The owner refuses to put any signs out. He wants everyone to be a regular, committed to finding really good coffee which I guess is cool and all. It means lots of regulars, familiar faces, and consistent orders. It also means fewer tips. Alas.
Mega-lawyer man, also known as Alex, comes in at 6:45 every morning. He’s fully presentable which should be a crime at this time of day. Today he’s wearing a light gray suit and blue undershirt. The last time I wore a suit was to my cousin’s funeral. That one I borrowed from a friend so it didn’t fell. Mega-lawyer man’s suits always fit well and he is always wear a suit. He doesn’t even wear fun socks the way some corporate goons do. You know, to let you know they have a soul, but not this mega-lawyer man. He wears black and gray argyle socks every day.
I’m making his Americano when this guy walks in that I’ve never seen before. He’s wearing those tight, spandex biker shorts that draw your attention but in a way that makes you uncomfortable so you pretend you weren’t looking. He orders a regular drip coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I put the bread in the toaster before going back to the Americano. I hear Biker dude start a conversation with Mega-lawyer man.
“It’s going to be a hot summer. Not even 7 in the morning and it is already hot.”
“It’s not too bad.”
I’m surprised Mega-lawyer dude responded at all. He doesn’t seem to be the small talk type. I slow down. I kind of find the interaction entertaining.
“You headed to work? Early bird gets the work and all that.”
“No. I’ve been at the office since 5am. I just needed another cup of coffee and this place has the best espresso.”
Well I’ll have to tell my boss that. He’ll appreciate it. I guess I do too. I guess I should finish making his drink.
“Good to know. This is my first time here and I found it kind of by accident. I’m training for this bike trip and my tire got messed up this morning, so I'm waiting for my husband to come see what’s wrong. I’m not much of a biker or really a biker at all. I just bought the bike last week. We are planning to bike from Battery Park up to Canada. It’s like a million miles or so. It was my husband’s idea.”
He laughs in that way that sort of invites the other person to join in. Mega-lawyer man does not. I hand him his drink. He thanks me and nods at biker dude. Biker dude grins at him. I hand him his breakfast sandwich. The day goes on from there hour by hour, minute by minute. I like my job fine enough, just kind of boring in between customers.
It’s been two weeks since biker dude first came by, but now he comes almost every other day. At first it seemed like Mega-lawyer dude was annoyed with all the questions. They always ended up being here at the same time.
“So, you work how many hours a day?”
“Sometimes more. Right now I’m preparing to close a really big deal.”
“You must really love your work to put all that blood, sweat, and tears into it.”
“It’ll be worth it.”
Mega-lawyer dude never asked any questions back and his responses always sounded terse to me, but that never deterred biker dude. I’m not sure if he’s that friendly to everyone or just finds something entertaining about his daily dose of corporate clones.
“I’m now up to fifty miles at a time. It definitely hurts and sometimes certain body parts start going numb, but it is nice working towards a goal, you know? It’s been fun seeing new parts of the city as we train. My husband hurt his knee so he isn’t training right now, but he is in much better shape than me to begin with.”
One day, biker dude doesn’t come in. Mega-lawyer dude orders his Americano same as always, but after I hand it to him, he lingers. I think we’d both gotten used to the strange morning ritual that biker dude had inadvertently created.
Biker dude came back, and I felt relieved. Mega-lawyer dude almost smiled. Almost.
“I had a cold, so I took some time off training. I don’t want to push it, you know? Speaking of pushing it, how are you doing? Not to pry, but those circles under your eyes are getting darker by the day! Seems like you need more sleep!”
“I’ll sleep when the deal is done.”
“You’re so committed! This must be really important to you. It sounds like you live at the office. I bet your people miss you!”
“I live alone.”
I go on vacation in August. Like everyone else, I don’t want to be in the city. It feels like you’re swimming through the air. We are all flies trapped in amber. Smelly flies at that. Biker dude is gone for a whole week. I assume he’s on his bike trip. It sounds super cool. Just waking up every morning knowing that all you need to do is get from Point A to Point B. Maybe I should get a bike.
One morning a guy walks in with slack and a white, linen button up. It’s not until he orders that I realize it is biker dude. I barely recognized him in normal clothes. Mega-lawyer man looks as shocked as me. I wonder if he assumed biker dude only wore his biker uniform.
“It was the most amazing experience. Just seeing such beautiful scenery. It felt incredibly peaceful. More than that, it just felt so cool to accomplish it. To see mile by mile all that training equate to progress and get closer to the goal. You get it. Speaking of which, how’s that big deal you were working on?”
“Oh, that finished a couple weeks ago. I’m on a new deal now.”
It’s clear he doesn’t know what to say. It is kind of sad when you think about it. All that grind and just on to the next thing. Mega-lawyer man looks a bit uncomfortable in the silence and so for the first time ever he initiates a conversation.
“What do you do for work?”
“I’m a Senior Vice President at Deloitte.”
Luckily, they never noticed me because I’m sure my jaw dropped. Mega-lawyer man can’t disguise his shock. There’s something under his expression too. It feels like a big moment filling the entirety of the coffee shop. It presses us all against the wall. You can smell it before you can fully see it on his face.
It was clear when they first met that Mega-lawyer man felt better than biker dude, being the committed professional compared to the silly man with his grand bike trip. They both had their big goals. They both accomplished it. Biker dude got to celebrate. Mega-lawyer man just is on to the next goal. You can see it in the corner of his mouth, the veins in his hands. You can smell it like burnt coffee beans. Or maybe I just burnt the beans because I’m still in shock. Mega-lawyer man walks out but the smell of regret lingers behind him.