -what is wrong with me?
This is not true.
I am passing by a plethora of beauty—God’s creation. Only my picture window is stained with filth, distorting my view. Perhaps it is my eyes that are stained? My perception? Do I no longer see the wonderful world full of beauty? What is the cause of my perverted vision?
Man cannot be so powerful – my vision is perverted. My vision limits and causes me not to see the forest for the trees.
My spacious seat is surrounded by others who have set up little Banana Republics on this cross-country Amtrak journey. We carry our needs, our perceived needs, and each his own.
We are connected only by these walls of a train. We journey together, but each journey is ours. Perhaps society could learn from nature. Perhaps our arrogance and disconnect from our “natural” relationship have been our greatest sin. To borrow an idea or two from Edward Abbey – We reap what we do not sow – and plant things where they do not naturally grow. Beyond this smeared window lays symbiotic relationships, biotic and abiotic kinships from microscopic to astronomical. Systemic truths developed out of a need to survive rather than to find purpose.
Perhaps that is where true beauty is found.
A spiritual kinship that cannot be screen-printed on a t-shirt or scribbled on a FAQ page.
A majestic peak is only majestic on the surface – under the surface is aggressive – pushing and pulling, destroying and creating – a natural war. I find it ironic that man feels superior when he climbs to the peak. I am more impressed by those who move the mountain.
Why did Thoreau sit and watch the forest burn? Could he have tamed it with water and a call for help? Would that have made Thoreau superior?
If destruction provides for new creation, then perhaps that fire is a form of conception/renewal. Would firefighting then be a form of nature abortion?
Was Thoreau a Right to Lifer? Was Thoreau a voyeur?
The Amtrak roles on and the scenes beyond the distorted glass pass and the Amtrak roles on-
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the tall tales. Those malleable stories build the pedestals, materialize the laurels, and fabricate the “facts” of the state’s iconic founding fathers – individuals whose sacrifices and servitude reward their memories with stained-glass images and names on universities. These rough and tough Texans’, who lost and won, stole and gave, gained independence, then gave it away, histories are as dynamic as the shifting sands of Monahans. Okay – I will stop. Texas is fantastic, and the history is just great. I would not change a thing unless that thing would make history more extraordinary and the state that much more wonderful. Sorry – I will stop. Not all Texas history heroes have to have their stories inflated. One such fellow is Major Robert Simpson Neighbors. Neighbors was an Indian Agent, a significant player in the relocation of Kiowa and Comanche throughout Texas. Neighbors believed in going out into Commancharia and making connections with each tribe. This proximity allows a personal relationship with the tribes. Unfortunately, his modus Operandi caused many Anglo settles grief – as they felt his connection to the “savage” tribes inappropriate. Nevertheless, he continued to do his duty with fidelity and respect. Neighbors ultimately helped create a reservation along the Brazos River just south of present-day Newcastle, Texas. This location was also a stone’s throw from Fort Belknap. Unfortunately, this was not a good location for the reservation. The settlers’ outcries of Indian depredations rang out across the prairie, echoing off the hills. The heated exchanges between the groups exploded into violence. Something had to change. In attempting to do what was right, Major Neighbors organized the tribes and delivered them from Texas to an Oklahoma reservation. Undefeated, Neighbors returned to Texas with the expectation to keep serving with consistent fairness. Instead, a bullet awaited him on his return to Fort Belknap. The shooter disagreed with Neighbor’s ideas. Then, this true Texan was taken to the town cemetery and buried without much honor. Major Robert Simpson Neighbors rests in an unkempt cemetery in a cow pasture. An individual whose history is not inflated or fabricated. A Texan who sacrificed his life in an attempt to maintain peace.
An image that has haunted me now has a name – she is real – she lived. Her name is Virginia Moore. Curiously, I have amassed numerous images of Virginia, unlike my photo; each depicts her full of life, wearing a bright smile – exhibiting an exuberant, brilliant demeanor. I shuffle pictures collected from online sites interpreting and inferring meaning from her random sentiments scribbled in the margins.
My emotions overwhelmed- as I continue to locate more artifacts.
Peculiarly, I have acquired her scrapbook; while cannibalized by collectors and resellers of antiquity, it still holds significant information, such as letterhead, greeting cards, and casual correspondence with friends. How has this offering so conveniently found its way to me – effortlessly?
Our silent interchanges become frequent – unbalanced yet pleasurable. Although I grow more confused as her images send mixed signals. She introduced herself to me in anguish, calling to me for help. Now she laughs and taunts my bid to do her well.
My questions have not been answered with the knowledge of her name or the acquisition of her personal items – my interest only intensifies. I know she was a nurse, an RN from Missouri; her license number was 14675.
