One morning about six months ago I was writing in one of my garrets, a Starbucks in Bradenton, Florida, sitting at one end of the long table there.
I always thought of that table as the Mad Tea Party—big enough for six, therefore you often found yourself sharing it with strangers. Some of my favorite long table regulars were a frumpy-looking couple who would bring in a plastic shopping bag from which they'd dump a cloth chessboard and pieces, plus two timers. After getting their drinks they'd play one or two intense games, saying little to each other, then pack up and leave.
But on this day I shared the table with a fortyish woman who worked intently on her laptop doing some kind of video editing. Then we were silently joined by an older woman who sat with her cappuccino, doing nothing, looking at nothing. She seemed to be going through the motions of having coffee at a café, and her vibe was sad and unsettled.
So when she got up to go, I made a point of looking up and saying in a friendly way, "You have a good day now."
She looked at me and blurted, "My husband killed himself three weeks ago. I don't know how good today's going to be."
What could I do but get up and give her a hug? We stood talking for a few minutes. She told me her husband had run up debts for years, the extent of which she was still discovering. It appeared she would lose her house, which was also her place of business, she being an artist with her studio at home. I consoled her as best I could, even giving her my phone number if she wanted to talk.
When I saw her next at the café she thanked me for the hug and the concern. We've kept up as café buddies. One day recently she told me, smiling, "All this has forced me into the here and now. I have no idea what's going to happen next. And I'm perfectly at peace."
I have a few other café buddies, all of whom I met at the long table, and some day I'll have to tell you about them.
A month or so ago the Starbucks got redone, with new paint, different pictures on the walls, and new furniture. The long table is gone, swapped out for some nice leather chairs and smaller, low tables that students put their feet on.
I started this blog entry thinking my subject would be my café buddies, but I realized as I went that it's really about the long table.
I miss it.
[Photo by ES]
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