I like consistency and routine. When I feel unbalanced, it keeps me sane. When I feel balanced, it keeps me punctual.My morning commute is actually quite a journey, and it’s both consistent and routine.
I’m not sure if I feel guilty about sitting in Starbucks in the morning. I mean, they do have a fireplace.
And for a while I nurtured a peevish anger at the Someday Café for not saving me a seat, rearranging furniture to compensate for a throng of incoming students, and hosting an altercation that ensued when I redirected some garish track lighting.
But I guess that little fit is over. And still I keep going to the corporate caf every morning before work to curl in a giant velvet chair with my feet up on the fireplace and write three pages of copy.
Starbucks is consistent. The coffee is always the same clinically-monitored temperature, the same heavy dark roast. The stock of cream and recycled cardboard cup wrappers is undoubtedly full, and you never have to ask for a cover.
My seat of choice is always free, and the sun starts coming in the window halfway through the filling of my spiral bound pages. The bathrooms are clean, the napkin dispensers are full, and I’m beginning to enjoy the predictable folk CD when I’m not blasting my brain out with Spoon.
I believe in supporting local business. It adds culture to an area, employs neighborhood residents, and makes the spot unique. I was up in arms when the green circular logo appeared in the building across the street from the Diesel Cafe. I even got one of those stickers that said “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” I thought for sure it meant trouble for the two local businesses that, in the end, seem to have suffered no loss of customers.
But the sameness of every Starbucks in the city means I never have to find my glasses to read the menu and I know my cup of coffee is $1.68. This is both good and bad, and I’m having a hard time reconciling the dichotomy. Some of my friends would hate me if I started batting for the other team.But what if Starbucks is just more consistent?
I play a game with myself when I take the subway to work. I became obsessed with surfing when Point Break came out, and although my center of gravity appears to be too high and my limbs too gangly to ever ride the waves on a board, I haven’t surrendered the dream. So I have been building my balance by riding the T standing up for the past two years. I was quite good at it until I broke my leg, and then it became part of my physical therapy routine.
Having gained sure footing once again, I had to up the ante recently with a new challenge: I try to make it from Davis to Park St. without touching the handrail. That’s six stops. Not only does it build balance, coordination, and work the glutes, but I avoid contracting a cold in the germ swill of the Red Line.
The toughest spot is between Harvard and Central, where the recently-laid tracks are uneven and the train lurches fitfully. I’ve learned to rock from toe to heel and shift my weight accordingly. Maybe one day I’ll even transfer these skills into the water.Look, I’ve got nothing else to do for those 40 minutes each day.
Surfing complete, I skirt the Commons, down Boylston to Arlington, watching the dogs play. I do this so routinely that I know the dogs by sight, and I’ve fictionalized their owners’ complete life story. I also have invented names for each dog based on its appearance.
There is one guy who I have grown quite fond of, and I look forward to him every morning. In a collared linen shirt, corduroy vest, gentlemanly coat, smart derby, and white hair, he looks like a retired English professor. He smokes a pipe and walks slowly looking at his saddle shoes, his Boston Terrier nosing after squirrels. He knows more than he lets on. I think he’s getting back at the youth that tortured him during his tenure at the University. Prescott, the dog, skims the ground quickly and methodically on the end of one of those 30 foot retractable wire leashes.
If I’m lucky, I get to watch the Professor clothes-lining a fleet of bike messengers with the leash as the dog trolls across the paved path. This morning was one such occasion. Feigning an apologetic mouth, his eyes twinkle with intention. I unsuccessfully supressed a grin as I passed, and he winked to acknowledge our connection.
There are comforting constants — the sun that finally slices through the buildings when I emerge from the trees and wait to cross Arlington. I always hop over Boylston to the other side, walking straight toward the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking the Commons so that the valet opens the door for me. For three whole seconds I pretend I am going in to enjoy a decadent weekend of pampering with a view; room service, cable TV and a bulky cotton robe. As a bonus, I look into the windows of Le Perle and imagine some day when I have resources to wrap myself in one of those crazy red lace dresses.
The newspaper guy knows that I only buy the Herald when it has a good headline I can cut out and paste in my collection, and this is our inside joke. Each morning as I pass, he springs to attention and holds up the newspaper for scrutiny. I either shake my head or give him a quarter. Today’s headline is uninspiring.
I turn the corner to the alley behind my building to watch the electronics store amass boxes of shiny silver and matte black toys I will never own waist-high on the sidewalk. There is a Steve Madden shoe tossed aside carelessly, sole peeling and filled with rain, that has been there for weeks. Each time I step over it I wonder how anyone could lose a shoe in this city and not notice. Today is garbage day but I don’t mind. Garbage always smells the same, no matter what’s in it.
And that, my friends, is consistency.