Ever since I became sick from coffee in a little restaurant in Heidelberg, Germany in 1996, I have never enjoyed it again. If I am forced to go to Starbucks by my wife, I usually get an iced tea and potentially a piece of banana bread. The only real reason I go to Starbucks is to meet famous people.
I don’t think Starbucks will mind that I don’t like their coffee. Members of my soccer team go daily. Heck, my dad keeps the Starbucks on Fifth Street in Downtown Winston-Salem open single-handedly with his business.
In the mid-2000’s, I had two encounters with famous people at Starbucks. One brush was at the Starbucks of the first floor of the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh and the other was at the Knollwood Starbucks in Winston-Salem. Both meetings were awkward, mainly from how I handled them.
My dad and I drove up to Pittsburgh to catch a Pirates baseball game and to see Chelsea play Roma at Heinz Field. Chelsea is the equivalent to the New York Yankees in the English Premier Soccer League due to the amount of money they shell out to their players. Roma is the biggest club in Rome. The two teams were playing an over-priced exhibition game.
Now in Pittsburgh, if an athlete is not wearing Black and Yellow, they typically don’t care too much about them. The “Yinzers” especially don’t care too much about European Football. My dad knew that lots of times, professional sports teams playing in Pittsburgh stay at the William Penn. We had time to waste so we headed that way before the games, and as soon as my dad saw the Starbucks inside the lobby, he jolted that way like a dog after a tennis ball.
While we were waiting in line, I just happened to pick up the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and there was a story about the soccer match on the front page with a big picture of Francesco Totti. Totti is one of the most famous Italian players in history. He led them to the 2006 World Cup Title a couple years later.
In the headline under the picture it reads: “Totti: known by his last name, is Roma striker, Euro hearthrob and butt of jokes about his intelligence.” In Europe, he is the equivalent of Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady. In Pittsburgh, he is short guy with long hair.
That short guy with long hair, just happened to get in line right in front of us at the Starbucks accompanied by an older man in Roma warm-ups. As soon as I recognized him I not-so-nonchalantly hit my dad on the arm and showed him the picture I was holding in the paper. He motioned for me to get his autograph. There were probably twenty people in the Starbucks and they had no idea who he was or that he made more money in a game than they all did in a year.
I tapped Totti on the shoulder, and said something to the extent of you are a really great player. He just stared at me. I said it would be really cool to get your autograph. He continued to just stare at me. Finally, I held up a pen my dad handed me and the paper. He caught my drift and signed the picture. When it was his turn to order, the other man ordered for him. At this point, we realized he had no idea what I was saying because he didn’t speak a lick of English. The man with him just happened to be his translator.
Just a couple months after my encounter with Totti, I was driving through Ardmore in the passenger seat of John Van Zandt’s Honda, when I spotted Ben Folds and an older woman walking into the Starbucks on Knollwood in Ardmore.
As we were headed back to our Ardmore house that we rented, we argued back and forth about whether it really was Ben Folds. Finally after the yelling tampered down, we decided to go back to see if it was really him. We walked in and it was most definitely him.
I knew a lot about Folds since he went to the R.J. Reynolds High School and graduated fifteen years before I did. When I was in high school, we wrote an article about him for the Pine Whispers newspaper at the same time that his hit song “Brick” came out. I had also seen him in concert a couple times at Davidson College and Wait Chapel at Wake Forest.
I walked over to him and an older woman that we believed was his mom. He was in town visiting his parents. At the time, he lived in Australia and was set to release his second solo album. Just like Totti, I tried to engage him in conversation, and just like Totti, he probably thought I was a bit of an idiot. I talked about Pine Whispers, Reynolds, and his song “Army,” and he just looked at me. At the end, I spotted a Starbucks napkin and grabbed it and asked him to sign it for me. He nicely agreed and we left him to finally enjoy his Starbucks with his mom.
It has been at least ten years since I have met a famous person in Starbucks. Every time I go into one, I look around just to make sure a famous person isn’t sitting down, because the only reason I go to Starbucks is to meet famous people.