I wake up this morning unusually early, but not early enough to go back to sleep, so I quickly dress in the cold darkness of the pre-dawn. My wife mumbles unintelligibly, rolls over, and continues sleeping. I grope my way through the hallway and turn on the kitchen lights, my dark-adjusted eyes blinking at the brightness. I find no leftover coffee in the carafe, so I put on my jacket and step outside to walk to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts on Concord Pike. The houses on my block are mostly dark with only an occasional light in a bedroom window.
All is quiet. Not even the birds are chirping. Traffic is light on Concord Pike and the empty stores are harshly lit by security lights.
All is quiet, that is, until I step into the Dunkin’ Donuts when the world explodes into noise, bright lights, and organized chaos. There are three or four people already in line, constantly replaced new customers as they are quickly served. Customers do not stand in line as much as slowly shuffle forward. The store is run by a family of Indostanis, three pretty women and one man, all unbelievably polite and perky. (I made up the term “Indostanis” to indicate people from the general India-Pakistan area.) They appear to be the mother and father with their two grown daughters, but all have the energy and attractiveness of Mormon teenagers.
“Yes, sir, what can I get you?” one calls to me over the head of the person waiting for their order.
“Small coffee, cream and sugar.”
“Ah, yes, yes! Here you are, sir. Thank you, sir. Have a good day!” Before I can move away another family member takes the order of the person behind me.
I carry my coffee to one of the empty tables and sit facing the counter. Very few customers have the time to stay, and they hurry back to their cars with gigantic containers of coffee and a bag of donuts. They come in a variety of styles, and all have the look of early morning. Some are young women with puffy eyes, pillow creases on their cheeks, and bed hair wearing flip-flops and a styleless fleece sweat suit. They starkly contrast with other women who are A-type personalities, sharply dressed for the business world in dark pants suits (surprisingly sexy) and already examining their cell phone messages. They move with the edgy quickness of sparrows. Other women are healthcare workers in thick white shoes, smocks printed with cheerful cartoon characters, and blue cotton pants, always blue. Their photo ID is clipped to the smock pocket. Most are overweight and leave carrying large boxes of donuts.
The men fit the same categories. Some are also in flip-flops and sweat suits and will clearly return to bed soon after this morning chore. Those in dark business suits are less fashionable and more disheveled than the women, but are equally engrossed with their cell phones. Instead of healthcare workers, many of the men are construction workers, neat and clean for the last time that day.
A sign of the times: About a third of the customers, both men and women in all categories, are towing one or two grade-school children in school uniforms and more alert than their parent. They tug at their parent’s clothing with requests, and the parent mumbles a response without looking down at them. The children operate the juice and soda vending machine with practiced efficiency while the parent waits passively for the order. This daily routine is routine. They have done it hundreds of times and will do it hundreds of times again.
The school children are always with just one parent, but occasionally a complete family joins me at a nearby table. They are beginning a vacation trip and chatter excitedly. This is a new adventure for them, and I tell them where to find the napkins and spoons. They finish almost everything, throw away any remains, and head out to the packed family SUV. The children break free of their parents and run ahead.
In the short time I am there, the sun has risen, and sunlight streams in the front window. One of the women workers squints in the glare. I lower the shade and she smiles in gratitude. Traffic on Concord Pike has picked up and the cars no longer have their headlights on. As I return home, I look back at the Dunkin’ Donuts, and cars continue to pull into the parking lot. A constant flow of customers are hurrying in and out of the doors. Another day has begun.