This morning, like so many mornings, began with a trek to Starbucks. I am feeling a little under the weather, either fighting off a cold or battling allergies that flame up each year when golf courses and resorts re-seed their vast expanses of grass. I just wanted to sit with a cup of coffee and slowly enter the day.
After getting my venti iced coffee and oatmeal, I went out to the patio at Starbucks to sit for a while and relax in the cool morning air. No sooner did I approach a seat I had been scoping out while I had waited in line to order when I smelled that familiar, yet sickening smell, of burning tobacco. Off in the corner of the patio sat a man puffing away on a cigarette, oblivious to the world and the people around him.
Now I am all for individual rights and respect the right someone has to choose to engage in a vice that may eventually kill them. But I personally prefer not to be exposed to smoke. Quite some time ago, Starbucks took the proactive step of making all their establishments, including the outside patio areas, smoke free environments. It really was unpleasant to sit outside with a cup of coffee and pastry only to be exposed to smoke filled air. I applaud Starbucks for its efforts.
As I neared my seat I looked over at the man and said to him, “Excuse me sir, but you can’t smoke here.” He looked at me, shrugged, and began pantomiming something. Again I said, “There is no smoking on this patio.” The man pointed at several empty tables and using his cigarette free hand counted to five and mimed that people had been smoking at those tables. At least I think that is what he was trying to communicate. I pointed to the sign near the door that said smoking was prohibited and simply said “No smoking.” The people sitting nearby looked up, “Thank you for speaking up.” “We totally support you.” But no one, other than me, said anything to the man. And still he sat, puffing away and flicking ashes to the ground.
I felt a little bad saying anything at all because the man was obviously homeless. He was filthy, his pants had holes in them and black grime, like the suburban housewives French tip manicure, tipped his fingernails. A small-wheeled suitcase sat on the table near the seat he occupied. He did not speak at all, just mimed to communicate.
The other occupants of the patio starred at him and several people began pointing to the sign near the door that read “Starbucks is a smoke-free environment.” An older couple stood near him and began to shuffle away, looking over their shoulder at him as he mimed to the rest of us.
The man shrugged his shoulders, stood, retrieved his suitcase and departed the patio. Several people spoke to me. “Thank you so much for having the courage to say something to him.” “You just made our day.” “I am so glad you said something.”
I found these comments somewhat strange. I didn’t feel courageous for speaking up. I spoke up simply because I wanted to enjoy my coffee without breathing in smoke. My speaking up was a selfish act. I am surprised that the others on the patio were unwilling to say anything, especially when this man’s smoking clearly bothered them. I didn’t and still don’t know what to make of all of this.
My heart goes out to the homeless. So many of these folks need a break. They need human kindness and compassion. I don’t know whether or not I did the right thing by saying something to this man. Perhaps I should have let him enjoy his morning and his cigarette. Maybe I should have offered to buy him a cup of coffee. I just don’t know.
What do you think?