Last week I had to run an errand to the post office during lunch. It took awhile, and so I was left with not a lot of time in which to get something to eat before I had to be back to work. Luckily there's a Starbucks around the corner, so I went there for a sandwich.
I was the only customer. I was the only customer for awhile. The guy behind the counter was young. He's cool (I've been there before but he didn't recognize me), and we talked a little bit about what I was ordering. He and his co-workers were listening to Radiohead. Starbucks-sanctioned, I guess. I love his East LA accent. I've worked in East LA for a little over a year now, and have really started to appreciate that this area has a special sound. It's not all that lilting, or a sexy accent: it's angular, and harsh, and the cadence can be strange, but there's something about it that I just love. Some of the people I've met with this accent don't even, like me, speak Spanish or any language other than English - they were born here, like me. But whereas I sound like every other person on television or straight out of Culver City, they have these exotic voices and speech patterns. I'm learning to imitate it for Patrick's entertainment, but I'm no minic. Still: it's fun to try.
The guy who helped me was really nice. I chose the mozzarella, tomato and pesto sandwich, a Rice Krispy treat (those things are dangerous) and a blackberry Izze. After I paid, he asked if I wanted him to heat up my sandwich, and he explained just how much heating it up improved the experience of eating it. He was very helpful, and friendly.
While he was doing that, I was just standing there, kind of staring out the window. The barista was standing at the counter to my left, not paying any attention to me, which was fine, because I didn't order a coffee drink. He had the same coloring as me. I think we look like we could be from anywhere: Mexico, Iran, India... Hawaii. Both these dudes were young, probably in their early 20s.
Suddenly, in the silence of the totally empty (except for me) Starbucks, the barista yelled, "What's UP Irene!"
Someone had entered the store but I didn't realize it. I looked at him all startled and googly eyed, and then I realized he wasn't talking to me. I was glad I had my sunglasses on. A young woman had walked in and she was standing in line behind me. I got out of the way to continue to wait for my sandwich and so she could order, and she and the barista had a funny but not very original conversation about how drunk they had been last night/that morning, and how drunk they planned on being later that day. She was tall, with short dark hair with lighter colored streaks in it, and she was wearing an apron. She had the same East LA accent, but female. She was tough-sounding. And pretty.
At a lull in their conversation, I spoke to her.
"Your name is Irene too?" I said.
"Yeah! You're Irene?" She said.
"That's why you looked at me all funny," the barista said.
I smiled. "I never used to meet people my age with my name," I said. "But now we're all over." (Usually the name Irene was reserved for crazy old neighbor ladies or somebody's crackpot maiden aunt on TV; I work with three other women, all about my age or younger, with the name now. Yes, I realize that makes me the crazy neighbor lady now. Oh, and there's also that weird Captain Beefheart song about a woman named Irene and a man named Harry who are well known for their tunafish sandwiches. Oh, that Captain Beefheart!)
"I know, huh!" Irene said. "I met a guy named Irene the other day! For real!"
"Really," I said. "That's weird."
"Yeah, man [looking at her barista friend], he kept saying it was his real name!"
At this point my sandwich was ready, and the other Irene and the barista continued their conversation about their upcoming plans to continue the drinking from the night before. They were defnitely entertaining me at this point. I miss working in retail!
I turned around to leave, and Irene said, "Bye Irene! Hey, it was nice meeting you!"
"Bye Irene! Happy New Year!" I said.