Monday, June 29, 2009

The Repentant Starbucks Fan

The other morning at Starbucks, I pulled up to the drive –thru’s intercom and placed my order. “One Venti iced Chai with light ice, one vanilla scone, and one Tall water.” The female voice on the other end responded, “No ice in the water because it’s for George, right, Shannon?” I couldn’t believe it! She couldn’t even see me; she just knew me by my voice and my order! This could mean several things: 1. I go to Starbucks way too often. 2. I need to get out of my rut and order something new. 3. My voice is so odd that everyone recognizes it.

While I definitely hate the fact that companies like Walmart and Starbucks often eliminate the local mom & pop businesses when they move to town, I must admit that I am a Starbucks fan. (As a disclaimer I must disclose that there is no other coffee shop near my house, so I’m not putting anyone out of business.)

Mainly, my local Starbucks gives me the much-needed sense of community that I miss in Las Vegas. And I really need it, because Vegas is an odd town. Most people here don’t know their neighbors, even though their houses are literally ten feet apart. People are very transient here, so you often don’t get much of a chance to know someone before they move on again. And almost no one was born here, so everyone comes from different backgrounds with different histories and different cultures. It’s difficult to find common ground to bring everyone together.

But at Starbucks, of all places, I feel a small-community vibe. They call me by name (just like on Cheers!) and when I sit outside with George, people stop and pet him and talk to me. Sometimes I peruse the front page of the New York Times and feel like I’m connecting with the real world. Sometimes I buy the CD that is playing inside, expanding my music repertoire to include world music, Jazz, or oldies. On the bulletin board inside are community notices where I can read about the next book club meeting, poetry contest, or swimming lesson.

I completely recognize the irony and cheesiness of the previous four paragraphs, and the sad state I’m in, if Starbucks represents so much to me. But for now it will have to do. I will walk in under that bright green awning and have Karen or Will call me by name and make me my regular drink, and I’ll feel more comfortable in, and connected to, the community I’m in. Someday maybe we’ll live somewhere where my neighbors and the community itself will give me that feeling. But for now, I’m a Starbucks fan.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Ritz

After my time in NYC and CT, Lance and I had a nice visit in Indiana. And my hometown in Indiana is about as far from Vegas as you can get. Bible Belt vs. Sin City. Stretch limos vs. pickup trucks. Backyard sprinklers vs. the Bellagio Fountains. And this contrast is refreshing, allowing me to recharge my batteries, relax, and reprioritize.

My hometown has a population of 3500 people, and my old high school gymnasium seats 5,000, showing the importance of basketball in Southern Indiana. The town is situated in green rolling hills among expanses of corn fields, ponds, and winding two-lane highways. Amish buggies occasionally bump along the roads, and men on tractors often block highways until they turn off toward a field with a friendly wave.

When I am back home in Indiana, I like to immerse myself in the culture. One way to do this is to go to breakfast at the local diner. The Ritz Motel has a small restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner, with specials listed on a dry erase board by the kitchen. Lance and I ate there this week during a thunderstorm, and between bites of slightly dry scrambled eggs and sausage links, I jotted down the conversations of the people around me, most of whom were men in overalls or work clothes. The first phrase that drifted over to me was “same sex marriage,” which naturally caused me to perk up my ears and intentionally eavesdrop. I also heard:

“…climb in a hayloft and fall asleep.”

“…on the prayer list at church. And they’re just the cousins of someone she knows.”


“The corn grew overnight this much!”


“…just called and said all the lights went out. Their power is out.”

“…put a can of mushroom soup on top of it. I think that would be good.”

“…a little smart car. Look at that little goober.”

“Gotta go mow a field of hay directly.”

“We’re gonna have wheel meat – you know – meat that comes in a round loaf.”

