Place: Starbucks – Larchmont section of Los Angeles
What I like about Starbucks is that they’ve become almost as public as the library or post office. Anyone can walk into a Starbucks and usually does. No matter how posh the neighborhood, Starbucks attracts eccentrics of all types.
I was writing with one of my five writing partners. We were inking the next great action comedy as I’m sure half the people sitting around us were the same. Suddenly I could feel someone sitting close and looking at me. He seemed to be waiting, like I was a bank teller and he was next in line. As it turns out, he was looking to make a withdrawal.
I really don’t require a back story but I won’t stop someone when they offer one up. His was that he needed to get to tent city, A place near Downtown Los Angeles where he could find shelter for the night if only he could get there. I’m not sure if this tent city is a makeshift thing or an official shelter. Either way we were about 6 miles from downtown and who knows how much he had already walked that day. One bus fare coming up. I was counting out change to give him when he stopped me. It wasn’t change he wanted. He wanted me to buy him a Starbucks gift card. I told him I only had spare change. He told me the gift card minimum was 5 dollars. I suggested he pool funds from multiple sources to score the gift card. He intently watched me as I counted out my donation. He watched like it wasn’t a donation at all. He treated it like a transaction. Like I was paying him for some good or service and he would pounce if I tried to cheat him. My writing session was put on hold as I counted out two dollars and 40 cents in change. I think I felt a tinge of of annoyance from my focused transient by the time I finished patting down my own pockets.
He didn’t explain how a gift card would help get him downtown. I know Starbucks is pretty ubiquitous but are metro buses now accepting Starbucks cards? Does a transfer cost the same as a refill? Or maybe we would use the card to get highly caffeinated and then walk the 6 miles. A so so strategy as he would probably be up all night (It was already 8pm).
Maybe homeless theft is a concern and having money on a Starbucks card is a good hiding spot of sorts. Oddly enough, I had just consolidated my gift cards unto one card or else I would’ve given him $2.15 on a Starbucks card.
Or maybe my spare change receiver thinks cash is cold and impersonal and that a gift card requires just a smidgen more thought and care.
I hope he reached his goal. I wonder which card design he went with. Next time I’ll give him some Bitcoin*