A middle-aged caucasian man with a long white beard and helmet hair walks into Peet’s. I saw him in the parking lot unloading his Harley and I had to beat him to the entrance. He stands behind me as we wait in line for our turn. It’s a busy morning, but the wait won’t be long since there are three cashiers and a handful of customers who order simple things, like coffee. None of the “Large, um… sugar-free… non-fat… frappucino/ice-blended” nonsense. Medium coffee, $1.45*. Next.
But there’s usually a crowd at the cream and sugar counter for those with a sweet tooth. There are three of us pouring and stirring, trying to get out of each others’ way. There is an Ethiopian man in the way of the coffee lids and I who am in the way of the stirring sticks. The bearded man who stands in the most inconvenient area of the station fumbles from one side to the other. “Sorry. We gotta do the coffee dance,” he says, and looks over at us for a comment or response of any sort. The Ethiopian man and I make immediate eye-contact, but he quickly glances back at his coffee. He is expressionless. His non-expression causes my puzzled expression, and then I look at the bearded man and smile. I knew it would have been the polite response to say something, anything really, but I had lost my voice and couldn’t draw out the strength to say what needed to be said — “Yeah,” “Haha,” “It’s okay” — I didn’t know and I still don’t know. You see, I’m terrible at making conversation. An awkward silence begins and continues for a very long time. Maybe five seconds. As I finish the customization of my drink, I imagine the poor fellow looking at the wall or something. And I dash out of Peet’s in my own silly coffee dance, “I am in a hurry and I lack conversation skills.”