The Traveler at Starbucks (aka: Wanderlust Strikes Again)

 The other morning, I stopped by a Starbucks, with the intention of splurging on a good cup of coffee. It was outside of my neighborhood, located near a rail yard, in an area with a high homeless population. And so it was of little surprise to me to see him sitting there — a young guy, maybe in his early twenties, sitting on the ground outside of the Starbucks. Beside him was an oversized backpack, filled with his possessions and coated in grime, much like his worn-out clothes. In his hands, he held a ragged cardboard sign, which read: Traveling. Any Assistance Will Help.

I had so many questions. How long had this guy been traveling? Where had he been? Where was he going next? My curiosity was so great, that I wanted to sit on the ground beside him and listen to his story. But oh! As always, I was much too timid to speak. Instead, I shuffled toward him, eyes trained on the sidewalk, and handed him a crumpled five dollar bill.

“Hey, thanks! That means a lot.” The young man smiled up at me, his eyes brightening. And then he picked up his pack and was on his way, off to see the world. And though I was the one with the money, and I was the one with the car to drive myself to a Starbucks for a fancy cup of coffee or chai, I was filled with a sense of longing and envy for the life of the traveler, for his opportunities to see the world beyond the matching rooftops of the suburbs where I live. What wouldn’t I give to taste such freedom, to strap on a backpack and hike the Pacific Coast Trail, or ride trains through Europe, or explore South America by bus.

But that is not my life. I have children, and work, and obligations. My place, for now, is here in the suburbs. But that does not have to mean a life completely void of adventure. I, too, am an explorer. I experience the world through literature, through films, and through music from different nations and cultures. I get to know the world through art, history, and photography. And I taste the world by experimenting with international recipes. I may not wear a backpack or ride the rails, but like the young man sitting outside of Starbucks that morning, I too am a traveler. And for the next few weeks, here on my blog, I will share my adventures with you.

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2 responses to “The Traveler at Starbucks (aka: Wanderlust Strikes Again)

  1. There is an ancient tradition of the wandering student (as many of us were, or are in our early years). My brother “ran away” to Paris by steamer when he was 17 and I, somewhat later, spent lots of time riding the ‘chicken bus’ through Central America exploring Mayan pyramids. Even more perceptive in your piece was the $5 you gave on several levels. Many selfishly presume a traveler would only turn it into a bottle of wine. Others assume moral weakness in appearing to be a mendicant although the Trappists and others give lie to that. Still others are just mean spirited disliking the ‘other’. Five dollars, however, is a letter in a bottle, an investment in a dream, a “mitzvah,” and an act of unselfish goodness. Sometime,perhaps on another sea, this good deed will bottle will land at your feet.

    • The Mayan ruins? Oh, now I am envious! What a grand adventure! I have never had the fortune of traveling outside of the USA, with the exception of short-term youth missions to Mexican border towns many years ago. I went to college at age 16 and married shortly after graduating, and unfortunately missed out on that “wandering student” stage of life. Yes, I regret that. I sometimes feel that I can relate to George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. I was happy to have the chance to support a young traveler. I don’t mind giving money to the homeless. Perhaps it is true that some will spend it on a bottle of wine or cigarettes, but who am I to judge such a decision? If a person is hungry enough, then he will use the money for food. If he is cold enough, then I hope that he will use the money for shelter. As for my part, I can only offer them what I can and hope the very best for them, wherever they wander or lay their heads. And I hope that should such misfortune ever come my way, that there will be others who care enough to offer the same.

      Thanks for commenting, Carlos!

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