Showdown at Starbucks

The first thing I heard was a man yelling on his cel phone. In a raspy, gravelly voice that boomed through the lobby, he slurred words of love and anger to whomever was on the other end. The second thing I noticed was the rancid scent of stale beer, which I then saw originated in a garbage bag spilling forth beer cans and bottles, and a puddle of beer wherever he set it down. (This isn’t one of the cool Seattle Starbucks that serves beer, and being that it doubled as the lobby to a bank and a law firm, beer is not something that is usually on hand.) I sighed and went back to my book, trying vainly to block the obnoxious conversation out of my brief lunch break. [This wasn’t my first incident at the downtown Albany location, nor is it likely to be my last.]

The phone call completed, the man stood, a bit wobbly, and proceeded to go around asking people for money, saying he got his GED and was not going to do cocaine anymore or steal anything. He tapped every patron on the shoulder, leaned in to them with the warning, “Don’t be afraid,” and asked brazenly for change. Shifting my shoes before he dripped beer on them, I shook my head and said I didn’t have anything. He moved on to the next person.

A few seats down, the “security guard” for the bank sat at a table having a conversation with a parking meter attendant – or, as I like to call them, the two most useless people on the planet. As the beer man continued pestering people, I went up and asked if the guy dressed like a security guard, with the security emblem on his shoulder, was, in fact, some sort of, like, security. He said yes hesitantly, and I asked if he might be able to do something about this guy spilling beer everywhere and begging for money. After a meek attempt at asking the guy to leave people alone, he went and sat back down. Ten minutes and more harassment later, the security guy asked me if the other guy had left. Based on the yelling that was still going on I said no, he was still there. Mr. Security then loudly told his conversation partner that he only worked for the bank and Starbucks was responsible for their side. He also went on to say that if someone was robbing the bank, he wouldn’t try to stop that either. Mainly, in his words, he was there to sit and be a presence. A big, useless presence. (Attention would-be-robbers: have I got a job for you!)

Finally, after the beer guy approached a table of two young women and asked for money, one of the Starbucks baristas – a female (because the three hulking males working there proved as hapless as the security guard) told the drunk guy he couldn’t do that and asked him to leave. Instead of going on his merry way, he said the following, which I happened to get on video because I knew he would not go quietly or without a fight. It’s the final part of their exchange, word for upsetting word:

Beer Guy: I’m asking everybody. I ain’t stealing, I ain’t robbing nobody no more.

Barista Girl: Sorry sir, you can’t do that in here.

Beer Guy: I do what I want in here. Get your fat ass back there.

Barista Girl: All right, that’s nice. Get to stepping.

Beer Guy: Who the fuck is you? I only like white girls.

Barista Girl: Get out. Get out. Go ahead.

Beer Guy: Treat me like I’m white, bitch! Get on your knees!

Barista Girl: Go. Get out. I’m going to call the police.

At that point he left. And the rest of us sat there, quietly stunned. Near the end, the security guard shows up on the video, tentatively approaching the scene, watching but not doing a thing. As race played a rather ugly part at the end of the confrontation, I will disclose that both parties involved were African-American. (The useless security person was white.)

I can’t say I was much more than useless myself, too scared to confront the guy myself (and two feet shorter than him too.)

There’s no happy ending to this post, only the uncomfortable words hanging in the air, and the memory of it all lingering in a disturbingly stubborn way. Even when not directly involved in incidents like that, I’m left feeling icky. Disappointed in humans ~ haunted by all our demons.

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