There are the obvious people we spend lots of time with in life: a spouse, children, extended family, friends, colleagues. Those you would expect. But isn’t it true that we often see far more frequently the cashier at the local shop; the waitress at the nearby cafe; the lifeguard at the pool?
This is the joy of being a regular. I create bonds significant enough with those I interact with on a daily basis that last year, when going to my usual breakfast place first thing on the morning of my birthday, the staff all came out singing, with a candle in a piece of a toast. And the only thing that would get me through the days when I was deeply depressed was the conversations with – and free bananas from – the guy who worked in the corner shop, Zain. I would tell myself that if I got out of bed and walked to the end of the street and spoke to Zain, that was something.
Zain sensed the darkness that descended, but he never addressed it directly, just looked up from the cricket on his iPhone and high-fived me – and kept me in potassium.
I don’t live in that neighbourhood now (this is another facet of insecure housing: the connections we lose when we move out of a community). Now I have a new corner shop. A different gym, a different station, a different cinema. I am a new regular. There is the pharmacist who looks out for me – a team of three, in fact – because they know I am extremely skilled at leaving my prescription to the last minute. There is the restaurant that brings my order without me asking (silent communication is the apex of all communication; the first time in a relationship you both watch the TV without feeling the need for a running commentary, for example). There are the receptionists in the office who seem to know before I do whether I have forgotten my pass.
This is the joy of people, the joy of place – and the combination of the two. Because being a regular is lots of things: belonging somewhere, being accepted, understood. Being acknowledged, even. Being a regular is what can stave off the loneliness for older people without family, or the freelancer eking out a coffee for eight hours.
But it is the places themselves that soothe, too. The familiarity of the wifi name or the exact sensation of upholstery on the back of the thigh, in the chair that is your chair, in your corner.
I am a regular. I have my places. And when I move, I carry them with me.