its the Starbucks in Fremont

Starbucks in the afternoon means some time to enjoy a iced coffee and surreptitiously watch other people that are perhaps watching yet other people. The Starbucks I like going to do this people watching is one I used to visit some years ago. Then I would walk in and it felt like a true Cheers moment when Herb walked in and the bar greeted him. The baristas would note the time of day and asked if I wanted my afternoon drink. The was a grande iced coffee. Sometimes some kind of goodie. Often on Fridays, I’d plan on arriving around 4pm because a group of others arrived shortly thereafter and would capture the long table and get their chessboards setup. Soon more would arrive and the chess games started. The evening sun would blaze the window and the white and black chess pieces swirled the table and men (only men) would laugh and curse and then lose or win. Losers moved to the next chessboard and play the next winner and losers would move all around. It was like a symphony of life because there were no real winners or losers. Everyone got to play and then play again. Soon it was dark and the baristas would offer some free treats and in those days visit with the customers.

Now the time has changed and the long table still lives on but its full of millennials doing school or other stuff. A lot of Mac laptops bloom here and there is a constant buzz of conversation. I hear the swish of newspapers because here people still read classic papers.

Others come in and go out and buy drinks. I don’t know any of them any longer. Time has passed and the Starbucks that was is no longer. A new place has taken over and Erica no longer laughs as she expertly makes the drinks. Everything changes and the evolution of life at the Starbucks is like some ethnological study of culture change. New rules and mores apply. New values and norms are introduced and the culture goes on. Perhaps the old timers bring in their kids on a day and show them the big soft chairs in the corner and reminisce about those long ago days. Perhaps those new aspiring members see the new crowd and will come back.

Is Starbucks a conveyor of values and mores to our culture? Perhaps. Maybe the rules still apply and the shadows of those chess players from so long ago still dance the sunsets and like some ghost dance remind those that were here that the Starbuck universe is complete. The new members have come to their places and we all can watch as the stories are told. I did not hear any of these but on a whim,

Remember son that these moments in the soft chairs are important. They separate us from the others. Grab the chair and hold on to it. Park your backpack in it an its reserved. There’s the line. No cutting. There’s enough coffee for us all.

Then perhaps the day settles and the old timer and the new timer depart. One doubts he will return because the things he remembered are rapidly disappearing. Perhaps the young timer will return. Now the long table is his and he finds that the new millennial society is a perfect fit for studying.

I can still hear the clink of the chess pieces and the call outs of “Check and Checkmate”.


That was the yesteryear of my times. The values being transmitted are different and perhaps I’m not so invited and invested in knowing them. I’ve reached a age where I only take up a spot on the corner of the big table.

That and write a blog post and dwell on my rapidly diminishing days here. Will I ever see this particular Starbucks again after March? It does not matter. Starbucks is a cultural universal and I can study anthropology at any of them.

Traveling the Desert 

It seems some years ago, maybe decades even; I traveled a circuitous path. Down dusty desert roads in a jeep. Many of us hung on the back in excitement and fear. We drove down buttes then up foothills and got to see the magnificent Mojave Desert from many vantage points. One I remember rather vividly is once doing an archeological survey for a windfarm project up in the Techachapi’s. It took us hours of driving to finally get to the project location according to the map. Driving there was a tense yet enjoyable affair but it was the nights which roared. The wind started blowing at sunset and we gathered by a fire with warm beer and scary stories. Chili or a certain stew soon come out. The chili was world-class level since RWR entered his chili in many cookoffs. The stew was a contribution affair where each of us gave a can of something for the greater good.Stuff that went in included pork and beans, soup, cans of peaches, tomato sauce, peppers of some kind. What came out was a big pot of stuff that warmed the insides. We would then sit by the fire as it roared and twisted and wanted out from its captive state. One of our team, a certain person named Malutin was asked to bring more wood once and showed up with an entire tree trunk and mid part of the tree. This would have lasted us some days I think. We laughed though and started the log burning. And on it burned and the fire threw shadows and the wind howled and by late evening we had done our damage to the stew and the beer and we moved to our tents. But the wind was not done with us. It would roar the canyons and hills and we felt a tenuous hold that could slip away. By three days in or so, we had to leave so we all hiked down this hill as the truck and jeep hauled our stuff down. The road had become more dangerous and after loading the truck, we discovered the rear tire was flat. Robert also could not locate his tent until he saw it blowing down the hillside. Memorable quote was,

I think my tent is missing. I got up this morning and it was there.

Then a moment of silence…

We all saw this tent blowing down the hill and Robert explained rather plaintively,

That tent looks just like my tent. I believe, in fact, that is my tent.

We all watched it continue its tricky traverse laughing as Robert decided it was wortwhile trying to rescue it.

Then we hiked down that hillside or perhaps mountain as some were wont to call it.

It was the moments of life then which seemed rich and storied. Moments of time frozen as the archeology was done and fun was had. I started thinking of all the differences and things that have occurred. There were the usual things like time passing. There was the moments of marriage and divorce. There was life on the road after. Nothing added up to the traveling times in the desert

I could never find another thing which compares. I could move data centers and work on stubborn projects and try to project my good feelings that life was about to get better. But there was no real moment quite like that travel in the desert. Maybe it was the archeology or the beer or the facts of how we did it. And maybe everyone has a story about being on the road or doing a different thing that’s really there waiting to come out. I was told once each person goes through three complete career changes in their lives. Sitting here in Starbucks and remembering the moments, I could see it.

I could trace the steps I made once as I walked over dunes in the middle of some gunnery range on Edwards AFB. I could see my friend Dave’s complete astonishment at a field of wildflowers blooming and his “on the knees” taking photos and writing down Latin names. That was the desert too you see.

I know I shall never go backwards because we don’t. Like a sign says at work,

Don’t look backwards; that’s not the direction we are going.

But when you gaze at the years, you know that its a fabric and remembering those same times later fulfills the destiny of knowing where you’ve been and that it does affect where you are going.

So those desert travels and travails were full of potential lost and found. My daughter force asks what a thing was like and no matter how much I try to explain what RWR may have meant by a thing, she will never truly know. Because those desert walks were mine and she has to find her own path.