Henry David Thoreau at Starbucks

Mark Ratledge
4 min readJul 10, 2021
Photo credit: massmoments.org

I went to my local Starbucks because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of a life made up of sugar and caffeine, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach about those fancy designs the baristas put on the surface of your drink, and when I came to die, discover that I had not lived an artful, fully caffeinated and flavored life.

Since I have never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude, I built a cabin in the corner of the store. I borrowed an axe from a farming co-op, but I returned the ax sharper than I borrowed it, because I did not even use it, as the baristas urged me to not cut down the tree out front to make boards. And I tried to use cast off shipping crates and cardboard boxes from the stockroom, but alas, that was not allowed due to something called fire regulations. But I did build a snug cabin of chairs and tables, along with this magical stuff I discovered called duct tape, bought with one dollar and twelve and a half cents, much of which I filched from the barista’s tip jar, which when they discovered that, they said OK boomer, but not in a mean way as I had feared.

Impressed with my carpentry skills and my “hip vintage” clothing, as they called it, the baristas regard me as some kind of sage. Sometimes we gather inside my cabin and discuss solitude amongst the crowds and being a wise (their words) hermit. When I mentioned the fishing was terrible in the gutter out front, they brought me out-dated muffins that they were to have thrown out, both to sustain me and hopefully dissuade me from cooking any fish I might catch over a candle. When I mentioned growing a field of beans and profiting $10 for the summer, they were aghast and said that sometimes they made that in one hour in tips, and then I was aghast at the economics of Starbucks.

My humble cabin of tables and chairs is my barnacle on this great rock of a world in a vast, treacherous sea of life! It is my hermitage from before sunrise to when the first evening star returns above the streetlight. Unless I don’t arrive exactly when the doors open in the morning and other people take over my cabin for the day and I have to stare at them in painful exile from another table, sipping my artful and caffeinated beverage.

I have determined that it is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar when you can count the people in Starbucks. And what exotic cats they are! Me thinks the ones dressed all in black are the most exotic; they seem to be a numerous local species. They also frighten me. But all of us here at Starbucks are hermits, anchorites from the modern world of roommates and husbands and wives and stuffy offices, seeking solitude among men.

The mass of Starbucks dwellers lead lives of quiet desperation. I catalog their travails in my journal. They elbow each other for empty tables and tax the overloaded wi-fi and the few power sockets. They browse this thing called the web and use what they call “Tinder,” which I assume they use to start cooking fires in their kitchen stoves. They read thick novels, and type out stories for classes in “creative writing,” whatever that is. Once, I asked a table how much Bitcoin I could buy for twenty-eight dollars and twelve and a half cents, and how fast it would go up, as I felt this would be a better investment of my time rather than cultivating a field of beans, but they looked at me like I was over thirty years old — alas, I am — and said I could never understand it.

I did not get to complete my study of the cats in Zanzibar, live out my life as a hermit in my cabin, or put foundations under the castles in the air I had built with my whimsy and imagination. Because one day, a man came to the door of my hermitage. He said he was the regional manager. He told me that my humble cabin wasn’t going to work out. I was crestfallen and was ready to rally the other hermits around me. But he said knew of a place called Walden Pond in Massachusetts where I could build a cabin. There were plenty of trees, too, and the fishing was good. I responded that it sounded very nice. He offered to reimburse me for the cost of my cabin, the twenty-eight dollars and twelve and a half cents, and for duct tape, so I could buy a bus ticket to Concord. I resolved to hitchhike to save that money, because I was sure I could build my own cabin for that much. And when he told me there is a Starbucks just a mile’s walk away from the pond, I was sure that I could go to those woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of a life, and to maybe even take a creative writing class, or learn to code, whatever that is, and work remotely as a hermit, whatever remotely means, and when I came to die, discover that I had not lived an artful, fully caffeinated and flavored life.