Lamia is a very beautiful barista who works at the Gloucester Road Starbucks in South Kensington. Halfway through my semester abroad, when I was still struggling with a certain sense of homesickness, I switched my choice of morning coffee provider from London’s most popular choice, Pret a Manger, to Starbucks. Perhaps an arbitrary and minor change in routine, it was a decided retreat into something reminiscent of—at least to this puzzlingly brand-loyal consumer—the comforts of home.
In Boston, I’m a very faithful Starbucks consumer. As a bit of an awful elitist, I sometimes struggle with the reason behind my loyalty to such a monolithic franchise. I truly enjoy coffee, drink it pure black without any diversions, and have developed quite a taste for a good cup of drip. However, it’s a habit, one I perhaps developed in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, where Starbucks was an easy high school homework/hangout spot. Regardless, I have a soft spot for the green mermaid who lies beached on every other city block in the States. In fact, I very much look forward to my June homecoming to what I’ve come to call “CFA Starbucks,” as it lies directly across the T tracks from BU’s College of Fine Arts and is frequented, to say the least, by many local time-crunched, arts-exhausted, caffeine-dependent students and professors. It’s my version of the Cheers pub, a place where everybody knows my name, and on top of that, they sometimes afford me free coffee before nighttime rehearsals!
Raised on diner culture, I like being “a regular;” I like having “a usual.” I don’t chalk it up to laziness; methinks it’s how we do community in New Jersey. It counteracts and shrinks the chasmic expanse of suburban sprawl, bringing the many disparate pieces of a people broken by societal fragmentation together in some sort of “open 24-hours” neon sign mosaic promising a warm meal (late night breakfast!) and a friendly face.
It makes sense, then, that in the more damask, foggy morning hours of my time here in London that I’d seek such a light. I didn’t consciously seek and design such a relationship; I don’t know how one goes about doing just that: “Hi! My name is Michael. I’m going to come every day at the same time for the next few months; would you be interested in developing a relationship in which you learn what I like and wordlessly deliver it to me upon my walking through the door?” No, take it from a tried-and-true diner boy, that’s not how that works. It’s slower and steadier than that, and it necessitates intricate little conversations here and there in which the parties involved get to know each other. It’s flirty and romantic, even—all under the rather relaxed guise of a recognizable customer service relationship.
So, I guess I got me a beautiful English girlfriend.
Every morning, I allot time for a detour on my forty minute walk to LAMDA. Before I can even anticipate the shenanigans I’ll get up to in my wildly varied studio classes and crazy-Brit-led rehearsals, my human machine requires caffeine to run. Before I can mope in melancholy or wax poetic at pretty sights, before I can even relate to another human soul with any semblance of sense, I need—nay, demand—a large cup of black coffee!
So, I stride out of Sorbonne House every morning, running on the fumes of routine. I challenge myself with some form of exercise. I take a shower. I do my hair and dress myself with some ingrained sense of style for which I must thank my mother. I have a bite of breakfast and a bit of music. I pack my bag, put my sunglasses on, and I am gone. I identify the exact amount of change necessary to get my daily fix. I clutch it in my cold morning hand, and I walk and wait, walk and wait, walk and wait. And my legs, “the workhorse of the body,” as my Greek physical theatre tutor Yorgos told me, take me where I need to be.
On the promise of fulfillment, I glide into the Gloucester Road Starbucks, pause whatever playlist I’ve selected to accompany me, take off my sunglasses for the sake of respectability, and approach the cash register. In the time it took for me to walk from the front doors of the small franchise store to the cash desk, Lamia has prepared me a grandé cup of black Pike Place roast and placed it on the desk. I greet her, “good morning,” and she returns the sentiment. We exchange “how are you”s as she accepts the £1.75 I offer her, and we wish each other a good day to follow. I take my coffee, and in less than thirty seconds, my day has begun.
I stride on to LAMDA and beyond, to revel in my time as a man about London town, with full knowledge that I have been made all the more me by the most beautiful and generous, rather simple customer service of Gloucester Road Starbucks’ Lamia.
Thank you, Lamia. I googled the meaning of your lovely name before writing this, and I discovered that the Arabic significance is “shining, radiant.” English rain or sweet sunshine, your simple and unadorned light happens to ignite the flame that fires each of my days abroad.