Friday, November 30, 2007

A Starbucks on Every Corner

Although I have often stopped at a Starbucks for a cuppa to revive flagging energy levels or as a convenient meeting spot for friends, I had not thought of it as an oasis or a safe haven from a world gone awry until our borrowed car--usually a stalwart and trusty vehicle--gave up the ghost altogether at the intersection of 38th and Meridian in Indianapolis. I mention the intersection in particular for several reasons.

I mention the intersection first because it is still a long way from home in Carmel or Anderson despite the fact that we have managed to coddle the car along for about 10 miles already. The second reason is to be able to explain how improbable it is to find a Starbucks on this particular corner in a neighborhood in transition. Many folks actively choose to live there rather than take the easy path out to the suburbs because they like being able to walk to local restaurants and public schools and parks, have a reasonable driving distance to work, or have a house that is not cut out of a developer's pattern book. I know because I lived close by here while I was looking for a house to buy. I might have bought a house there except for two things.

The first reason that I did not buy a house in this neighborhood was the economics. I needed a starter house, a euphemism for something not very expensive, smallish, and easy to maintain. The houses that I could afford needed more work than I could manage; the houses that didn't need work were way out of my price range.

The second reason that I did not buy a house in the neighborhood is that the house where I was staying was broken into while I lived there. They circled the house testing each of the windows until they found one they could pry open. Someone crawled into the space they created and then calmly walked to the front door and let his companion in. I don't remember what they took. After the initial shock, I was grateful that they had only taken things. I had my old checks laid out on the kitchen table in preparation for doing taxes. My whole life could have been whisked away. I prefer not to think at all about what might have happened if I had done more than stir in my sleep while they were prowling downstairs.

I cannot fathom either the cold bloodedness of sneaking into someone's house in the night or of the mean spirited humor that led them to open the garage door with the automatic opener and then leave both the keys to the car and the one garage door opener they left behind inside the locked garage. An older neighborhood meant that it had only the one door into the garage. I managed to break a window and climb into the garage. After that initial shock, again I learned to be grateful that they had not stolen the car or burned down the garage, or, worse still, used the garage door opener to come back again.

Friends and neighbors rallied to my side and the damage to house was quickly put right. I managed to enjoy my last few months living there, but I stopped looking for houses to buy in that neighborhood and I became wary and restless when dark settled in. Although I did not expect to be broken into again, I knew that evenings meant the night shift coming to work in the neighborhood. As dark settles in, drunks, prostitutes and hustlers take their appointed spots appearing as if they emerge from the sidewalks themselves.

Starbucks appeared on the corner opposite the strip mall after I had moved out of the neighborhood. It was created as a place to provide much needed local jobs and to redistribute income. In theory, people on their way to work might stop and buy coffee and a newspaper on their way into the office. I stopped there when I passed that way. It seemed to be working. It also provided a place for people from very different neighborhoods to come together. Starbucks, after all, is safe, familiar, predictable.

When I tucked the moribund car into a corner of the parking lot of the strip mall, I had all these thoughts swirling around in my mind with the anxiety of having to deal with the car. I took a deep breath so that my voice was calm, smiled, and looked my husband in the eye to make sure he would heed my words without getting unduly concerned. "This is a pay attention kind of neighborhood. Be canny." The zone between paying attention and being overwhelmed by the kind of violence that Americans get used to, if not inured to, is small. I must have missed the mark not wanting to alarm him, so it was even more imperative that we get out before the night shift came to work.

We walk across the road--after two weeks in the US, I have him pretty well trained to walk with the lights and in the crosswalks, but as soon as we crossed the street, he took a shortcut across the parking lot in the path of a car. I don't know how I could explain to him that in this neighborhood, if the car didn't hurt him, the driver just might.

The staff at Starbucks were very nice about letting us use their phone. We bought coffee and a New York Times and a muffin and began the back and forth conversations that culminated in: "We have gone to Autozone and have a new battery for the car, but AAA is on the way and they are expected in about 10 minutes." We hurry out to the moribund car. The first of the hustlers has arrived on the corner as dusk settles in, and the cars full of office workers hurry home. We are in transition along with the neighborhood as we stand on the corner.

My family arrives first and begin operating on the little car. AAA arrives. While they work on the car, I jump into the other car to keep my brother company. He needs a routine and a familiar setting. He is outside his comfort zone, so I work hard to keep my tone light, my voice calm, and fill the inside of the car with comforting thoughts both for his sake and my own.

Although the car would need one more intervention and a towing by AAA before the night was over, we made it back to Carmel in our vehicles like the others heading north that evening. Starbucks would be there and providing a safe haven until 9pm when they leave the neighborhood to the night shift.


At 7:13 PM, Blogger Heather L. said...

I must say, it's very strange to be reading your description of an exact intersection I know well (though not quite as well as your having lived there) when I'm reading a blog about a lady who lives in Scotland! :) I loved it: "This is a pay attention neighborhood!" Well, I'll "be canny" because my husband and I are headed right there tonight! (For a performance of Handel's Messiah, which will be inside Trinity Eps. -- so hopefully we'll be safe!)

At 7:51 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, I love Trinity Episcopal church. Do you know when the next Tazie service is? I hope they are still doing it one sunday a month.

I neglected to mention the churches that are doing their very best to be anchors in the neighborhood, too. Both Trinity and the big Methodist church there on the corner of 38th and Meridian. Enjoy the concert!

At 10:58 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

wonderful description, as usual!

At 2:21 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

hayden, thanks for comments re description. Being back is a feast for my eyes. I wonder if you will feel the same about Michigan?

At 2:34 PM, Blogger scorrie said...

starbucks will never be the same again for me // and we keep passing it every where we go // first time there was scary but we pulled through // and they were so helpful // scorrie //


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