Vomiting near a loading dock on a rainy night in a Pacific Beach alley isn’t the best feeling in the world. In fact, just the thought of it brings back the acidic, post-puke taste in the back of my throat. With a healthy beard and a dark hooded sweatshirt on, I probably looked like a homeless man. My phone was dead; my eyes bloodshot. I happened to be car-less that day too, which solidified my temporary appearance as a desperate, drunk vagrant.
Nauseous and dizzy, I went to the only place I felt I could sit down and recover: Starbucks-- Starbucks of all places, where I found myself listening to the acoustic pop flavor of the month, just waiting to get kicked out by the over-attentive manager who was clearly prejudging me as a non-potential customer. True—I was far from presentable at the moment. I was disheveled and un-groomed. My car was in the shop. My co-worker had been kind enough to give me a ride after work. But who knew a stomach bug would be hitting me at such an inopportune time? And that’s the thing: I wasn’t even drunk. No drinking at all, in fact. I had just been dropped off in PB, only blocks away from where I was to meet my girlfriend for dinner—a date. I was a little early, and now violently ill.
Coffee? That’s the last thing I’d put in my stomach. Water? Might be a good idea, but asking for a free cup would probably confirm my apparent bum status. Paying three bucks for a bottle of water might make me a damn fool, but I was ready to make that admission in order to buy time to pull myself together on a dry, comfy chair. I decided to hit the bathroom first to rinse out my mouth. As I walked I felt three pairs of Starbucks employee eyes following me, their fluffy conversations turned silent. I suddenly felt as if I was the Unabomber. They’d never believe I was a professor of history—not in this condition.
The Starbucks bathroom: a refuge of sorts-- fairly new, clean, and a free place to clean up a bit. I had never seen it as such. Now I thanked the corporate Gods that these coffee shops graced almost every block, offering free napkins, cushiony chairs, and restrooms. I wiped some of the remnants from my beard and sweatshirt, splashed water on my face, and looked in the mirror. It wasn’t good. I was a wreck.
I soon left my private refuge and was greeted by unwelcome stares from the staff. ‘Don’t worry,’ I thought, ‘I’ll buy something from you petty bastards.’ I plopped myself down on a chair right next to the window. I couldn’t help but look outside every few moments in anticipation of my girlfriend driving by, spotting me, picking me up, and taking me out of this godforsaken place. Do I even deserve to have a girlfriend at this point? Will I still have a girlfriend when she sees me in this state? My Southern California superficiality had gotten to me again. Everything would be fine, but I was beginning to feel weak. I needed to drink water and eat something or I might pass out.
“Excuse me, sir,” said a man in a green apron, black polo shirt and Starbucks hat.
I’m guessing he felt obliged to call me “sir” in order to protect himself from any future harassment or discrimination lawsuit. I looked up at his fake smile and deep crow’s feet. The economy must be really horrible, I thought, if this old guy’s working at Starbucks. His next words indicated that he hadn’t the least bit of compassion or respect for a guy like me.
“I’m gonna’ have to ask you to leave now,” he said.
“Oh-- I was just about to buy something.” I said with assurance.
“Nope, you’re outta’ here buddy. Get up,” he said.
Really? He went from “Sir” to “buddy”, then a direct command. He actually thought I was a bum. The insult was more shocking and ridiculous than painful. At first I wanted to correct his perspective, but I opted to embrace the role instead.
“I didn’t know this place was so Fascist.” I said.
“Please just leave, buddy,” he said.
“We’re obviously not buddies,” I said, “Plus, I would never be friends with a Corporate Fascist anyways! Who owns this place, Mussolini?”
All Mr. Frappaccino did was stare. A hint of fear swam in his eyes. He wasn’t the only one. Every person inside Starbucks was gawking at me. I had instantly become the crazy homeless man-- the loony speaking jibberish to himself on the sidewalk. I couldn’t believe it. I almost muttered about not wanting to spend three dollars on a bottle of water anyway, but I realized that might just prompt them to bring out the straight-jacket.
I exited quietly.
Luckily the rain had stopped. I decided to walk down the alley toward my date meeting point when I started gagging again. It hurt. My stomach was cramping. What kind of evil bacteria was destroying my digestive system? Was it a new viral epidemic that had yet to sweep the national news? My insides grumbled ominously. I would have called my girlfriend from a pay phone, but I had never memorized her number. Dead cell phones aren’t very useful.
Still hunched over in my vomit-ready stance, I heard tiny gravel rocks grinding under the tires of a car coming to an abrupt stop. I remained bent over in pain with my hands on my knees; eyes on the unstable ground. I recognized the reflection of flashing red and blue lights. The police? This was completely uncalled for! Sure, I might not have looked like the most upstanding citizen at the moment, but I was no criminal. Had I broken a law? Maybe Frappaccino called the cops? Even though I had done absolutely nothing wrong, I began to feel like an outlaw. I heard the police car door shut and the heavy footsteps of boots.