I know she answered the call of the Cadet Nurses during World War II. I know she traveled from New Orleans, LA, to San Francisco, Ca, on December 16, 1943, via a Pullman car to work at the Marine Hospital. I know she frequented the numerous nightspots in Union Square. I know the names of her friends; Verda, George, Doris, and her niece Sally.
I know her uniform. Gray wool flannel with silver buttons – red shoulder epaulets and insignia displaying the United States Public Health Service. I see the color of her lips, “Rocket Red,” the unique shade the Lentheric Cosmetic Company created to match the bright red trim on the Nurse Corps’ uniforms.
I know her smile, and I perceive her energy. I know her crassness. I know her writing. I know her slang. I know her eyes.
Why were your eyes down when I first met you?
Why have you exposed so much to me? This obsession has gone too far – I have become a steward of an impossible cause – a situation that cannot be corrected. What is this effort attempting to accomplish? There is nothing to gain. It is probably just all a creation of my own unstable mind.
While her image lingers in my thoughts, I decide to bid farewell. Accept that an unexplained photograph can continue to exist as just that – unexplained. Virginia will now be just a part of me. A piece of my history, a temporary focus of interest, that, for a moment, entwined too deeply in my thoughts.
I view her as a hobby, a random interest to explore. My heart breaks at this realization. I have removed the pursuit’s emotion and replaced it with a mundane inquiry. She has become a failed conquest. She is a still-life memory.
Weeks turn to months, she lingers in my mind – I randomly search for clues while lying to myself I have put her to rest.
When life allows, I pursue more information about this elusive woman I know so much about -working through a vast array of mismatched puzzle pieces searching in vain to find connections – in my collection of photos and letters, cocktail napkins, and newspaper clippings.
Without surprise, each pursuit ends the same, nothing of Miss Virginia Moore after 1944.
I feel more of a calling than ever –
I should have never found the photo, I should have never entered the junk store, I should have never even been in that town two years ago. I should have never known her name; I should have never been able to collect so much information about this woman. Why is this happening? Is it all just a fabrication of imagination? The photos are tangible – she did exist? Was it all random, or is there meaning?
What is the calling?
I examine the San Fransisco Chronicle Virginia had folded in her scrapbook.
Tuesday, June 6, 1944. The colossal headline “INVASION!” – Allies Pouring Into Northern France. I imagine her expression, the excitement flowing through her as she held the paper, the paper I now hold, the turning tide as the allies push toward Berlin.
I long to share her emotions as my eyes read the same print on the same paper. I attempt to tune into her emotions- my senses ignorant to her reality – unable to relate – fall short of a reunion with Virginia.
I place the paper on the table, and it comes to me – the newspaper – my answers could be in the newspaper. I hurriedly begin searching through the San Francisco Chronicles’ online archives. Searching – Virginia Moore. A slew of Moores and Virginia produce thousands of hits. Narrowing the search with quotations -“Virginia Moore” – narrowed but still thousand of random words, too many to examine – I scroll down and quickly lose focus – a feeble attempt.
Driven by an emotional passion I search – hours pass. I sense the end.
My emotions swell as I find my answer; how long have I wondered?
My eyes scan the few sentences dedicated to Miss Virginia Moore from the August 15th, 1944 edition.
Miss Virginia Moore was found dead in the stairwell of the Drake Hotel Tuesday night. An autopsy found substantial amounts of Luminal in her system. Miss Moore’s death has been classified as suicide.
I stare through the screen – fonts melt into long horizontal streaks.
Did Virginia Moore call to me, or were our conversations fabricated from my own imagination? A feeble attempt to produce shallow valor. To weave a personal hero’s quest? To create purpose?
I stole her life.
My punishment is to be haunted by the spirit of a woman who is now deeply ingrained into my being. I open my photo from the Perisian Room with trembling fingers and examine the mood of the photo I know so well. If your eyes were not down –
I would not now envision your final moments with such horror.
Disgusted – I close the cover and attempt to harness my emotion – running my finger over the image I realize that the Perisian Room was in the Drake Hotel.
Quickly pulling the photo from the sleeve I flip it to the back – the printed date’s ink, aged, faintly expresses – August 12, 1944.
Months pass, and the photo, sits on the shelf. Sometimes I find it beneath random papers, books, or magazines – I quickly remedy the situation – rewarding myself with a momentary study of the photo. Her eyes – still down. His demeanor – arrogant as always.
