Two old, Italian guys are sitting in a booth beside me at McDonald's.
FIRST GUY: Leo, where were you? I thought you were going to take me to Avon today.
SECOND GUY: I was. But then I got into my car and fell asleep.
FIRST GUY (with complete sincerity): God. Damn. I hate when that happens.
This is why I choose to write my novels here, in this glorious fast food restaurant on the edge of the highway, and not in a Starbucks or some similarly upscale, fair trade, recovered railroad tie, jazz-infused coffee establishment.
There is a diversity and oddity and texture in this place that I adore. As I scan the room, I see white people and brown people. English speakers and possibly-Spanish-but-I'm-not-quite-sure speakers. Business folk and working class folk. The young and old. The very young and the very old. Singletons and couples and families. Packs of teenagers. The happy and the exhausted.
Sitting to my immediate left is a UPS driver, head hanging low, eating a Big Mac and reading a book. He is young, thin, and black. To my right, a teenage girl with a streak of blue hair pecks away at her phone while her friend stares blankly at her like a goldfish. Directly across from me, standing in line, a woman rocks an infant in her arms while a man - perhaps her husband - orders food from a Latino teenage girl. A couple minutes ago a middle aged man in a suit and a paunch walked by my table, yapping about PE ratios to someone on his phone. An older, McDonald's employee pushes a broom off to my right.
It is a level of diversity rarely encountered in this increasingly gentrified world.
Most of the time, I write in my home. I do not require a outside locale to ply by trade. I am not a writer be claims to need a coffee shop and cappuccino and John Mayer to write. I must not engage in public displays of writing in order to feel like a real author. The dining room table and my bottle of water does me just fine.
But occasionally my children make it difficult to write, or I need a change of scenery. This often results in a trip to the library, but it also brings me here, to this molded plastic booth and this angular, plastic table, where I can sit amongst a splash of humanity and listen and watch diversity scrape against diversity.
If I want to sit amongst upper middle class white people, with their $6 coffees, Apple computers, high end strollers, and first world problems, I will take my work to Starbucks or its indie equivalent. It won't nourish my soul or inspire my work, but I'm admittedly more likely to find an available power outlet and a slightly more comfortable chair.
But more often than not, you will find me here, sitting amongst the masses, armed with a Diet Coke, a small bag of French fries, and a smile. I may have a pair of headphones covering my ears, white noise or Pandora's Springsteen station drowning out the the world.
But I'm just as likely to be headphone free, listening to two old, Italian guys navigate life in their sunset years, wondering how I might use their struggle and friendship and unintended hilarity in one of my stories someday.
You don't get stuff this good at a place like Starbucks.