Yesterday, because I knew it would be colder today, I bundled up in all my layers and went out for a winter walk that took me onto the college campus near where I live. Winding paths, grey sky, the river off to the side. I was deep into the walk when I started having that feeling that I was going to just crumple. I felt hungry and cold and faint. I pulled out the chewy granola bar that I had tucked into my pocket before coming out. My first bite was a surprise, since it was not, in fact, chewy any longer but frozen. I chomped it down anyway, but did not feel much better afterwards. I felt frozen myself.
Then I saw that I was not that far from the library, where I knew there was a little coffee bar near the back entrance. As I straggled toward the building, I saw that the coffee place was dark--not open on the weekend, clearly. I still had hope--I knew there was a much bigger coffee place in the campus commons, not that far away. So I went into the back entrance of the library, went around a corridor, and saw the welcome sight of a young woman walking toward me holding a coffee. I asked her where she got it, and she said, "Oh, there's a St*rbucks, in the second floor of the commons." I said, "Oh, okay, but how do you get there from here?" I felt a little silly, because I after all work for this university, but since my location is off campus, I just don't know my way around the main campus that well. The young woman was very helpful: "Just follow the tunnel, and make a right, and then you'll see a fork in the road, and follow the part that has carpeting." I must have looked dubious, because then she said, "You'll find it, it'll be easy, there'll be signs."
I thanked her and went on in my expedition, gladdened to see students coming towards me in ones and twos and threes, all carrying hot or cold beverages that were unmistakenly from Coffee Emporium that is Everywhere. I found the carpeted hallway, and emerged into another alley, where there was a salon tucked away advertising waxing and other treatments. Finally the passageway led me to the welcome bustle and cheer of the coffee emporium, where students in coats and hats waited on line to order drinks of bewildering complexity. The young woman in front of me asked for something that involved "Valencia orange" and some kind of "base." I couldn't really hear all of it, but it seemed complicated.
I ordered a grande hot chocolate and a slice of the reduced-fat chocolate-chip banana cake. (Little did I know that the latter would use up almost half of my W. Watchers points for the day, but that's another story.)
I stepped off to the side to wait for my drink. The barista, a young man, called out each person's name and their drink with great authority and earnestness. "Diana, your double soy moccachino is ready," he would proclaim, or "Jin Woo, your half-caf vanilla latte is at the bar!"
Another barista came out looking for the woman who had placed the complicated order with the Valencia orange. "Jenny?" he said, empty cup in hand, surveying the assembled students like a nurse about to usher a patient into a waiting room.
Jenny came forward, explaining that the drink she wanted was Valencia orange with a vanilla bean base. "So you want them kind of all mixed together?" the barista asked. "Yes, exactly," she said.
When the drink came out, she made her friends taste it. "What is it?" aked one of the friends. "It's amazing." Jenny gave the name, adding, "You have to go on line and look for the list of St*rbucks secret recipes. There's like 150 different drinks there.
The Jenny noticed the barista who had been calling out all the drinks. "Wait, Ethan, you work here?" she asked, leaning in towards him across the wide counter and machinery. "Yes!" he said. "You should come here and get a job with me."
She said, "I just applied for a job with a lab." Then he told her about a fellowship he was doing in a unit doing research on child psychotherapy, at the medical center. "You should apply for it next semester, we're doing really cool things. It's lot of fun," he said.
"Yeah, sounds cool," she said. "Okay, I'll let you get back to St*rbucksing. I'll call you."
"Okay, yes, please do," he said, giving her a nod as he went back to turning dials and pumping shots.
But then she came back, just a couple of minutes later. "Ethan, you have to taste this. Make it for yourself," she said, proffering to him her Valencia orange drink.
He took a sip. "What IS this?" he asked, in a tone of wonder.
She repeated her explanation, and he said he would definitely make one for himself.
Then, in his loud, strong tones, "Sarah, your grande hot chocolate is ready!"
I thanked him, grabbed my drink and my packed-with-points slice of cake, and sat down in a comfortable chair to thaw out. The hot chocolate tasted great, and so did the cake, and it felt good to be warm. Around me there were students in groups or alone, some gossiping, some working at their computers, all with a fancy or not-so-fancy drink at their elbow.
After the hot sugary drink and the snack, the walk back home felt much easier. As I turned the corner onto my street, the snow was falling thickly, making it seem darker out than it should be at 5:00. There was a sort of bluish cast to the air and everything was very quiet. Not many cars out.
I let myself in to the main door, downtairs, and then went upstairs to where I live--the second floor of a 100-plus-year-old house. I was glad to have gotten out but also very glad to be home.