Starbucks, West 103rd Street & Broadway SE, Upper West Side
It’s Friday, and Halloween is about a month off, so naturally, you’re a door north of a pop-up costume shop. In the window are full-sized posters suggesting what you could dress up as if you were attractive enough to be on a Halloween store advertisement. You could be Wonder Woman if you were someone else. A man walks down the street with his son, the former wearing the tan shirt and dark slacks of a Scout Master, the latter wearing the deep blue of a Cub Scout. The costumes almost work, but the kid is wearing the same kind of Adidas running shorts you pretend you go running in but really just use to keep yourself from running pantsless to the bathroom at home.
There are hard wooden benches on the south wall of the café, the long end of an L that has a single seat-and-table set as its only remaining toe. An overall unnecessary retaining wall pens in a group of tables and chairs, and four seats stand at the short window counter looking out onto Broadway. The lighting at the counter is harsh, a real First Avenue Problem, and after the Halloween store and the Moroccan restaurant, passersby are given four more options of who they could be: a button-down, glasses wearing man in his mid-40s, standing ramrod-straight with the kind of posture only expected out of or instilled into statues; an old couple writing their own contract for… who knows what, but it somehow involves cataloging songs and wondering aloud if he (the husband) should list the place each song was recorded and who played on the track while she (the wife) frets audibly, elaborately about whether their boilerplate holds any water; and finally, a man in his mid-30s cataloguing the people in this Starbucks.
You’re sitting there for at least a half hour before you realize that the weird furniture store across the street is not a furniture store at all, and thus, not that weird. Something about the name CLINTON over KAINE on a light green awning strikes you more as a grocery store move—or, rather, a bodega move—than a political one. Maybe that’s their Halloween costume this year, the mom-and-pop couple that considers all the kids in the neighborhood their children, and spend more time thinking about whether to switch melon suppliers than if they should push their twin beds together tonight and wrestle until they open up a chasm in between and fall straight to hell itself.
This Starbucks is one of the more exclusive clubs in the neighborhood, this upper extremity of the Upper West Side, and people come in hoping to grab a seat after the process of getting their drink. They soon find that people are here for the long haul—the customers have already decided who they are.
Outside, Germans speaking in garbage disposal sharpness walk straight through the cloud of your cigarette smoke. They’re playing Americans tonight, but they’ve dangerously overplayed the denim card and look more Canadian than anything else. They look like what the Far Right thinks real Americans look like, with ample interior pockets for Marlboro Reds and a tiny sprayer of Binaca. But then, the Germans missed the 80s as we knew them here, or maybe they’re into Russian culture, which has been feverishly and inexpertly teleported back to the Reagan Era by sheer Putinesque willpower.
It turns out the Moroccan restaurant is actually a boutique hotel—The Marrakech—and you’re worried that it’s one of the better costumes you’ll see this Halloween. It’s simple, but convincing, and that’s what really matters. The cloud of smoke spiraling around your head probably makes you look like a hapless beekeeper or a bringer of biblical plagues. A firetruck screams, blinking, down the street, full of men dressed up as firefighters who, hopefully, are also actual firefights, or are at least going to a costume fire.
This contract going on next to you could be anything, honestly. He’s a partner in the company, but he doesn’t agree to produce the show, these people are independent contractors for him, he’s making some sort of very involved playlist. Is this how people plan weddings on the Upper West Side? Is this how they start a law firm? Does the fact of your location negate the fact that going over a contract in a Starbucks means the contract can’t be all that important? They’re not even married, it seems like. You think they might be brother and sister. Nora Ephron didn’t prepare you for this, she didn’t prepare us for any of this. Swap these two out for Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and you till wouldn’t know what the hell is going on. Someone is or isn’t going to be an executive producer. Is this for a film? Is this for a production? Does it matter? Isn’t everything?
It’s hard for you to imagine this place as somewhere for powerbrokers to make big decisions—there are only a few outlets scattered around the place, and you sure don’t feel plugged in.
3 stars. 2690 Broadway, Manhattan. Bathroom code: unknown.