6:58am. Mid aughts. My sister and I are in the car on the way to school, idling in front of the bagel store. "You go in," she says. "No, you go in," I say right back.
"I'm the one driving. Just go in."
"No!" I have no more arguments. At this point, I'm being a baby.
But the reason I don't want to go in is because I didn't want to see anyone I know. Coming from a small town where we knew everyone in our grade, this always seemed to happen at the most inopportune moments. When I was sweaty after a rare workout; when I was on my way somewhere and didn't feel like small-talking. I just didn't want to deal with it and preferred to be unrecognized and on my way.
To feel more anonymous, I moved to a big city for college with an aura of "IDGAF about you." It was perfect. I was sure I would never run into the same people twice. But pretty soon I started developing my routines out of habit, one of which was drinking tea in the mornings at one signature coffee place. It was a ripe atmosphere to be left alone. Until I wasn't.
It was the day when the barista called my name that I learned I wasn't alone. He knew my name, knew my order, knew where I liked to sit and what book I was reading and my favorite pen. It was creepy. That was how I abandoned that coffee shop to go elsewhere, where I was so neglected that the barista didn't even look up to see what human was consuming the goods which her establishment produced.
The comfort of feeling anonymous is also what makes it scary. Being known means that others could be more willing to help you. But being unknown means you're just another soul dressed in skin. As a shy person, familiarity is helpful for me in certain situations. I used to fear going to parties alone, for example, because that just heightens the potential for awkwardness. But familiarity also means that people have expectations of how we'll behave, that we are limited by the predictability of our past action. That I will always order an Earl Grey tea. That I will always sit at a corner table. And all of a sudden, it becomes too much information.
But my fear of becoming a 'regular' goes further than just coffee shops. It has to do with a fear to connect deeply and establish relationships with others, to reveal myself just a little bit. It's nice to be recognized, after all. It's nice to be called by your name in a world where numbers prevail. It's a privilege to be known and regulars achieve a higher level of respect than the perpetual wanderer. Sometimes it's better to root yourself in a place and deal with the small talk that comes. It's not so bad.