H.B “”So are you here for work?” Howard Behar asked me. We had stepped outside to sit down at his table of choice.
‘For the week.” I responded with my trademark caution. I had not worked for Starbucks since 1994. I did run one of the first Barnes & Noble Starbucks cafes for about a year after that. Then I officially hung up the green apron. Yet, I was still nervous as I sat down across from him. It was strange for me to feel that way because,I did not recall being intimidated at all by him those years ago at Starbucks. Howard was low key and made the store visits painless. That thought in my head, I blurted out.
“What did you look for on your visits to Starbucks locations, stores, you know, back in the early 90’s in Chicago?”
H.B “Oh, I was never there to see how clean a store was in those days. Or have someone time a shot. I wanted to hear what the customers and baristas were saying about the company. We just wanted to engage with the people. The customers.The baristas. See how people felt about the company”
“The last time I saw you was at my Oak Park store. You were with Stuart Fields.”
H.B-“Stuart Fields. Yes. Do you ever talk to him?’
‘No.” I was a bit confused by Howard’s response for a moment. Then I realized he knew little about Tripio. It took only a couple emails to secure the front cover blurb from him. It was one of the easiest parts of the entire process of getting Tripio on Amazon, of the whole process of getting my “Starbucks novel” out to the expectant world. In fact, I actually didn’t start to write Tripio as Tripio, let alone a “Starbucks novel“. It was started as something called Chicago Days. I had intended it to be my homage to, or version of, Henry Miller’s “Quiet Days in Clichy.” I loved Henry Miller back then and my journals were filled with references to Miller.
But they were also filled with references to Starbucks. I had five or six journals from those four years. All four years that I worked at Starbucks. The Henry Miller novella about a struggling writer was not to be. I could not write Chicago Days after all. I had to change it to a Starbucks centered book, because Starbucks was one of, if not the, center of my life then. The catch was, I did not want it to be! Back then I saw myself as a version of a the struggling writer in “Quiet days in Clichy”. That, 25 years later, became a story line in Tripio. Both of those currents in my life were soon overwhelmed by an unplanned pregnancy. What the hell was I to do? It’s all in there in Tripio. But I can tell you that if you look through all the journals from then you will not find a single entry that says “I’ll write a novel about this in 20 years.” However, in a very real journal entry from the time I was writing what was becoming Tripio, I noted that “It is a novella for now“. Sitting across from me, Howard Behar, or “H.B.” as he is called in Tripio, had no idea about any of this. I did not pursue it. I answered his question.
“I did put Stu in the book. Do you remember Candace? Ted? Sue?”
Tripio Expert- I smiled and nodded but didn’t feel I could step out of position for another handshake. The end of rush regulars were in line so I thought it best to stay put and get this last line out. That is also why I hadn’t yet cleaned the spilled mocha on the outside door. It was about knee high on the glass. I had noticed it a while ago and saw no urgency in cleaning it up. See reasons above. Of course, just after the RM (Stan)* made the eye contact with me he turned back to look at the door and the spill, defecated earlier from a customer’s to go cup. The customer didn’t seem to care, didn’t get any on him and so took off down the street. Again, no emergency on my part. Yet, it was obviously tape recorder worthy. Because RM Stan did half turn to get another look at the offending spill and held the recorder to his mouth, and quickly dispatched something into it. But, he had to know that I had my reasons. That is why he gets paid, to know things without being told what to do. I was in the trenches. Always have been.
*based on Stu Fields, though not him really
Howard continued, oblivious to the excerpt. “Oh sure, Candace.”
For another minute or so, the millionaire former president of Starbucks and I traded names of a people we had worked with then. We were talking about a Starbucks that very few would recognize today. A regional company of around 450 employees, or partners, as they were called then. And still are.
H.B. ” I started in 1989 and remember not being ready for how cold it was in Chicago. I got sick. I lived close to the Oak and Rush store and remember people would bring me chicken soup.”
“I still have a big winter coat that I bought then. I may have worn it twice since I left Chicago for Indy.”
H.B. ‘So, you live in Indianapolis? Wife and kids?” Howard asked. I had relaxed by then. He seemed to be truly interested. I told him the short version. I was a single parent and had been for some time. Here, I spoke with pride about the grown adults my wife and I had worked to bring up”.
H. B. “Grand kids are even more fun.” Howard responded with a smile and a quick recounting of his own family.
It struck me as we talked a bit more that this was was indeed a lot like the times Howard would pop in to one of my stores. I remembered one time at a store in Lincoln Park (#206 in Tripio) when I was in back counting down a cash drawer and he stepped in. We didn’t talk about the money in front of me, or what the figures on the recap sheet said. I remember that we just talked for minute or two. Not even sure about what. As for today, he took a sip of his drink. I wanted to ask other questions such as what was he drinking and did he pay for it. Then I thought that to be to ill fitting somehow. Anybody could do that. Starbucks meant too much to both of us. It meant so much to Howard because he was and always will be a big part of it. Starbucks will continue to be giant part of my life because I am no longer a part of it. What might of been if I had stayed, kept getting stock beyond the IPO? I know what the math says. Howard and I would be sitting here outside this Palm Springs Starbucks comparing yacht buying experiences. Today, as we faced each other across the table, his day ahead was what it was going to be, and possibly did include a yacht. My day was one of going be one of going to work to pay the mortgage, which was a lot like the thousands of other days since I hung up the green apron for good.
I noticed H.B. scan the street in front of this Starbucks where we sat as customers, most likely looking for his wife and the dogs. Time was running out so I did not bring that other visit up. After all, It’s not even in Tripio.