When I made the decision to move to Poland, the very first thing I did for research was to check the official Starbucks website to see if there were any stores in the country. My heart broke when I discovered that the closest store was three hours away in Berlin. Despite that, I managed to work up the courage to come all this way, hoping that one day it would follow me here. And now, six years later, Starbucks has finally opened a store here in Wroclaw.
It’s the second store to open in Poland, with the first having opened in Warsaw last week. Because this is Starbucks, I expect newer stores to begin blossoming at every other corner within the next few months. Those who know me understand what a big deal this is for me. If Starbucks were a woman, I’d be in prison for stalking. When I say “stalking”, I don’t mean the cute John Hughes-bother-her-until-she-finally-relents-stalking, but rather the disturbing kind of stalking where you shave off your body hair in her empty house on a Tuesday in order to make the darkness stop screaming because you know she loves silence.
Whenever I’ve traveled through Europe, I’ve always gone out of my way to find a Starbucks. While most world travelers can say that they’ve made sweet crazy love in Paris or met with investors in Barcelona or wrestled great white sharks in Venice, I’m the traveler who confidently brags about drinking frappuccinos in Athens, Berlin, Milan, Vienna, London, Munich and Paris. I’m Europe’s answer to a Starbucks groupie, and I’m pretty sure Europe never asked a question to begin with. This isn’t counting the hundreds of Starbucks I’ve been to in the States. I’ve enjoyed the self-important crowds in Washington, DC, I’ve watched the shallow crowds routinely treat the staff like crap in South Tampa, I’ve witnessed relationships end in Philadelphia, I’ve survived hangovers in locations in Buffalo, and I’ve questioned what-the-hell-I-was-doing in Houston.
My wife and friends have been enormously patient about this, and while there have been no interventions of any kind (whenever I’ve suspected one, I’ve gone into hiding…which is why I’ve missed two of my surprise birthday parties), it’s obvious that they don’t quite understand why I love Starbucks, especially when I typically don’t enjoy hot coffee.
You see, it all started back when…
[Cue awkward flashback sequence]
From 1999 to 2001, I was working a corporate job that had me working in 13 different states at any time. Most weeks, I was on the road from Sunday to Friday. I was on a first name basis with the airport security staff at Philadelphia International Airport and on a plane 4 to 6 times a week. I paid rent for my apartment in January of 2000 without having once stepped in it. And while the traveling could be exciting, like anything else done repeatedly, it eventually grew tedious. On top of that, the job itself provided more drama than I ever thought possible. I remember flying to Florida ($800 for the flight, $250 for the hotel, $50 for meals) for a corporate meeting that lasted less than 45 minutes and it was about how we needed to start spending less money. Surprisingly, that last example is the least ridiculous thing to happen in those three years.
Anyway, the point is, it was a weird few years of my life, and a profoundly lonely one. It is frighteningly difficult to convince a different maid every day at the Hampton Inn to spoon you when she has over 30 rooms to clean. Speaking of, where are you today, Consuela? Still though, no matter where I was, there was always a Starbucks. When the day was over, I’d go to my hotel room, change my clothes, grab the laptop and head to Starbucks and spend the next two, three or four hours writing. Now I don’t want to get into globalization and what chains like Starbucks are doing to the economy; all that mattered to me was that no matter where I went, there was always going to be something familiar. In many ways, Starbucks was my living room. Even to this day, I appreciate the comfort a Starbucks can provide for me, which is precisely how I felt today when I went to the Starbucks here in Wroclaw.
Now, do you know how when you go to a Starbucks you will inevitably see that annoying ass with the open laptop in the corner at the best table, looking all serious as he works on his novel? If he were in a French movie, he’d be wearing black turtlenecks and smoking clove cigarettes, saying something profound like “C’est dans les vieilles marmites qu’on fait les meilleures soupes” while a one-armed man holding three red balloons makes out with a turtle in the background.
Well, that ass is me! Oui, I’m the guy you’ve been rolling your eyes at for the last ten years, the 21st century equivalent to kicking sand in my face. I’m that ass because for whatever reason, I’m amazingly prolific at Starbucks. On a good day with my current schedule – between the preparation for and the lectures themselves – I can write between 500-1,200 words. My wife and I went to a Starbucks in Vienna last year and in less than two hours I had managed 8,000 words. Back in my corporate days, I could pull off two to three short stories in a week (these days I’m lucky to have a first draft of a story done in a week). Most of Empty Rooms Lonely Countries was written in a Starbucks. And if I had to guess, I’d say that I’ve finished over a hundred short stories in a Starbucks.
I’m not saying things will be the same with Starbucks finally being around the corner. But I like knowing that the opportunity is there.
Plus, say what you want, frappuccinos are really, really good.
One last thought to consider while I’m at it. While working out yesterday, I pulled a muscle in my leg. It was hurting pretty badly during the walk between the university and Starbucks, but once I entered the coffeeshop, the pain went away.
I think not.
Anyway, welcome to Poland, Starbucks. I’ve been waiting a long time for you to get here, but I never gave up hope. We’re going to have some good times, you and I. You’ll see.