It’s Not The Coffee

It started during my first year at a large law firm in Chicago’s Sears Tower.  The Starbucks there, furnished with gleaming wood tables and chairs and a few armchairs to one side, occupies a corner of the Tower’s first floor.  I usually worked weekdays from about 7:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. with a half hour lunch at my desk, then another four to six hours on the weekends.  I don’t drink coffee, but when I was especially busy, I stopped in Starbucks in the morning.  I drank Chai Lattes, loving the sweet, foamy taste, while I stole 15 minutes out of the day to read for fun rather than for work.  Sometimes that was the only time I relaxed the entire week.  The partners rarely wandered into Starbucks, and most associate attorneys, unlike me, preferred starting later and working later than I did.  Now when I pass through the Sears Tower (or the Willis Tower as it’s currently called), I peek into Starbucks, remembering how lovely those few moments felt.  And feeling relieved I rarely have that kind of schedule now.
Now I have my own law practice.  When I started it, I resolutely marched past each Starbucks in my path.  I’d set aside funds to keep me going until my practice got on its feet, but I felt too cautious to spend on unnecessary drinks.  When I got my first check from my first client, though, I deposited it in the bank across from my office, then walked to Starbucks on Monroe and LaSalle and ordered a Chai Latte for the first time in months.  So sweet and pumpkin-spicy.  That’s still my choice when I’ve finished a grueling project, had a particularly good month, or hit a sales goal for my novel, but it’s never quite matched how wonderful it tasted that day. 
Starbucks is also my expanded office.  I share a suite with 3 other attorneys, two of whom tend to shout across the hall to one another.  That isn’t so bad, but when they talk in the office next to mine, they seem unaware that they are only two feet from one another and speak at the same volume they use for across-the-hall conversations.  For the first time in my life, I understand the phrase “I can’t hear myself think.”  If both are in and are conversing, I’ll often print whatever brief I’m drafting or cases I’m reading and walk to a Starbucks to work.  And I have a choice of views – the one in the Chase Bank building looks out on the plaza with Chagall’s Four Seasons wall and offers a bubbling fountain in summer and sparks of holiday lights in winter.  The one on LaSalle doesn’t have the same type of view, but I love the outdoor seating in the summer and most of the spring and fall.  This is especially nice for me because when I worked in the Sears Tower I rarely actually went outside the Tower until I left for the night.
I use Starbucks as a second home office, too.  The one near my home has a long table with connections for laptops.  While I usually like writing in silence, now and then I just want to be around other people.  Even if I don’t talk with anyone, I hear their voices and don’t feel so much like I’m closeted away alone writing while everyone else is out in the world.  Sometimes, too, I concentrate better with activity around me.  Also, in my own study at home, I start thinking that maybe I ought to do something about the laundry overflowing onto the closet floor, or pay attention to my parakeet (who likes to run across the keyboard), or make those phone calls I’ve been neglecting.  At Starbucks, I can’t do any of those things.  It’s me and the laptop, and the words flow through my fingers onto the screen without pause.  My favorite times are when I’m so absorbed in the story and characters that when someone asks if they can use the chair next to me, I’m startled because I’ve forgotten I was in a coffee place rather than in whatever scene I’m focused on.
I’ve never worked at Starbucks.  And I don’t own stock in it, but sometimes I think I should.  Because the people who run it seem to have found a key to what makes a successful business.  It’s not so much the product offered that generates sales, it’s how it makes people feel.  So it makes sense to me that what I love to do most of all in Starbucks is read.  The books I love are the ones where I feel what the characters feel, love them or hate them, root for them or grip the book cover for fear their dangerous plans will succeed.  They’re books that, when I close them, I feel a sense of loss and wish I could start all over again without remembering what happened, so I can experience everything anew.  I buy the book for the experience, just as I go to Starbucks for the experience, not the coffee. 

That being said, a Chai Latte to go is pretty good, too.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening  ($2.99)
Will Tara Spencer give birth to the first female messiah?  Or trigger the Apocalypse?