Friday, February 10, 2012

One Part Starbucks

Places I wanted to circle back to and visit later were spotted early as I wandered the wonderland of big name shops.

Spread out in front of me were the makings of a perfect afternoon.

I could peer into high end stores and look to my heart's content. I could consider what I might be missing by taking my credit card usually no farther than the neighborhood mall.

No serious shopper envy was likely to break out. But then you never know. When the whiff of luxe is in the air instinct takes over.

We were in Naples, Florida, which is a lovely place to be in the winter. The sky was blue. The splash and spurt of fountains were restful background against the bright light. The promenade of shops beckoned.

I fished into my handbag for sunglasses. The gesture felt full of glamor. All that was needed was a Hermes scarf and some gold flashing at the wrist. A few props, called accessories, and I could stalk seamlessly into the well dressed crowd. Be one of them.

But first Starbucks Coffee. I was in the area and wasn't going to hike back later. Better to stop while the coffee shop was in sight.

I checked the outdoor seating. Every table was in use. It's the way it so often is. Hardly anything beats being outside with your coffee and the sunshine, or the shade as you prefer, as you shift your chair into one or the other.

A table emptied as I stood at the door. With a bit of luck the table might be available when I came out. I sped in to place my order.

My face is very good at registering dismay. It doesn't have the look often. When it does it shows the world that here is the most disappointed person you'll likely ever meet.

That's the expression I suspect carried my face as I came out with my coffee. Someone with a laptop computer, and not necessarily with a Starbucks drink beside him, held the table.

A woman with a benign look (the look of someone who has snagged a table) sat nearby. The second chair pulled up to her table was empty. She sat alone. She had a look of repose.

"Would you mind if I join you?" I invited myself to the table. I waved towards the table which otherwise would have been mine.

She was a comfortable looking woman. She was some years older than me as I glanced at her across the table

There was a polite exchange."Oh please do," "Thanks, so nice to sit outside," "For sure, who wants to be in when you can be out." We sipped awhile in companionable silence.

The quiet didn't last long. Perhaps it was the beautiful weather that got mentioned. She was, she told me, nearing the end of a three week stay. She was sad at leaving the good Florida weather.

Her cat was at home in Cincinnati, checked on by a friend while she was away. Because of the cat she was anxious to get back.

"Cincinnati," I commented. "We've visited Cincinnati. We like your city," Thinking to reach her in her own territory I mentioned seeing a Skyline Chili in Naples. It brought a big grin.

"Yes, I think I've seen it too," she said. By this time we were fully introduced, first names exchanged. Skyline Chili is Cincinnati's signature dish. It's spaghetti and chili together. If you're from Cincinnati the restaurant is a cliche for home.

"Naples is getting Graeter's too," She referred to another Cincinnati institution. Graeter's ice cream, a premium brand made in Cincinnati, has been picked up by the Publix grocery chain in Florida.

I've heard about Graeter's, I was glad it was familiar to me. It strengthened our common ground. "It's been made for 142 years," the sixth-generation Cincinnatian informed me.

Cincinnati is gray in the winter she said. She doesn't like the winter gloom. Somehow the conversation had gone back to the weather. Naples does her so much good. She and her husband have been coming for eleven years. It's a couple-hour flight.

They stay at the same hotel every year The place is faultless she said. Same staff year after year.

This year, she was compelled to add, housecleaning wasn't up to its usual standard. Rooms were sometimes not made up by four in the afternoon. It can be hard if you're dressing for dinner or wanting to take a nap she explained.

She said she thought I might be an athlete. Our coffees were well below the midway point by this time We were chatting away like friends.

She was way off in regard to my being an athlete. "I walk," I said, which at least explained the tennis shoes. I was neither elegantly shod nor just off the beach in sandals.

"You look like you might be a gardener," I guessed in return. She had a nice tan, picked up in the Naples sun, and also the crinkles around the eye of someone who spends enjoyed hours outside.

She wore a pleased look. " I love to garden,"she affirmed. "But I don't garden much any more. I had polio when I was young. I got over it and did fine all these years. But I'm starting to have troubles. I lose my balance. I don't dare get down on my hands and knees. If I can't get down to pull weeds I don't call that gardening."

I said it appears to me when we lose something we have to add something to keep things even. If something is taken away then we need to put something new in its place.

She gave that some thought. "I like that," she nodded. "I'm going to tell that to my friend." She went on to tell of her friend. She had plans to visit this friend before going back to Cincinnati.

The friend sounded like someone met over the years of her winter residence in Naples. She didn't specify and I didn't ask. There's a lot we aren't required to know. Not knowing all doesn't hinder grasping the essential story.

"She's always been so cheerful. She's the one brightening everyone else up. She's had her share of problems but she keeps bouncing back. But I don't know now. She's awfully down."

Osteoporosis had so worsened her friend is confined to a wheelchair. She can't get out and she can't get around. It's taken away her fire.

"The last time we talked she told me she can't get her hope back this time. This is it. She doesn't feel she has anything more to live for. I'm shopping for a book for her. Something that might be uplifting. Not a book to read. I don't think she wants that. But something that might give her some hope."

"She used to love to shop," she mused. "She can't even do that. I don't even want to tell her I was here. It might make her miss things all the more."

"I think not," I said. "If shopping has been taken away then give her something else. Tell her what the new colors in the stores are, Tell her what you're seeing, what we're wearing and what we're doing as we come over here to shop."

"That's a good idea,," she said. "I'll have to go back to the stores and really look."She laughed. "That's just what she might like to hear about."

We got up to go off in opposite directions. I was headed for J. Crew. She went off on a search for a book, The hope she wanted to give her friend was in her voice as we said goodbye.

All told, our conversation was not especially long. It was a refreshing break. We came to shop but were fortunate to make time for more. Our visit helped each of us. Additionally, I believe, it went on to give some new assurance to her friend.

Our meeting was one part timing, one part opportunity, one part chosen fellowship. One part was Starbucks and that's a very big part. It's the part that let things begin.

Ro Giencke - February 10, 2012

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