Ode to the Starbucks on Upstream

When I first encountered Starbucks in the 1980s, I dug it because it made me think of Battlestar Galactica
When I first encountered Starbucks in the 1980s, I dug it because it made me think of Battlestar Galactica

About three years ago, I tried my hand at moonlighting. I wanted to see what it would be like to get paid for my writing. The experience was enough to remind me how grateful I am for my full-time job, and to scare me straight from the path of trying to craft “dynamic content.”

I never met anyone from my secondary employer. All assignments and submissions were through an online portal. There may have been an email telling me I’d been hired. At the end of it all, I wasn’t fired, and I didn’t quit. After about four months, I just stopped making myself available for assignments. I might have sent an email telling them as much. I suppose it was my foray into the “gig economy.”

I wrote ad copy for websites. I think I got paid anywhere from $10 to $15 per submission. I couldn’t commit to any more than three per week, so the work definitely didn’t catapult me into a new tax bracket. End result, it worked out to about $5 per hour.

The pay was reminiscent of my time as a copy editor at the Arizona Daily Wildcat. Huge difference being, that job remains one of my favorite working experiences to this day. Website copy gig, not so much.

One of the things I loved most about the Wildcat was being in the newsroom with the other copy editors. Most tended to be keen observers of culture, pop and otherwise. And since, for the most part, neither our tasks nor our deadlines were oppressive, there was plenty of space and time for snarky comments, inside jokes, and out-and-out joviality.

By contrast, writing copy for businesses in towns I would never visit, and getting edited/reviewed/judged by people I would never meet nor see, proved to be quite onerous. And trying to meet their deadlines while maintaining my full-time Sad Picard job was burdensome. But the attempt led me to stumble upon a great secret weapon for writing:

The Starbucks on Upstream.

It’s a ten-minute, straight shot from my office. I go there during my lunch hour, do not log in to Wi-Fi (only on rare occasions, if something pressing or time-sensitive demands it), and just write. I discovered it during the website copy gig time, because I was looking for a place where I could write undisturbed, meet deadlines, and not run into anyone from my office. (Work run-ins are rare, since there is another Starbucks that is closer to the office. And the few times I’ve seen anyone from work, they’ve been “friendlies.”)

For the four-month duration of that gig, there was some part of me that knew there was a lesson in all the onerousness. And during those four months, I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. But as soon as I started going to the Starbucks to write my own stuff, it became clear. Use the time, and the place, to further my work. Be it a novel, a short story, this blog.

I had discovered a cozy place to incubate my particular ambitions. Characters have been hatched during the short drive, to be animated in that Starbucks. I get antsy when my work schedule keeps me from getting there in any particular week. While I still make it a point to write (nearly) every day, I am fiercely protective of my Starbucks lunchtime. It is usually my most productive.

I feel obliged to address any reader who may take issue with Starbucks for whatever reason – their corporate policies, their global practices, or maybe just the taste of their coffee. I understand and appreciate business boycotts, and practice a few myself. (For reasons I wish I could say were lofty, but which are really quite petty.)

But in regard to Starbucks – I’m a practicing Catholic, so I’m accustomed to assimilating the sins of the larger behemoth to focus on the positives of the local, single representation. Just like how attending Mass at my parish church helps me engage with the community, and take part in 2,000-year-old traditions; frequenting that Starbucks allows me to work without interruption, and tip the outrageously nice local people who work there.

About a month ago, right before Labor Day, I was the only customer inside (there’s a drive-through at that location), and it was awesome. Before I left, two other customers came in. They each sat at far tables, apparently both as protective of their personal space as I am. One of the customers made some phone calls, but there was nothing ostentatious about them, it all sounded like work details and demands. Quiet background hum.

There have been some busy times in there, when I’ve struggled to find a seat. But on balance, my time in the café has been like that pre-Labor day hush.

According to my Twitter feed, yesterday was National Coffee Day. So I suppose I am a day late (but not a dollar short) with this, but here goes: Thank you, Starbucks on Upstream, for the many, many, turkey-bacon breakfast sandwiches, Grande Iced Coffees with soy milk, and for being, in general, a boon to my labors.

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