Saturday, January 06, 2007

Late Night at the Starbucks

Tomorrow is my morning to sleep through the first shift, so tonight, after Miss Baby was well and truly down for the night, I went out. Sensible bedtime be damned! I walked to the local Starbucks (about three blocks away), had a decaf-grande-nonfat-latte and a peanut-butter-chocolate bar, read a couple of chapters out of the book I'm working through, and came home.

Not a terribly exciting story, eh? But it was kind of a special experience, actually.

First, the whole thing sort of reminded me of another time in my life, when I was single and trying to fill the hours hours hours between wake up and fall asleep. I used to walk to the local Chapters/Starbucks (about three blocks away) sometime in the grim after-supper period, order a tea (I was poor then), read a couple of articles for classes I was taking or teaching, and go home. As this time recedes further from the life I live now, I am tending to become mistily nostalgic for it. So it was nice to feel like that younger, more carefree me ... only without the crippling loneliness and self doubt, and with a better income.

Second, coffeeshops are entirely different places at night, and I have forgotten how much I enjoy that whole scene of steamed-up windows opening on lit-up streetscapes, vivacious couples, brooding singles, and night-time 'characters'. It's noisier and somehow more urgent at night, and I find it soothing to curl up with a book and just observe what's going on.

So third, the observations. Three ten- or eleven-year-old girls, picking up tall-extra-whip hot chocolates at the bar, and being embarrassed that the male barista is wishing them a good evening as though they were regular people, and not kids on a sleepover. They sit at two small tables, their fourth a Dad on chaperone duty. Next, brooding intellectual guy. He's clearly a university student (God, they're all starting to look so young to me!). He sits at the bar very near to me, and underneath his blue pea coat, he's in white shirt and (cheap) black pants. Very minimalist. Nevertheless, while he sips his grande tea, he places under the seat the four-pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade he has just purchased from the LCBO next door. Guess he's not managed to cultivate his taste for Scotch yet. So young ... There are three or four couples--all are in the dating stage, as opposed to the relationship stage, and I'm wondering how I can be so sure. Is it the intensity with which they look at each other, or, otherwise, try not to look at each other? The way their body language seems to indicate separateness? The way the women look down coyly and fiddle with their straws? I start to wonder how Pynchon and I look to others when we frequent the Starbucks, but the answer is immediate: we look like a young married couple with a baby, because if the two of us go anywhere together, she of necessity makes a third to our party. Hard to look like you're on a first date when you're out at 10am, playing rock-paper-scissors for who has to change the poopie, swiftly and competently exchanging a toy from the diaper bag for the one that's just fallen on the floor. Anyhow. I notice Tony Bennett's duets album playing. I see the Board of Health notices on the bar fridge, watch the baristas wash dishes and sort bagged coffee. I sit. I look. I read.

These are pedestrian enough kinds of observations, to be sure. But what was so nice (fourth!) was having the leisure simply to linger and to observe. To be quiet and attentive. Reflective. Dreamy. To be out at night, among grownups, mistress of my own solo adventure. I spent my hour lollygagging, and walked home. At the only set of lights on my return, I slowed deliberately to miss a yellow: with Miss Baby, I always rush through the intersection, as she's no fan of an immobile carriage. So why not flaunt my freedom and just stand here, looking around and sniffing the night air?

Earlier this week, Beck wrote a post that dealt in part with the idea that hanging out with little children is not the bee-all and the end-all of a woman's life; she referenced this article that claims that having children reduces the overall stock of happiness in parents' lives. I don't think so (and neither did Beck, incidentally). As with my experience tonight, the sense of contrast between my time with Miss Baby and my other interactions with the world leave me grateful for both, and more attuned to whatever moment I happen to be in. While big chunks of my day-to-day life are blurred with fatigue or repetition, even these moments are sharpened by my little escapes, small parcels of time where I can recollect myself. Happy.

6 comments:

Alpha Dogma said...

I live in a town that shuts down at 8 PM on Thursdays and Fridays, and 5 PM the other days of the week. So I'm envious of this late night Starbuck outing. My only alternative would be down at the ice rink. Horror!
I'm a great fan of people watching, too. There is something "been there done that" about watching young/new couples out on dates.

Beck said...

Hey! That's me!
My husband and I - when we lived someplace urbanish pre-kids - used to go to this all-night trucker's restaurant for big stacks of pancakes and coffee. Good times.

I think the whole problem with that article was the study defined happiness INCORRECTLY, rather than generations of people fooling themselves about how happy their children have made them.

bubandpie said...

I used to do this to, when Pie was a baby. (Past tense! Ack!) Hubby would urge me to arrange to meet a friend, but when I was most exhausted and overwhelmed, the effort of chatting just wouldn't be as restorative as a nice latte and a book.

Interestingly, the article does include an acknowledgement, buried way at the back, that people tend to measure happiness less in terms of a kind of average moment-to-moment contentment, and more in terms of the peak moments. So, yes, having children reduces the ease and pleasure of our day-to-day life, but the intensity of happiness more than compensates.

But I guess that doesn't make as exciting a headline as "Having children ruins your life!"

Her Bad Mother said...

That university students keep getting younger has been alarming me of late. It's them of course, not me, right?

ewe are here said...

I don't want to talk about all the young university students around here. Too depressing.

I used to have a few regular haunts, places where I could just go and sit. It did change post-baby, both in time and in place. Different, but good, too. But it is nice to get the time to just 'be' in such a place by yourself once in a while and watch the traffic go by.

nice post

cinnamon gurl said...

Ooooh! I want to do that!

This is a really fabulous post for so many reasons... the people watching (I love to do that!), and the wisdom:

the sense of contrast between my time with Miss Baby and my other interactions with the world leave me grateful for both, and more attuned to whatever moment I happen to be in. While big chunks of my day-to-day life are blurred with fatigue or repetition, even these moments are sharpened by my little escapes, small parcels of time where I can recollect myself. Happy.