7 Secrets of a Starbucks Junkie

There are few things in life that elicit the kind of happy noises from me like the first sip of a Starbucks nonfat mocha latte. I am not ashamed to admit that this well-crafted nectar of the Gods has become my personal Kryptonite.

Whatever marketing genius created their rewards program was well versed in the Pavlovian response it would evoke. When my app shows that I have purchased the magic 12 beverages that allows me whatever drink I choose for free, I eschew my economical tall in favor of the budget busting super-sized Vente. (Oh and throw in that extra shot of espresso please).

When I am not garnering free beverages, a quick glance at my monthly bank statement reminds me of the cost of this addiction. As a result, I try in vain to curtail my visits. Each morning however, the internal negotiations begin anew. If there is the ever elusive open parking spot, it is meant to be. If my car clock says 7:29, it a sign. If it is the fourth Tuesday of the month, if it is the year of the lunar eclipse. Well, you get the idea. Discipline is clearly not my strong suit in matters of the latte.

Once in, I assess how long this side-trip is going to take based on who is ahead of me in line.

No disrespect to the newbies, I was once one of you about 2 grand ago. I understand the slack-jawed blank expressions, trying to comprehend the difference between a latte and a macchiato. But folks, kindly step aside for those of us who speak fluent Starbuck-ese. We've got this thing down. * Note for Starbucks suggestion box- express lane for those who speak their native language.

Lest you think it is simply the caffeine I crave, let me assure you that Starbucks is more to me than a mere coffee pit-stop. It has become a community workplace of sorts, particularly for those of us fond of an unusually loud mobile office with hard wooden chairs.

There is something about the din that revs me up. Oh wait, that actually may be the caffeine. Nonetheless, it is often a place of great inspiration.

And ladies and gents, a lot goes down in java town to provide it.

1. I have witnessed more first dates at Starbucks than a speed dating emcee. The first arrivees share many traits. They come, secure a table, and then proceed to change it an average of 3 times. They stare at the door with the anticipation often reserved for The Publishers Clearing House Patrol. When their nerves reach a fever pitch, they panic that perhaps their date might (gasp!) already be there, and approach me with a quizzical "Belinda, or Nora or Margaret?" Um, Did you really not look at her profile pic? Nonetheless, it is dating in its infancy and has a rather sweet quality to it.

2. Starbucks is perhaps the safest place I know to talk to strangers. As a single woman in the world, this is something akin to gold. Regulars nod their acknowledgements to one another, watch each other's laptops when we take a break, kibitz over the weather, and offer up unneeded chairs. In the immortal words of Sister Sledge,"We are family" and it is definitely part of the appeal.

3. Starbucks is often to this generation what McDonalds' Playland was to mine. For as many delightful children sweetly sipping their whipped cream laden hot chocolates and chatting about preschool with their mommies, I can assure you they are outnumbered any given Sunday by children shrieking and running amok. Child-free adults, mere strangers before the ruckus, bond over furtive glances and shared eye-rolls. It is often less the children's disorderly conduct than the parent's inexplicable pride in it.

4. Each Starbucks has a scant handful of the coveted comfy leather chairs. If you are fortunate enough to secure this prized real estate, you have won yourself a little slice of heaven. You should also know that much like the family dinner table, on particular days, these seats often have an unspoken assignment. Be sure you are not unwittingly in the midst of a group of regulars who may eyeball you to death until you decide to relocate. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the score.

5. Like anywhere, Starbucks is not immune to the occasional creeper. On a scorching summer day, I had a deadline to meet, and found cool comfort in one of the aforementioned comfy chairs. I soon became distracted by a lot of squirming across from me. When I looked up, I noticed what appeared to be a curiously large patch sewn into the crotch of my unwanted companion's mesh shorts. That patch turned out to be a swatch of nothing but creeper flesh. He had been exposing himself to me all along. He topped the experience off with snapping a picture of me with his cell phone before he left. Double ick.

I reported him to the horrified baristas, who were quick to act, but he slipped away. The free mocha latte for my pain and suffering restored peace and order to my world once again. Don't judge me.

6. Despite having to squeeze sideways into a chair to avoid becoming intimate with the person at the table next to us, we Starbucks dwellers inexplicably chat with our companions as if we are in a sound proof booth. We are often so engrossed in our conversations that we assume everyone else is equally absorbed in theirs. As a writer, I am often sipping solo, and have overheard some pretty juicy stuff shared without concern for the public forum. Post therapy marriage recaps, job interviewees jumping ship and teenage girls recounting their sneak out the night before. My personal favorite still remains a glimpse into the inner working of the married man's complex brain. I listened intently to the seasoned master sharing with the young grasshopper what he believes to be the secret to marriage. Ready? "Pretend to listen and nod." Whoa.

7. It is no secret that there are numerous Starbucks in any given vicinity. I can assure you it isn't always the closest location that determines which ones we frequent. Each has its own distinct vibe, and it is the beloved baristas that help drive that decision. Regulars often see these coffee crafters daily, and that can be more often than we see our closest friends. They are not merely making our drink, they are cheerful, friendly, and engaging beings who let us know that they know us. According to my imaginary best friend Oprah, that covers one of our most basic needs. Where else can one walk in and have your drink anticipated and waiting just the way you like it? If that happened at the neighborhood bar with the same frequency, our family would be speaking in hushed tones about rehab.

I can't quit you Starbucks. Not yet. I am just one star away from my reward drink.