Friday, February 23, 2007

The rich, the famous, Starbucks and me

If you live in Washington long enough, you eventually learn that this is a city with the highest percentage of Very Important People per capita of any city in the United States. There is a good chance that this distinction extends to the entire world. I've lived in two other cities and one small town in my lifetime, and never have I had the pleasure of being around so many very important people as I have since I moved to Washington in 1989.

The nicest thing about living in Washington, compared to, let's say, Knoxville, Tennessee, or Columbia, Missouri, is that you don't have to spend a lot of time tracking down and even stalking, should the mood strike, very important people. They self-identify, thus saving commoners, such as myself, the valuable time involved in seeking them out. And if you are unlucky enough not to have to someone remind you of their importance, you can catch up by reading the "Reliable Source" in the Washington Post Style section or the front sections of the Washingtonian magazine, which feature "Power Players," "Capital Comment," and, of course, "Post Watch." I am particularly grateful for the latter feature, since, like you, I need to know who is coming and going at our local school paper. And without the "Reliable Source," I might not know which Special Assistant to the Special Assistant for Special Assistants to the Deputy Undersecretary for Special Assistants in the Fertilizer and Standard Measurements Section of the Large Farming Division of the Department of the Interior ordered a no-foam soy latte at Starbucks last Saturday morning after walking his dog in upper Chevy Chase, D.C. I might not know that he was wearing khakis, hiking boots, a North Face down vest and a long-sleeve dark blue microfiber pullover t-shirt, even though it appeared that he had not hiked anywhere other than a few city blocks on sidewalks to get his latte. And I might not know that he was reading the Sports section of the Washington Post. I might not know any of these things and, as anyone living here long enough can tell you, these are very important things to know about people who are, without any doubt, very important.

So imagine my terrible embarrassment after my own recent encounter with a very important person at -- where else? -- the Starbucks near my university. Now, although my university boasts many, many very important people (I know this is true because they have told me), almost all of whom have Ph.Ds or law degrees and have testified before congressional committees, given television interviews, spoken to prominent specialists in exotic locales about their important scholarly findings or provided expert testimony in trials, my faux pas did not involve any of my colleagues. By the way, I love being in a profession where I can refer to people I don't know or know and don't like as my colleagues. It makes me feel, well, very important. After all, you have never heard your mechanic, bagel proprietor or dry cleaner say, "Let me consult with my colleague and get back to you about whether we can get your shirts to you by Tuesday."

No, you have not. And you never will, for the simple reason that, in Washington, an advanced degree, distinguished title or prestigious institutional affiliation makes one by de fault very important, whereas selling products and services that people actually need makes you just another peddler that didn't have what it took to write that dissertation, "Public Swimming Sub-Cultures in the Post-Modern Era: A Pre-Structural Analysis of the Can-Opener vs. the Cannonball in Three-Dimensional Space," that has served as the paradigmatic work in the now-"hot" and "sexy" field of the sociology of public space.

So, here I am, just another civilian in this city of very important people, lining up on a weekday morning for my Starbucks fix. Finally, my turns comes, after the law students in front of me have ordered their grande, no-foam, half-shot, whatever-the-hell-it-is-they-drink morning cocktail. And I am just about to order my tall coffee with room for cream -- simple and to the point, unlike me or anything in my life -- when a dainty little hand appears between my right arm and my hip, holding a fruit and cheese plate. The hand deposits the plate on the counter and then disappears just as quickly. I glance over my right shoulder and see the hand along with the rest of this person reaching down into the refrigerated display for a bottle of water. But this time, rather than sneaking the water up onto the counter, a petite, very well-dressed woman with at least $5 or 6 million worth of highlights in her very well-attended hair, just walks in front of me to place her water alongside her fruit and cheese plate.

Now here comes the fun part: I know who this person is, despite the oversize Britney-Paris sunglasses covering half of her face. I know because once upon a time I watched television news and saw her doing a "stand-up" in front of the White House. Despite much happening in my life between 1982 and 2007, I know this is who I think it is because . . . she reminded me!

"Excuse me," I said to her. "Am I in your way?"

"No, you're not," came an expressionless reply. For a minute, I thought I was speaking to an animated fly that had taken over the lab in some sort of horror movie. "I am in a hurry and need to get going."

Why not play along? "Well, I'm in a hurry, too. And I was just about to order when you decided to put your stuff on the counter ahead of me."

"Living in Washington, we're all in a hurry. I just happen to be in more of hurry than you."

What a great response! I was finally part of the "in Washington" crowd -- the too-busy-to-wait-in-line crowd; the always-on-the-go crowd; the if-the-outside-world-had-any-idea-how-important-we-are crowd. Wow! Could a conversation about the pros and cons of Martha's Vineyard vs. Jackson Hole be far behind? Would I finally make into the "Reliable Source" as a gossip item ("Wasn't that Gregg Ivers staring blankly into space while waiting in line at Starbucks? Our spies said he had coffee and an apple fritter.")

"I'm not sure you're in more of a hurry than me," I said. And, for the piece de resistance. "Do you have any idea who I am?"

This got her. "I'm sure you're someone in a hurry. But if you had any idea who I am you'd understand why I need to get going. I also (she pointed one of those dainty little fingers over my left shoulder towards the window) have a driver waiting."

"I don't have any idea who you are. But I definitely know who I am, and I need to get my coffee and go. I admit, though, that I drove myself."

She was a good match, and genuinely non-plussed that I did not who she was, even though I did. "If I buy your coffee, will you accept my apology for breaking in line?"

"That is more than fair. I leaned over and quietly whispered in her ear, "Sometimes, I wonder if the craziness of our lives is worth the fame and fortune."

A smile broke beneath the facade of Washington seriousness. "I'd trade a sane week for anything sometimes. You, on the other hand, don't strike me as someone who takes a lot too seriously. Do I get points for that?"

"You certainly do. And I don't want to hold you up anymore because I know, since you have a driver waiting and I don't, that you've got someplace to be."

"Do you really not know who I am?"

I held fast. "No, I don't (even though I did). But I do know you like fruit and cheese for breakfast."

She finally smiled. "I'm not so sure what to believe with you. But either way, this was fun, and you made my day."

There was one more thing.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Come now," I said. "All those years in the news business should give you a head start on that question. But thanks for the coffee."

She shook her head and smiled even wider. "You earned it."

Washington is, as you know, a city full of very important people doing very important things. And I am now one of them.


Carlos said...

So, who was it?

Gregg Ivers said...

No way.

Corrine said...

You're killing me! Are we talking major station news reporter? The masses really want to know!