A few years ago, I wrote and published this on my personal webpage. Earlier this year, I read two stories about a Starbucks in Falls Church that I used to frequent and that was, and is, the weekend gathering place for immigrants from the Horn of Africa, other parts of Africa and even the Middle East. The story had photos of the customers sitting at tables on the sidewalk, on private property, in an out door strip mall, at least 100 yards from the closest city owned sidewalk. Shortly after the first article, the Post ran a second story because, after almost fifteen years, the Starbucks and Mall manager had been cited and ordered to remove the tables until they went through a lengthy process to get the required permits for sitting on the privately owned sidewalk. The links to the stories are below. My story about life at a nearby coffee shop begins in the following paragraph. I hope you enjoy this Tale of America.
Saturday morning, May 05, 2007, Falls Church, Virginia, USA. An area known as “7 Corners” because it is the intersection of 7 highways dating back to colonial times. United States Highway 50 runs through the center of it. This area is very mixed with immigrants from all over the world and even America.
In the past, when I have come here, I would sit near the front. Sometimes, I sit out front and talk to the old, toothless “Veetnamee” man who bundles up and sips the same cup of tea for hours on end, rain or shine. Today he isn’t here. I hope he is okay. I’ve never seen folks sitting in the back and I didn’t realize there are seats back here. But there is also an electrical socket in the wall for my laptop. So today, I’m sitting in the back.
The noise is louder back here. Real loud. Since coming here to the D.C. Metro Area, I’ve spent many Saturday mornings in many different coffee shops. They are all noisy. This one tends to be the noisiest. The family that owns it seems to be Middle Eastern and they are all first generation immigrants. It is the loudest on Family Days Behind the Counter, because that is when they are all working. It is quietest when the Ethiopians and Korean Kid are working because the Ethiopians speak English, don’t get frustrated, and don’t have to yell to be understood. The Korean Kid simply doesn’t make noise. He is fast without banging the pots and pans. He is tall and skinny and usually wears a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes -like any traditional world class World Series New York Yankees pitcher. Without his ballcap, his spiky hair sticks straight up and at various angles to his head. He smiles like a pirate. He is cool. He is The Stealth Barista.
The Nigerians who work here are pretty loud, too. My impression is that Nigerians don’t talk loudly to be understood, they speak loudly because that’s the way God programmed them.
At this point, some folks might wonder if there are any home grown Americans working in Falls Church. And, there are. Besides the fact that you can’t get around the Equal Opportunity Laws here in America, the old Middle Eastern Gentleman who owns the place has a keen eye for identifying people who know how to brew coffee. He has hired a couple of plush American girls of European ancestry and a couple of equally plush African-American chicks to satisfy both the statisticians and coffee drinking public.
It is the American Way.
At the moment, there are 3 women at the “Pickup Here” area of the serving counter. They are together. One is a frail looking Middle Eastern young lady in an Abaya with the traditional scarf. She is standing 8 feet away and speaking to the other two and I cannot hear her. The second is a young Pilipino woman with a body and face that looks like one of the old time illustrators for Playboy Magazine drew her. She was apparently poured into her clothing. She speaks at a normal level, and her voice carries well, and I can hear her clearly. She speaks with an accent and has a crush on one of the El Salvadoran boys in her Wednesday night English class. The third young lady is Nigerian or Congolese. She has a heavy accent but speaks good English. She doesn’t think the El Salvadoran kid is that cute. She prefers a man with some meat on his bones and she apparently wants the people on the other side of Hwy 50 to know it.
A tiny, frail Veetnamee (phonetic spelling) gentleman has been walking back and forth from a seat by the window to the Stealth Barista. He is either painfully constipated or terminally stressed and looks to be terribly uncomfortable. He is sitting next to a young black male with earphones and a spiral notebook and a textbook of some sort open on the table in front of him. The black kid is scribbling furiously with a pencil stub and dancing up and down in his chair. While he looks to be a fine young man and diligent student–he wears his hat in a manner similar to the Stealth Barista, my sole judging point in this case–one reason I’m sitting in the back is because I prefer the clash of pots and pans over his hip hop music. The Stealth Barista is now telling the old Veetnamee Gentleman, “I don’t speak Vietnamese. I am Korean, I am having a tough enough time with English. Do you need hot water for your tea? It’s free.” The kid has an accent but speaks very good English.
At this time, a young lady, walks up to the serving counter and stands, with her feet primly together, toes straight ahead, both hands clasping her coffee cup in front of her. She is of European ancestry, light brown hair with blondish high lights and smooth complexion. She is wearing a light colored top showing about four inches of cleavage and a very pretty belly button. Her shorts fit snuggly and her legs were made for strutting.
The Stealth Barista had been in the process of beginning to say something else to the Veetnamee gentleman when she walked up and presented her two jiggling boobs on half shells. His head swiveled and his eyes looked down and fixed on her cleavage, or what was in between. The young lady has a pretty face but don’t think he noticed. The Veetnamee Gentleman’s eyes were level with her breasts and his head swiveled too. He stopped whining about whatever he was whining about and simply stood there watching the effects of her breathing.
“May I have a little more soy milk in my mocha latté?”
“How about if I just make you a fresh one?”
“You don’t have to do that.”
The kid seemed to be groping for words and finally muttered something in Korean and shook his head hard as if that was the only way to break his eyes from the visual magnets fixing them in one, maybe two places. “Not a problem.” He fixed the young lady a new mocha latté and watched her giggle and bounce out of the shop.”
The Veetnamee Gentleman watched the young lady leave, too. Then he turned and spoke loudly and firmly to the Stealth Barista, “Hah wata!”
The kid responded “Watashiwa Nihong jin”. “I am Japanese,” continuing, in Japanese, “I don’t speak English.”
Now the Veetnamee Gentleman looked as though the internal source of his distress had gone to the opposite of constipated and he seemed to be panicked.
Then the Stealth Barista laughed, flashed a devilish smile, and said, “Nah, thats a joke. I’ll get you some.”
And thus it was, another day in the D.C. Metro.
Another day in a place called America.