No, I don’t make this shit up. But I can understand why you would think that. Everyone thinks my bizarre Starbucks encounters are a just a little too close to the Twilight Zone to be true. Except baristas. They know. Oh boy, do they know. When you’re a Starbucks regular like I am, you eventually make conversation with the staff. No, not small talk. Tall talk. Grandé talk. I told one manager about my narrow escape from the paranoid laptop snatcher guy (if you just went “huh”, read Delusions of Grandé part 1 for more on that), and all she did was motor her lips—pbfff—as if to say that’s nothing. So I told her about this big-boned Hindu woman who snatched a college girl right out of her chair and tried to kiss her—right in front of the girl’s parents! Her father and two baristas swooped in to make the rescue, but this Kama-Sutra kisser was pretty large, so it wasn’t going to be easy. Eventually she let go, but she wasn’t finished. She made rounds trying to kiss the other customers. Except me. I wasn’t her type.

I kid you not, after I shared this insanely true story with the manager, her only response was a vague chuckle. As if the story was cute and not terrifying. Meh, she just has a good poker face, I told myself, but after the manager explained that she had been with Starbucks for damn near a decade, it made sense. She had seen a lot more shit than I had. So, yeah, baristas know.

Here’s the thing. I love Starbucks. And I love larger-than-life characters, and it just so happens that there’s a Starbucks and larger-than-life characters on every corner of downtown Toronto. I’d love to believe that I’m one of these characters, but that’s giving myself more credit than I deserve. I’m a pretty uneventful guy. Urban black guys—I’m an urban black guy, by the way—are expected to be cool, athletic, suave and lyrical in a hip-hop sort of way. I’m none of these things. I can’t even dance. My mother, who is an avid dancer, loves me but nevertheless remains confused by all of this. She’s especially miffed by my fashion sensibilities, the extent of which is an old t-shirt and a pair of jeans that should have been in the laundry weeks ago. I cut my own hair, and I don’t always do a good job. I go to Starbucks every day to postpone for just one more day my crashing career as a graphic designer. The most interesting thing I did recently was figuring out how to cleverly lace my winter boots with only half the string length since the laces snapped six weeks ago, and I lack the motivation to go out into the snow and buy replacements. Right now I’m at Starbucks trying not to cry. Why? Because my life, and inhibitions, are exactly to scale. But the characters I see at Starbucks? These guys are all X-Large. Their inhibitions burst at the seam.

Sure, snatching my laptop right from under my nose wasn’t cool, and a Hindu woman snatching a college girl out of her chair to kiss her is cryptic and creepy. But what about the guy who comes in every morning and rearranges all of the store furniture—ALL OF IT!? And he does an excellent job, as if he were on the payroll. If you happen to be in the way, you know, because you’re busy sobbing at a table while trying to keep your career from crashing and burning—no problem. He just waits for you to go to the bathroom. When you come back, you may have trouble finding where you were sitting. And that’s what I’m getting at. This brotha is larger than life. Only a person with zero inhibitions will rearrange your furniture. If I had that kind of chutzpa, I’d be successful. I’d have a nice executive office and my own personal lickspittle to run errands for coffee and shoelaces. But I’m not successful. I’m at Starbucks. This is my office. And I’m surrounded by a score of colorful co-workers who, if nothing else, keep office life very interesting. So here are ten more of them that I’ve sketched. For a few of these I’m using photos, so that you know I’m not making this up.

P.S. Apologies in advance to my mom about the language. She will read this and she will be horrified by my profanity.

More info:

1) The Activist

I’ll start off with this guy. He holds a special place in my heart because I actually met and chatted with him while on a first date with my wife. We—my wife and I—were having a somewhat romantic stroll downtown (I say somewhat because downtown Toronto is too crowded and crammed with people and traffic to be romantic). In the middle of all that hustle and bustle was this guy, with his epic-length placard. Right away I knew I had to find out what his political grievances were all about. Before my lady could stop me, I was already neck deep in his tangled tantrum about this, that and another. I’m still foggy about what was eating him, but the most I got was that he was offering cash money to anyone who would help smuggle him out of Canada and back to Poland. So I guess the Canadians were holding him against his will. Anyway, this photo was taken years later when I saw him marching out of a Starbucks in Toronto’s Cabbagetown (look closely and you’ll see the Starbucks logo peek-a-booing from behind a tree). I’ve drawn over his face to protect his identity, but in all seriousness, he’s kind of hard to miss. He still uses the same placard.

