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 doing 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*