I create stories in my mind to explain the couple’s situation. Initially, a random pastime – playfully interacting with the photo creating harmless discourse – a practice I would regret. My interest manifests into juvenile infatuation – driven by far more than the usual suspects of this type of emotional compulsion – aware only intangible outcomes can only be found. Her voice I will not hear, her story I will not know, her hand I will not hold – what will be the illusive end to this calling? I suppose obsession should be avoided – the downward spiral hyper-emotion can bring is nauseating – heartbreaking. If only my questions could be answered – with my curiosity satisfied, I know I could move on.
Why were her eyes down? Her head tilted away from this hero? His ego tacked to his chest. What is her name? In dreams, convoluted thoughts mix with her position, exhaustive sleep where I am shaken from slumber with cognizance of her distress.
I feel her restless spirit lingering. I am sickened with his arrogance juxtaposed to her melancholy.
I have relocated the photo to my mantle, along with other proud pieces and personal prizes. I welcome inquiry – sharing the photo with others.
Their lack of engagement is frustrating.
Their indifference is offensive. How do they not see? How do they not hear her calling?
Who are these two that have cemented their moment into my every thought?
I have no names or dates, only a souvenir photo from the Persian Room. A soldier in a uniform with an Arrol Flinn mustache, a female, forcing a smile through a heart of anguish.
I know the location – San Francisco.
Date mid -1940’s.
Overtaken by transcendent energy I search online photos and websites, incorporating keywords in as many random orders as possible – quotations and commas in various locations – “World War 2 photo”, “Persian Room,” “Persian Room World War II,” “”Persian Room”, San Francisco,”” and every combination – finding links to websites dedicated to war, cocktails, nightlife, and San Francisco.
The Persian Room was one of many establishments that populated San Francisco’s Union Square during the 1940s, one of many night-spots offering music and mood that could temporarily transport an individual from realizations of world war to the escapism of gayety.
Clubs such as the “Smartly Sophisticated” -Lido, or the “Aristocrat of San Francisco” – Bal Tabarin.
Techau Cocktails on Powell Street at the streetcar turntable.
Others such as –
Ernie’s “In the heart of San Francisco’s Bohemia”, and Charlie Low’s “Forbidden City”, each luring patrons into a unique world of nightlife and each offering souvenir photos.
My mind is a jumbled mess – losing focus. I revisit the photograph. I long for her to look up.
Although, if her look was anything other than frozen suffering, I would have not found it intriguing. I would not be here, and she would not be here with me. There would be no questions to answer – no calling. Has this fascination pushed me too far into a situation? My thoughts focus on – a still-life photo of unknown individuals – who have taken over my life, my thoughts. Her image has created fissures in my current relationships, real-life relationships.
Each passing day, I lose connection with reality – to pursue the answers to questions that those in my current reality believe to be contrived. If I cast my eyes toward the corner of the room, I find her image lingering in the shadow – if I close my eyes, I see her in the darkness – my mind is a-washed by the image – I relent this is no purpose – this is possession.
I turn to the cover of the souvenir photo, running my finger over the embossed expression of the establishment. My finger rises and falls over the image’s texture — did she hold this photo in her hand? I visualize the situation -listening intently through the years to hear her voice -see her response- understand her emotion- – she must have been disappointed in the photo.
Why was it kept? Why was it purchased? Why are her eyes down? Why is she glowing? I ponder with amazement how unique this item is to survive so many years, to end up in a desolate town buried in a box of rubbish.
To finds its way to me.
With sudden realization, I search “San Fransisco Souvenir Photo World War 2” – finding its survival not that unique after all.
New searches uncover page after page of photos of soldiers with females grouped around cocktail tables scattered with lowballs and ashtrays. Casual embraces, temporary friendships. Frozen moments of joy while the world was torn apart by war. High-back horseshoe booths packed with the nation’s expendable youth, soon to be deployed to the Pacific Theatre many to perish on the stage of the war – the opposing fold littered with a faint scribble. Meaningful words that for that moment held a world of emotion, now faded, meaning lost to time.
I discover many souvenir photos from the same time as my photo. Filled with the same type of couples as my couple. Hundreds of images survived, just like my photo from the Persian Room but non as exciting or captivating as mine. No frozen faces calling out for help, no damsels in distress.
I open a photo from the Techau Cocktail lounge, 247 Powell Street, San Francisco – the cover depicting an Artdeco facade, streetcar, fonts of red and blue against an off-white background, and the photo inside –
a deluge of emotion runs through me. A rush akin to the most significant celebrations of life as my eyes scans the photo. The faces of one male and three females. Each deeply engaged within the moment- a familiar face – top left – partially hidden. The same chin and cheeks, nose and mouth, eyebrows and eyes – only this time – looking up.
I stare in awe before quickly comparing my photo to this new discovery. The resemblance is uncanny, and I quickly accept the two as one. I have found her – and now I know her name.