2) The Feng-Shui Furniture Dude (and the Receptionist)

So this is the guy I mentioned earlier who likes to rearrange all of the furniture. He’s right there in the background. The other guy is the Receptionist (again, see Delusions of Grandé Part 1). I’ve included him because I usually see these two at the “office” together.

3) The Musician

Because I’m not successful and do not have a personal lickspittle to do my biddings, I eventually had to go out into the cold world to fetch my own replacement shoelaces. Along the way I stopped at Starbucks and saw this old gem of a man playing his “getar” out front on the corner. I’ll explain the “getar” in a minute. By this hour, the sun was out and the temp went up a few degrees, and as far as this Asian brotha was concerned, that was good enough for sunglasses and shorts. No socks. He also had a scarf, which made him look like someone who should have been flying a propeller plane. But instead he was playing a guitar for money and let me just say right now that this motherfucker had no talent. None. And he knew it, because the sign on his guitar case read: “Need money for ‘getar’ lessons. Do good job next time.”

4) The Panhandler Who Takes Plastic

Speaking of panhandlers. I once saw and heard the following exchange while leaving Starbucks:

Street beggar: “Do you have some extra change you can spare?”
Nice guy: “Sorry, I really don’t.” (Pats his pockets to prove it.)
Street beggar: “I take debit.”
Nice guy, laughing: “I’m not falling for that again.”

I think the nice guy was kidding. I mean… I *hope* he was kidding.

5) What the f…???

It was 5:45am and I was only a block from Starbucks when all of a sudden this psycho turned the corner and scared the sweet sunshine and shit out of me. Yes, yes, yes, he was only going for a stroll and you can’t blame him for that. But why he needed a ski mask to do so remains a mystery.

6) This guy. And this goat.

This no-personal-space motherfucker to my left just came in and sat down next to me in an otherwise empty theater. Then he started talking to himself. That was bad enough, but I had come to see The Witch, a movie that has way too many close-ups of a fucking goat. The guy and that goat were too much for me, so I got the hell out of there. If I had any brains about me, I would have gone home, but no; I went back to work at Starbucks. Two hours later this same guy came walking in. Although it would have made for a much better story, he didn’t sit next to me. Oh, and if you’re wondering why my hair looks like that, it’s because I neglected to cut my hair for months, that’s why.

7) These Two Dead Motherfuckers

Oh, don’t mind us. We’re just two dead motherfuckers having coffee. I didn’t actually see this spectacle. This photo was sent to me by a friend who has been following my many mini-misadventures at Starbucks. She spotted these unemployed grim reapers in a Charlotte, North Carolina, SB parking lot. When skeletons come out of the closet, where do they go? To Starbucks. Obviously.

8) The Runaway Turtle

To be fair, I saw this flyer posted up in quite a few places, but I also saw one stapled on the community message board at Starbucks, which means whoever posted this flyer figured the turtle must have gotten at least that far. I still can’t wrap my head around how you go about losing a turtle.

“911, what’s your emergency?”
“I’d like to report a missing turtle.”
“How did you lose the turtle, sir?”
“I’m not sure, it all happened so fast.”

9) The Hindu Body Snatcher

I still can’t believe I saw this shit.

10) The Guy Who Drops Mad Rhymes and a Mic

We’re always told to never give up on our dreams, but what if our dreams give up on us? What then? This brotha had the answer. He came into Starbucks, swaggering from person to person, with the whole of his hip-hop career available on a $5 CD. There were no takers, but he was not discouraged. He told everyone he’d be outside performing if they wanted to “try-before-you-buy.” Then he flexed his microphone, which he kept inside his jacket like a handgun, to show that he meant business. Nobody took him up on the offer and after a few polite nods, he swaggered away. By the time I left Starbucks, he was still there, on the corner, a one-man freestyling fracas. Turns out the microphone—which wasn’t plugged in and was doing jackshit for his voice—was for show only. But it worked. A few people stopped and watched him, just to see him drop that damn mic at the end of a song. Then he’d pace back and forth with his head low, conjuring his next freestyle. When he had the words, he frog-hopped like a boxer getting psyched, picked up his mic and started rapping again. Two minutes later, it hit the ground—poompf. Mic drop. This brotha was serious. People laughed, but they loved it. That’s how you keep your dreams alive, people.