From behind the coffee shop counter, I watched you, London, as you went about your daily life. Commuters complained about train delays as they picked up their morning coffee, from a black filter to an extra hot strong skinny latte, but they forgave me for mixing up drinks sometimes. Construction workers came for Cokes and Toasties; I want to call toasted sandwiches "Toasties" for the rest of my life! Office staff stopped by for a drink and a porridge; I've never lived in a country that ate this much porridge.
From behind the coffee shop counter, I got to know your residents. The busy professionals who come in so often that we have their drinks memorized and notice when they miss a few days. The older man who offers me a shy smile as he buys his daily apple and banana. The girl who always gets an almond croissant, except the one day she bought a yogurt. (Don't worry; she went back to a croissant the next day.) The guy who brings his dog and the other guy who brings his bike. The skinny cappuccino lady with the sweet smile, the black americano man who always calls me "luv," the cappuccino-and-a-pain-auix-raisin gentleman, and the oat filter guy with the lilting Irish accent whose yawns make me yawn too - I don't know their names, but I enjoyed our daily two minute conversations.
From behind the coffee shop counter, I learned the quirks of your city. It took me ages, but I finally got better at counting out change in British pounds; nothing like a new currency to make you feel like you're in second grade math again! I learned that aubergines are eggplants, a serviette is a napkin, and carrot juice is a thing. I answered someone's question about my accent and origins at least once an hour, and inevitably, they asked if my hometown is near Las Vegas. My favorite comment by far came from a co-worker: "Your accent reminds me of Mickey Mouse," she said, and all of us behind the counter laughed so hard we couldn't breathe.
From behind the coffee shop counter, I've watched your bustle slow one day at a time as the coronavirus crept through the city. Business got a little slower last week as commuters and residents switched to working remotely, and by the middle of this week, the shop felt eerily empty. Our seating area closed (to avoid gatherings of more than ten people), and everyone who came in had a virus-related worry to discuss with hushed voices. I watched as your citizens' daily concerns were overwhelmed by the anxiety that is palpable everywhere I go now: what will tomorrow bring? We wish we knew.
From behind the coffee shop counter, I see NHS (healthcare) staff come in for a hot drink, tired looking but quick to smile back at me. I hear customer after customer express concern for the shop employees once restaurants are told to close; they remind us that we aren't forgotten. I watch as people physically distance themselves while waiting for coffee, but if anything, their hearts seem a little closer. They offer others a place in line, are quick to pick up dropped items, seem just a bit more patient than before. If fear and anxiety are a palpable constant on your streets right now, London, at least they get pushed aside for small moments of camaraderie, connection, and hope.