Just as I came to grips with the fact that I would never know some of these people’s history and that it was best to leave all assumptions aside, a woman broke the rules of the myth I had created not even seconds before she entered the Starbucks. There she stood at the counter ordering her soy latte – a white woman with Bob Marley dreadlocks, a well-fitted purple and pink-striped turtleneck, a flattering pair of boot-cut jeans, sharp stiletto boots and a Louis Vuitton hand bag. Ordinarily, I would not have paid such close attention to the details of someone’s wardrobe, but she intrigued me more so than the normal casual stranger. Her hair and clothes were in such juxtaposition with one another. But then she took it a step further – she engaged in conversation (and I mean real conversation) with the barista. “Oh, no, girl – what are you doing?” I thought to myself. Perfectly content with my original assessment of her (a crazy rich white woman, who had too much time on her hands and wanted to experiment with her hair, while expressing her remorse and sympathy with the black plight in America...), I was forced to know the truth and hear what she had to say. Her back-story was revealed not only to me, but also to the entire coffee shop. She freely, casually and honestly shared that she was an expatriate from Trinidad. Things were different here in the US than back home. And despite how well she seemed to “fit in” here, she still felt like an outsider. She bore her own plight of being a constant display piece with a reluctant sense of pride, and somehow she developed a sense of humor about her experience.
I, at first, thought she had overstepped the boundaries of patron/barista interaction. The accepted etiquette is to get in and out as quickly as possible. Don’t tarry, woman – people are waiting to get there “mocha–steamed–soy–watchamagig” – and you’re getting all up in the way, madam… But surprisingly, no one was upset, or even taken back by it. Here, in this concrete jungle, the patrons of the Starbucks all welcomed the breaking of the “get it and go” rule. It almost seemed that we all longed to know the back-story of at least one other person. In this instance, we would be experiencing something real, and seeing someone for who they were – not as we perceived them to be.
All the seats were taken at the time she got her beverage, but two people (Atlantans, mind you) offered up their seats or an opportunity for her to join them at their perspective tables. And when she was about to leave and needed to find a drugstore, 4 people, in addition to all the Starbucks staff, offered directions and possible alternatives (like the Target Pharmacy). She left that Starbucks in a much better position than she had found it. She dragged all of us into an experience beyond the normal rules of interaction and offered herself and her back-story to help us all regain a sense of empathy. How different would our society be if we unabashedly offered up our back-stories and willingly offered our ears and hearts to hear the truth about other's?