The Thrift Find Which Earned Me Regular Status At A Local Coffee Shop
It was day two of a hangover. In my mid-twenties, hangovers extended into 48-hour territory. It was not full-blown death. It was hazy remnants of a night well-spent. I did not have the energy to put on makeup before heading to work. I had the decency to throw on a fake pair of thick black-rimmed glasses so not to alarm the public with my abyssal, black holes eyes. I found these glasses and their camouflage powers at a thrift store in a $2 bin. They lived in the glove box of my car.
My first stop was a coffee shop. It was crucial to my day's survival. My mind led my body inside like a weary dog on a leash. There was a line. It didn't worry me. This coffee shop had mastered efficiency. If anything, it gave me time to practice pronouncing mac·chi·a·to.
I arrive at the counter. My posture is raised. It's time for my comeback. I am pleasantly greeted by a barista with thick black-rimmed glasses, like mine. Unlike mine, he needed his to see.
"Can I please have a large iced caramel macchiato (spoken flawlessly) with an extra shot and a sausage breakfast sandwich?" I took pride in the number of calories I ordered.
"Of course, what is your name?"
"Jessa, I love your glasses."
"Thanks!" Somehow, I mustered up an exclamation point. "Right back at you."
"Thank you! My name is Tom." His name was not Tom, but for this story it is.
"Awesome to meet you." By this time, we had reached the time limit on conversation at a coffee counter. It was 8:30am on a Monday; people needed caffeine.
My shoulders lowered a level as I found an unobtrusive place to stand near the pick-up counter. I did not want to be the person who leans on the counter knowing full well his/her drink is 10th in line. No matter the need, I was determined to exude proper coffeehouse etiquette.
My sandwich arrived. "Hey Jessa, here is your sandwich. Nice to meet you, again."
"Thanks, Tom!!" Two exclamation points!! There is no hangover which will keep me from being polite in public. My drink arrived shortly after. I was out the door thrilled, gripping my fuel for the day.
I managed to have a productive day at work, ran two calls, sent an unreasonable amount of emails and confirmed my appointments for the week. My glasses did their job as well. They veiled any visible exhaust. I skipped the gym after work; a decision I decisively made at 10:00 am. When I pulled into my driveway that evening, I returned my glasses to their home.
The next morning, I didn't look as refreshed as I felt. The glove box was opened. My magical spectacles called for duty yet again.
I arrive at the coffee shop to no line and Tom behind the register. "Hi, Jessa! It's Jessa, right?" said Tom pointing to his own glasses.
"Yes!" I said too loud.
"Great to see you again," he said with a calm genuineness. Do you want your same order from yesterday - large iced caramel macchiato with an extra shot and a breakfast sandwich?"
I did not want the same order. The fog lifted from my hangover and I could see healthier options.
"That would be awesome, Tom, thanks!"
I had no choice. I waited my adult-coffee-life for this. Since entering the corporate world, I spent an embarrassing amount of money on morning coffee. I loved the routine. I hoped one day I could wear the title of a regular. My order would be placed in queue without me uttering a word. The baristas would ask questions about the surface details of my life - how is the new apartment? How did that work project turn out? I would ask questions in return, inquiring about their life beyond the bar. A free extra shot would be our love language. My counterfeit glasses opened an opportunity for recognition. I had the beginning of "where everybody knows your name" status and I wasn't going to let it slip through my fingers.
We made small talk as my sandwich was prepped. I do not remember the contents of the conversation. All I remember thinking to myself is, "I made it."
For the next two years, my glove box glasses were slipped on in the morning five to six days a week. My boyfriend (who became my husband within those two years) would laugh every time we parked for the coffee shop. He knew no movement could be made until the glasses emerged. He was amused and concerned by my dedication. He did reap the benefits, though, of a size upgrade I received one morning on our way out of town. He was impressed.
If the glasses were not in their designated location, I would not go in. I was committed.
I played into a lie to make a connection; to get something I wanted. There were mornings I had honorable intentions of entering the double doors sans glasses. I would reveal the truth to Tom in a lovable, self-deprecating way and a good laugh would be had by all. It never happened. I couldn't bring myself to potentially throw away my regular status. This connection started my day on a positive foot. It became as essential to my morning routine as my under-eye concealer. If I faced a busy day, I didn't feel that pressure for the five to eight minutes standing in the coffee shop. It was a Do Not Enter for stress. In my twenties, work was my sun and everything revolved around it. The time among people who knew me by my coffee order reminded me life has simple pleasures waiting beyond the suffocating obstacles of work.
I had my Central Perk, my Monk's Cafe, my Luke's Diner - I couldn't let go.
Late in my twenties, I moved. During my last visit to the coffee shop, Tom was not there. I received my usual iced latte with skim milk. My usual changed over the years. This is how you knew you were a true regular - they accepted your evolution. As Kristen (not her real name) handed me my medium-sized fuel, I held the cup up to my glasses and toasted to her and community I had been a part of for the last two years. Kristen wished me good luck.
I write this story while sitting at my local coffee shop in Pittsburgh. I am 33. I am a regular here. They know my name. They know my husband and my pup. They know I am a writer and inquire about my pieces. They give me free handmade granola when they are experimenting with a recipe. It is a home office away from home. It is a place where I conduct business and share quiet conversation with friends. My glove box no longer houses the thrifted glasses, but I still wear them occasionally. When I do, I feel a tickle of fondness and embarrassment. I remember community. I remember the little lie I was complicit in for over two years. I remember the $2.00 I spent on them. It was $2.00 well spent.