The Starbucks at Barrington and San Vicente in Brentwood is far more than just a coffee hangout.  For us writers, it’s free office space, tasty beverages and a great place to eavesdrop.  I don’t do this intentionally, but the tables are so close to each other that it’s difficult not to listen in and take notes.

This particular java joint seems to be a favorite for first dates and I’ve witnessed many.  I can easily spot them. Forced smiles, awkward attempts to conversation, and, every now and then, a delicious disaster.

One night a couple in their mid-to-late 30’s sat down at a table next to me.  Because I was typing on my laptop, they must have assumed I was deaf and proceeded with their public conversation. The woman was very attractive, but the guy was an average Joe.  He was clearly nervous about the date and didn’t drink anything, which made her a little antsy.

Things got worse when he described his brother’s recent “wild bachelor party.”  I cringed as he recalled the revelry in detail. Was he trying to sink his own ship? His date finally expressed her bewilderment as to why men enjoy such things. Sensing her disgust, he quickly tried (unconvincingly) to reverse course: “Oh, uh, yeah, I really don’t understand that either.”

Just as I was about to write him off as a POW (prisoner of his own words), he wisely changed the subject to his sister’s new baby. His date warmed up and the night seemed to be back on track… until he changed the subject to Iraq. It quickly became obvious that they disagreed on the U.S. occupation.

She would begin to state her opinion, but he would cut her off with, “Yes, but the reality is…” Needless to say, the rest of the date was very tense… for all three of us.

Probably the quickest meltdown I ever witnessed occurred with an older couple waiting in line for their drinks.  They had met on an online dating site, but the 50-something man was upset that his 60-something date had apparently posted a “younger picture.”  Incensed by this accusation, she stormed out the door. He then offered her untouched drink to amused bystanders.

This Starbucks is also the scene of job interviews. On one occasion an elderly women sat behind me as she interviewed potential personal assistants. Early in the conversation, she asked, “Have you ever worked with catheters?” After several seconds of hesitation, the foreign born interviewee responded, “Uhh… yes?” The senior then asked, “Have you ever changed a catheter?  This is very important.”

Once again, there was a long pause followed by an “Ummm… yes?” The older woman asked again, “Are you sure you know how to change a catheter?” The girl responded, “Well, uhh, not that much… ummm… yes, I have.” Amazingly, the interview continued until the girl was hired!

I don’t know how that situation worked out, but I never saw the elderly woman again.