|VOL. 1 NO. 1 AUGUST 1999|
The Starbucks Stops Here
"¿Mas café con leche?"
I smile, a gringo smile, wanting to fit into this cozy landscape at the café counter where everyone seems to know each other.
"Sí, por favor." I nod and slide my cup with foamy remains across the faux marble mica surface. The white plastic name tag on her tropical shirt says "Juana" and I wonder if her father wanted a boy. But she is beautiful with perfect skin and high cheekbones. Her blue-black hair is thick and lustrous, tied tightly in a ballerina bun behind her neck. Her movements are exact. Had she been a dancer in some other life? Was this counter service her ballet? She turns to fill a glass, to write an order, wipe the surface, grab a spoon.
"Something else for you?" She sees me through dark and serious eyes and may know I've been there before. She sometimes speaks to me in broken English, but I practice my Spanish. "Sí, quiero pan cubano y mantequilla." She almost smiles, then hurries behind the tower of coffee making machines that hiss, rumble and grind sending heavy burnt aromas of dark syrupy coffee. I study the muslin-covered hams that hang from hooks next to the silent television that is close-captioned in Spanish. Another waitress, Carmen, switches to a station with a novela and everyone turns to watch and listen. I am not part of the laughter and the knowing.
I sip the sweet hot mixture of steamed milk and espresso, holding the cup with two hands to feel the warmth. I watch the sandwich chef prepare the medianoches with speed and no emotion. He slaps long knives together, clicking rhythms as he deftly flips equal slabs of warm pork, turkey, ham and queso onto long, sliced bullets of bread already slathered with mayonnaise. He piles them high in a glass case knowing they will be eaten by the crowd at noon.
They are family. The walls are covered with framed caricature drawings of their own famosos who have their names on street signs around the city. They come here to be at home, to eat good Cuban food, to smell the heavy aromas and to sip the strong cortadito that will get them through the afternoon. I come for the flavor of it all.
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