Starbucks as soup kitchen

Friday night’s straight-line thunderstorms and high winds knocked out power for over a million DC residents. The lights went out at my place between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., shortly before the major tree branch crashed onto the roof and broke through the living room ceiling. The next hour or so I was fumbling around in the dark with a flashlight trying to catch as much of the incoming water as I could, to little avail. The downpour, though brief, soaked the carpets, buckled a section of the wood flooring. Damage to the drywall and mildew may continue to surface for a while.

My good fortune? Unlike perhaps half a dozen folks in the area, I wasn’t killed outright by the tree branch. Mine was a far more benign scenario. But there’s a second good bit…my wife was out of town, in Los Angeles, visiting her mother and her sister (long story there as well)…so she didn’t have to put up with the oppressive heat and cleanup this weekend.

At least not directly. I called to alert her to our problems. Over the next hour or so, working from LA, she got in touch with the contractor who’d built the affected addition onto the house a few years back, the roofer who’d put on the new roof back in January, and the insurance people. And she mobilized some of the guys who’ve worked on projects over past months and years to show up Saturday for the tree work and to get a tarp over the roof.

All this before I had even turned in for the night. Wow. Truly a gift from God.

Fast forward, a few hours later; this is what things looked like by the light of day.

So I did what any responsible homeowner lacking electricity would do at 7:00 a.m. that next morning…

I headed for the local Starbucks.

My Starbucks location of choice is at the Beacon Mall on Route 1, just south of the Beltway. The few traffic lights along the route were out with the exception of the critical one on Route 1 itself. That filled me with hope. Sure enough, the Starbucks was open…

And doing a land-office business. Turns out the other Starbucks in the area had been shut down by the power outages. And every area resident had the same bright idea Saturday morning. The line was easily 3-4 times longer than usual for the morning peak. And that understated the wait. Most of the people ahead of me were ordering breakfast take-out…to take home where they each had 3-5 other coffee aficionados waiting for their idiosyncratic variations of that special blend, that mocha-Frappuccino-double-shot-soy-half-and-half no-foam whatever…

Okay, okay, so I’m making it up…

It’s all I can do to remember that when in Starbucks I call “large” vente…and that once we got “blonde,” “bold” became dark. [I think.]

But you get the idea.

Anyway, what I found most impressive was that by the time it came to my turn, those barristas were just as polite, just as amiable, as if it had been the quiet, calm-before-the-storm early hours more typical of a Saturday.

And they showed the same patience, good nature, and pleasant demeanor at all points throughout this weekend from hell…when I showed up again that afternoon, and several additional times throughout Sunday. This despite the crowds, despite the fact we were all sticking around long after we finished our drinks, topping off our smartphones with spare electrons from every available outlet, and reveling in the A/C, all the while looking and feeling disreputable from the heat and lack of basic hygiene.

So to the employees and management of Starbucks at every level…

Bravo…and thanks. [1]

[1]Rebecca Solnit, in her wonderful book, A Paradise built in Hell: The extraordinary communities that arise in disaster, describes this phenomenon as displayed in much more serious disasters, such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906; but we saw small measures on display this weekend. Not just in Starbucks, but in neighborhoods where those with power and/or generators snaked extension cords over to other’s yards, where we got reacquainted with each other on the streets, shared tools, and all the rest.


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4 Responses to Starbucks as soup kitchen

  1. Bill,
    So very sorry to hear about the damage to your home. I’m glad to hear that there were no injuries to you or your family. Best wishes for a speedy repair job.

  2. It sounds like Starbucks could learn a lesson or two from Waffle House (The one true sign of civilization in the South – no Southern town can be civilized unless it has a Waffle House.)! They are so well prepared that Craig Fugate, Administrator of FEMA, uses them as an indicator of storm severity. They even have special menus so their stores can stay open even if most community services are lost.

  3. Michael Cunningham says:

    Bill, I endorse Callan’s comments. As with Starbucks, when we had severe flooding in Brisbane last year (about 25,000 premises inundated, bridges and power out for days), the people’s response was inspiring. We expected to be flooded, our immediate neighbours almost all evacuated voluntarily and people closer to the river were ordered out. Many walked up our street with just an overnight bag of belongings – official advice went from minimal flooding, 200-300 premises, to maximal flooding, exceeding the 1974 disaster, in a few hours, so no-one was prepared. There was almost a holiday mood, no gnashing of teeth and wailing and bemoaning fate, and a plethora of volunteers to help when the water receded. One of the great strengths of our species is our adaptability, our capacity to roll with the punches. This was evident in Brisbane (although the BBC rang me asking about “panic”) and hopefully in the derecho-affected area.

  4. Thanks, all, for the well wishes and the thoughtful comments. Once my daughter and her husband had their power restored on July 1, they took us in. [We got a grandson fix from the two boys in the bargain!] Our power was restored on July 4, five days after the event. The tarp on the roof has held up through two thunderstorms so far. The insurance adjustor is scheduled to meet with us today; then we can get started on the repairs. All in all, a rosy scenario.

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