I walked into the Starbucks near my house yesterday afternoon, and it was practically empty. Surprised by the unusual availability of seating, I jokingly asked the barista (who knows me by name) if he'd scared everyone away. He retorted with what is a perfectly logical answer in South Central Pennsylvania: "They're all out buying milk and toilet paper."
Welcome to the day before a snowstorm in York County.
I grew up in New Jersey, and I don't remember the mandatory milk, bread and toilet paper runs before a snowstorm there. Despite the fact that snow seemed to arrive less often and in smaller amounts in southern New Jersey, I don't remember the panic button being more sensitive. Then again, I was a kid living in my parents' home and the responsibility for stocking these items lay elsewhere.
Even in college - also in Central PA - where I had my first experience with significant snowfall, I don't recall panic mentality setting in. But, once again, the responsibility for stocking these items lay elsewhere, and runs to the grocery store were rare for college students living in the dorms.
And so now that the responsibility for stocking these items rests on me (at least in part), I find it amusing that while the rest of my community was out snatching rolls of toilet paper off the shelves at Wal-Mart, I was sidling up to the counter at Starbucks. It would seem that my most necessary pre-snow item was a grande iced chai with an extra pump.
It's funny how things burrow their way into our routines. When I was working full-time, Starbucks was my Saturday afternoon refuge - the place I could go to write without laundry, dusting, or a million other household projects clamoring for my attention. I'd stop for the occasional treat after work some days, but daily visits weren't yet on the agenda.
Then, as my job became less of what I knew it needed to be and more of what other people thought it should be, I began stopping in at the Starbucks near work every morning for a smile and a few minutes of solitude before starting my day. I'd check email, go on Facebook or write, depending upon my mood, extending my Lisa time just a little longer before I morphed into Mrs. Hess. Once at work, I'd park the remainder of my drink on a coaster on my desk, where it sometimes became a conversation starter with my kids, some of whom I even ran into at Starbucks in the morning or on a weekend. On difficult days, it was a visual reminder that there was life outside the politics of education, and a running joke with my colleagues, several of whom I met at Starbucks on a weekly basis for smiles and conversation.
Now that I'm retired, Starbucks is still part of my routine. These days, it's more a change of pace as I trade my spot in front of the computer at home for a spot in front of my laptop there. I take specific projects along, and have learned to work amid the sounds of clatter and conversation. I get a lot done, and have, in fact, written parts of two novels there. I have two "regular" stores where the baristas know me and I them, and where the customer service makes the price of the drinks something I can justify - or at least rationalize - whether I am there for solitary writing time or to meet the same group of colleagues.
And so it wasn't at all strange that the day before a snowstorm that was predicted to dump anywhere from three to twelve inches of snow on York County, I chose Starbucks over the grocery store. We had plenty of toilet paper, after all, and there was a chance I might not get out of the house for a discretionary beverage run.
But I'm not worried. Tomorrow is another day, and I'm sure I'll spend at least a few minutes of it at Starbucks.