One Russian Latte at a Time

Home Brooklyn Life One Russian Latte at a Time

By Jack Mirkinson

Brighton Beach was driven inside by the rain and the cold last Thursday. People sought refuge in the all-Russian music stores and delis and kitschy clothing shops, with their displays of fur or corsets. And they also sought refuge in Starbucks, the chain that makes every neighborhood just that tiny bit alike.

At least the clientele broke up the monotony. Everyone seemed to be a regular. There was Brian and there was Arlene and there was the kid staring at his computer and chatting with the people behind the counter. The atmosphere was genial and rowdy—people bouncing jibes and catcalls off each other. And then it started getting very hot in the store, like the place was suddenly in the middle of a steam tunnel.

Photo courtesy of Zenametalz, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo courtesy of Zenametalz, Flickr Creative Commons

The temperature rose gradually. After a few minutes, people started looking around, wondering if they were the only ones who were sweating. They began to take off layers of clothing. Arlene stripped down to a tank top. An employee who everyone called Animal noticed that the front windows had steamed up from the heat. He and a female employee traded analogies back and forth, trying to describe what the environment was like: it feels like a sauna! It feels like a blow dryer! It feels like after you’ve ironed your clothes! It feels like a hair salon! (That one was repeated to most of the people who walked in, since everyone seemed to know everyone else.)

What it felt like was the heating system going awry. Something was not right, and it was turning the heat in the building onto full blast. At one point Animal announced to the room that it was 80 degrees inside. They propped the door open to let in some air. The wind and rain had picked up. The awning from a newspaper stand fluttered wildly.

A man from the gas company came in. He leaned on a counter and waited for instructions. Word came down from the landlord of the building that he would have to take a circuitous route around the back and through someone else’s property in order to get to the root of the problem. He stumped back out, and the room stayed stifling.

Arlene walked up to the woman behind the counter. “Have you heard that Starbucks song, ‘One Latte At A Time?'” she said.

“‘One Latte At A Time?'” the woman replied quizzically.

“Yeah, like saving the world, one latte at a time. It’s really good.” The woman gave a non-committal response and turned back to the coffee machines.

A blond woman came in and started talking to Animal about books. He said the only things he read were comic books. They moved onto Spanish. She asked Animal, who was Latino, how much Spanish he could speak. The woman working with him (also Latina) laughed.

“Your Spanish is terrible!” she said. He shot back that hers was, if anything, worse. They both wondered when the heat was going to drop again.

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