I don’t think we could have been any more immersed in the local culture than we were that morning. But we did try to do even more. We sat in on a jam session with local musicians at a Saturday morning farmers’ market. We caught fish off the pier over my uncle’s pond. Lance killed a snake for my Grandma and later helped set traps for the mouse we saw skitter across the floor of our cabin guest room. We planted flowers at Grandma’s, played ping pong in my uncle’s garage, and took morning walks to the mailbox with two overeager hound dogs. Oh, and who could forget Lance getting spit on by an old man at the farmers’ market who had bad aim with his chaw of tobacco. (I told Lance it was his initiation, but he wasn’t amused.)

It was a great three-week trip, and now I’m back home with George and headed back to the daily grind, which seems less of a grind after being gone so long. George is curled next to me as I type this, and my suitcase lies still packed on the floor next to me. Back to exploring my own local culture…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It smells like rain...

When I was a kid, my friend Hilary and I convinced her mother to let us go camping in the woods behind her house one night. By “camping” I mean sleeping in the woods in a sleeping bag on the ground. We must have been pretty young, because we only needed one sleeping bag, and we were not worried when it started to rain; we just propped an umbrella over our heads and went to sleep. After a few hours Hilary’s sister was sent out to find us and bring us back in the house. My memory of that night isn’t the uncomfortable ground or being brought home early; instead I remember the novelty of sleeping out in nature. The sound of the raindrops in the trees. The smell of the wet earth. The dark that encircled us warmly, protectively.

Rain has always been special to me, especially now because I live in the desert and always yearn for a good thunderstorm to give life to the dry city. But it was special to me even before I moved to Las Vegas.

Rainy days during my childhood meant it was time to snuggle inside and work on a sewing or drawing project at the kitchen table or help mom make a pie or batch of cookies. Or I would stand at the back screen door and watch it come down in a comforting stream until the spring on the hill behind our house overflowed and caused a temporary creek across our yard. Once the rain slowed, I put on my boots and grabbed my umbrella and floated boats in our driveway puddles.

In college, rainy days gave a welcome break to the daily monotonous grind of classes and homework. A day with an umbrella roof, spent ducking from one building to the next, forced students closer together and was therefore cozy and more fun.

I think George has “inherited” some of my rain-love. Even if it’s coming down hard, he will paw at the car window until I roll it down for him. Then he sticks his head out the window and shakes from head to toe every minute or so. The other drivers must think I’m nuts, but I just drive on, humming a tune to the beat of the wipers, with a wet dog hanging out the window.

Rain in Las Vegas is always welcome, but it’s different than Midwestern rain. The desert sky is so stark and huge, and often you can see that other areas of the valley are getting rain while the sun shines on your area. (Rain envy!) Usually the sky teases you with a few drops on your windshield, then nothing. When it does actually rain – real rain that forces you indoors – I always run outside under our patio and just listen, and watch, and inhale. Nothing is more soothing than the steady fall of rain. Musty. Cleansing. Romantic.

I’m writing this from Indiana, and tomorrow’s forecast is a 60% chance of rain. Heaven.

Monday, June 8, 2009

On the train

Would it be possible to be a professional people-watcher? I write this on the train from New York City’s Grand Central Station to New Haven, CT and am reminded that people-watching is half the fun of travel. I sit and study the man across the aisle from me. He is a businessman in a fuchsia and yellow striped tie and is eating a bag of Doritos while reading a newspaper. There’s a chewed pen sticking out of his shirt pocket and beads of sweat are on his brow. His shoes are perfectly polished.

The man behind him has his laptop appropriately on his lap and all I can see is his face above the seat as he types. Every now and then he grins at the screen.

Farther down is a white-haired woman whose hair is in two buns behind her ears. She reads through pink glasses and wisps of hair keep falling in her face. Her hand brushes them back repeatedly.

The rest of the train is a sea of foreheads and hairlines sticking above the seat backs. A group of businessmen is having an animated conversation at the far end of the train car, and every now and then a hand flies above the seats to accent a point. The train noise drowns out their words but their foreheads are smiling.

