beggars at Starbucks

It was another busy day at work yesterday, as I was set to leave for Maui super early in the morning and I was concentrating on trip preparation. Once in a while, the office get together to “lunch and share” and yesterday was one of those days. The manhunt of Christopher Dorner was the top news of the day, as it seemed that every policeman in San Diego was out there looking for him. So feel free to jaywalk, but if you resemble a little of Dorner, or just in the same age range and have the same skin color, it would be best for you to stay home just to be on the safe side. Somehow a huge debate on  gun control sparkled up from the Dorner story, and I was amazed to realize that even though people in the room were on different sides of the gun issue, they were uniformly Republicans. Why was I surprised, you ask? Well, last time I checked, California was still a very blue state.

But party affiliation doesn’t really matter. Most “normal” people I know are fiscally conservative and socially liberal like me, regardless of the party affiliation. I think the two parties represent the two extreme ends, and they force people to choose one or the other. I’ve seen a chart about the amount of overlapping ideologies of the two parties 30 years, 20 years and 10 years ago verse now and there were quite a lot of overlaps in the beginning and it gradually reduced to the current state of near zero. I will upload the chart if I can find a soft version.

I went to chat with one of my colleagues who didn’t go to the “lunch and share”. He had many interesting views, although very different from mine. We both came from an immigrate background, but his motherland is still in economic turmoil while mine is already a mighty growth engine of the world and the largest creditor of the United States. Our birth countries’ economic status caused us to have different views on immigration policy, and I would like to ponder further over this issue.

What I liked about the conversation was that it revealed to myself that my mind is not fixed. I am still flexible and still thinking. It also reminded me my Starbucks story.

Have lived in NYC for almost 10 years, I’m an expert in “not seeing” the beggars and homeless people on the street. I believe being homeless is a life style choice, especially here in southern California. By the way, I also think these are the smartest of the bunch. If you had to be a homeless, California got to be much better than Milwaukee. In any case I never gave them money, as I know there are government assistances available and they would most likely use the money to buy drugs or alcohol. I always felt that I would be encouraging bad behaviors if I help them.

One day last fall I went downstairs to the Starbucks in my building for my daily coffee fix. A 40ish man approached me and said, “Can you buy me a coffee?” I was completely shocked and caught off-guard. Instinctively, I responded, “Why should I?” He doesn’t leave, but instead he stood behind me in the line. I was able to observe him from the corner of my eye. He looked like a construction worker, but wearing a pair of glasses. I felt nervous as he was standing so close to me. Thankfully more people came in for coffee and he asked the same question to the man and woman behind him. To my astonishment, the man agreed. Was I wrong for not buying him a coffee? No, I was actually thinking about talking to the Starbucks’ manager, because it was their duty to prevent their customers from being harassed.  I just never thought that other people would be so agreeable to the beggars.

Anyway, after that incident, I felt sort of bad about it. I don’t know why. I was certainly not wrong. Alas, I started to “see” these people in Starbucks, and I even saw that same guy again a week later. Just like me, he was a regular.

First day back to work this January, I went to the Starbucks. It was an unusually cold day for southern California. A woman came behind me and picked up a bottle of Naked Juice smoothies and asked me: “Can you buy this for me?”

I said “no” without any facial expression. And she stood behind me in the line. By now of course I knew that was customary. But she explained, probably to relieve me from worrying, “I’m going to wait in line and get a water.”

I nodded and started to observe her. She was a nature blonde. I could imagine that she was once very attractive. She was carrying a couple of big bags, and on top of one there was a leather jacket that was quite stylish. How did she come to this, begging at Starbucks? She might have had an exciting life when she was young. Maybe she was in a band. But now in front of me she was old, alone and filthy. What choices had she made that led her to this? Am I immune to mistakes or was I just lucky?

I picked up the drink and said to her: “I will buy you this.” When I was getting my own breakfast at the register, I thought I might as well make her day, so I asked her whether she would like something to eat. She said she would. And I got her a hot breakfast sandwich.

There are risks of pursuing your passion. Very serious risks. Such as the possibility of not able to support oneself. For the immigrants to this country, the first one or two generations have no choice but to get into a “real” profession, be a doctor, a lawyer, a banker or an engineer. Only with family’s financial support, the next generation could venture into more leisure fields like arts and music.

It is sad but true.

Author’s note: Today’s post was completed much much later than I would like and what I have mentally committed to do. It simply could not be helped. I finished the draft at 1:26 am and I was desperately tired. I had to get up at 4:45 am for my flight to Hawaii. It’s not like there are thousands of you waiting for my posts. In fact, I would be surprised if I even have one reader so far since it is only the 3rd day of the blog. Nonetheless, I was not happy with Evernote as it forbad access to my own note offline, so I was not able to work on it over the long flight to Maui. My apologies my phantom readers. I will plan better for my upcoming China trip so the posts will go out in the mornings of my local time, regardless which time zone or which side of the timeline I’m in.