On Monday morning, Charlie McOuat pulled up to where the old Starbucks used to be — before it was destroyed by fire early Sunday at the Sea Turtle Marketplace on Hilton Head Island.
The familiar green sign was gone from above the front door. The familiar interior was in ruins. Metal roofing was peeled like a sardine can by torching flames. The drive-through menu board was blank. A new fence surrounded the funky building, with a sign blaring in orange lettering: “POSTED. NO TRESPASSING. KEEP OUT.”
This is not just another business. It’s like losing the La-Z-Boy recliner, the passport to Marrakesh, the legal pick-me-up, the gab with friends — all at once. It’s family. It’s a way of life.
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“I’m under stress,” said my old friend Charlie.
It’s where he would get close to his closest friends, every Tuesday. It was where they hashed out the happy and the sad, the news and the nostalgia.
“It’s where we would discuss the David Lauderdale column,” he said with a laugh.
It’s where he never saved room for cream, going for the full jolt of life in retirement on a subtropical island.
“I’m a Starbucks guy,” he said, lifting a metallic coffee cup from his car’s cup holder.
No, this was no normal Starbucks.
It was the first such thing in this neck of the woods. It arrived long before every preschooler knew the difference between a frappuccino and espresso. We thought pumpkin spice was a cake. A “Teavana Shaken Strawberry Green Tea Infusion Lemonade” would have been considered speaking in tongues.
This Starbucks opened in what had been a C&S bank, long before there were Starbucks locations all over the community, and in a lot of grocery stores.
One of its rooms was a ghostly vault, where people would arrange to meet me to spill their best Deep Throat skullduggery. But the acoustics in the vault that fire could not destroy were so horrible, you couldn’t hear each other talk. So the secret scoops were screamed for all to hear.
This is where the Corvettes of Hilton Head club would hold “cruises.”
It’s where religious groups gathered. Church groups of teenagers and young adults came not to find the latte to heaven, but to find a hip relevance to the old, old story in a caffeine-drenched world.
A Realtor included part of the Starbucks name in his new company name because that’s where he so often conducted business.
So, yes, we became addicted to the odd, old building where a Hilton Head homeless man used to ride his bike through the drive-through early in the morning to pick up dropped coins.
We became so addicted we fussed on Facebook when it was still closed two days after the Great Snow Storm of 2018. A friend of mine admitted on her Facebook post: “I know, I know — first world problem.”
We got so used to the place that it didn’t bother us that we had to make more decisions about a cup of coffee than we did in raising our first-born child.
Charlie eased away from the “KEEP OUT” sign as two guys in a convertible pulled in behind him. Their faces looked like they had just dropped their favorite coffee mugs and they broke into a million pieces.
A smile spread across Charlie’s face.
“David, I will survive,” he said.