A moment ago the conductor took my ticket and nicely answered my questions. He wore a blue uniform and a sharp blue hat. Does he like his job? He seemed to.

Scenery is passing in a blur: rock walls, a glimpse of tombstones on a hill, air conditioners jutting from apartment windows.

The man by me tilts his Doritos bag and pours the crumbs into his mouth. The white-haired woman turns a page. Am I as mysterious to them as they are to me? I sit with suitcase and water bottle, my red hair the only red in the mass of head tops. I wear sensible traveling shoes and a new ring I bought in Midtown Manhattan and I constantly scribble in a notebook. Do they know I write about them?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Rules

It may make me sound like a Goody Two Shoes or a Polly Prissypants, but I have to admit that I am one who follows the rules. If a sign says Keep off the grass, I do so. I am the one who sits at a red light and obeys the sign that reads No right turn on red, even though the cars behind me honk impatiently. I also throw away my trash, slow down in school zones, and obediently pick up George’s poop.

But I have learned, in dealing with the public during my many jobs, that the majority of the population could care less about rules because they think the rules apply to everyone else.

I am thinking about rules today because this weekend my job was to corral and coordinate 450 children, 100 volunteer parents, and hundreds of audience members through our annual Spring Concert performances at Nevada Ballet. So I ask you to please stop for a minute and think about what I just said. 450 children. 100 volunteer parents. Probably 1500+ audience members. See why rules are important? And yet so many of the people I encountered this weekend still think rules don’t apply to them.

Over the past three months we probably told the parents 20 times that they would pick up their children after the show in the lobby. But still we had parents who showed up at the backstage door and angrily demanded that their child be allowed to leave.

There was an extra side door backstage that we blocked off with curtains and signs saying Do Not Open Door, for security reasons. Still, the volunteer moms would open this door and let people in during the show. They thought surely it was okay – it was just their husbands after all.

And after the performances, classes were brought to the lobby one at a time, and ushers made sure children were picked up by a parent and didn’t run blindly into the crowd to be lost forever. Still, we had parents who angrily told me that we were ridiculous and that they shouldn’t have to wait. So I guess they thought we should just allow all 500+ audience members backstage to wander around and find their kids?

During the performances, even after repeated requests for audience members not to text during the show and shine light on the people sitting behind them, they usually only put their phones away after an usher finally told them they would be escorted from the theater.

Even the veteran volunteer mothers who had done this job for years caused problems, thinking they could take their classes around the building to meet parents, instead of going up the side of the theater and following the path we had created, from checkpoint to checkpoint. They got angry, not understanding that anyone who didn’t follow the rules made our system fall apart. We needed to know the location of each class at all times. Just because they had done it before didn’t give them special privileges.

These rule-breaking people have shown up in my other jobs, too, when I was performing for a living. At the Venetian, there were the people who would sit and smoke right next to the huge NO SMOKING signs. And at every show in town there are people who take flash photos after hearing the No Flash Photography speech. They think they will just sneak in one photo, and then they end up blinding the performers on stage. Why can’t they just realize there are reasons for the rules?

To me, the best example of this kind of thinking happened when I danced at the Stratosphere and had to pose in costume with the audience after every show. After too many photos in which drunk men inappropriately copped a feel or tourists draped their sweaty armpits on our shoulders, we finally put ropes in front of us so that people would stand in front for the photo and not be allowed to stand next to us. But many people would JUMP OVER the ropes and touch us anyway! Who did they think those ropes were for - only the crazy people? Many of the people who jumped over were good-natured, nice people who innocently wanted a picture with the pretty girls. Yes, they may have been nice, but the ropes were for everyone! People just tend to think it’s okay for them to break the rules. After all, it’s just them, right?

Okay, after three 12+ hour work days in a row in which we instilled rules for the overall purpose of giving children a safe, rewarding performance experience, I needed to vent. So thank you very much. Now I’m going to go throw my Starbucks cup in the trash can, yield to oncoming traffic, and drive a perfect 35 miles an hour all the way home.