It’s been a long semester and, apart from sleeping, there was one main thing I looked forward to during our glorious week off: Stardust Video & Coffee.
Contrary to popular belief, Disney World is NOT Orlando's greatest contribution to humanity; it’s Stardust, the most magical place on earth (an honor I bestowed upon the cafe the first time I walked in).
Stardust is always my favorite place to take people when they come to Orlando. Perhaps it’s the brightly lit Chinese lanterns that crowd the ceiling, the hundreds of picture frames mounted on the walls, the TV propped in the bar that seems to only play reruns of “Friends” or the vintage photo booth that can quickly turn a simple coffee run into an hour-long photo shoot.
Stardust was, and still is, my happy place. I could never figure out why, but the idea of sitting in a deafening cafe with a bitter herbal tea surrounded by so many people that I could barely follow a single train of thought is something that I consistently miss at Hopkins (Brody Learning Commons just isn’t the same).
I spent nearly every weekend in high school at Stardust, alone or with friends. Saturdays consisted of waking up at 8 a.m., making a 30-minute drive to Downtown Orlando and finding the same table in the corner of the cafe. The corner nook was surrounded by books and photo booth strips, and it was the perfect distance away from the counter. Even though the tea was awful, I cannot deny that I drank four cups every time I went.
Cafe time moves slowly. Something about seeing the same furniture and people while hearing the same voices and music every weekend for hours on end was soothing. Tea came in mugs decorated by a Monet or a Kahlo, and sitting at the table watching the rainfall made for calm afternoons.
Every time I went to Stardust, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving until sunset. It is beautiful, and it’s impossible to find the right words to explain the vibrancy of the small, decorated cafe. I like to describe it as a tavern where I have met the most amazing people and listened to the most incredible ideas. Whether that be talking to a 50-year-old student about her journey to law school or listening to people engage in political discourse, my weekends at Stardust were far from boring.
My friends and I would talk for hours with our laptops wide open, and it’s moments like these that I miss the most. I probably didn't get much work done, but it was a nice break from the monotony of everyday life.
The Saturday before I left for Hopkins, I made one last trip to Stardust. It was supposed to be a usual day; I found my table and grabbed a cup of tea before sitting in the corner. After a few hours, I quietly told the barista it would be my last trip to Stardust for a while. I can’t seem to forget the look on her face. It was a mix of confusion and angst. I had been going to Stardust for what felt like forever, and I dropped the bomb of my departure on a random Saturday afternoon. I was a regular. An actual regular! They knew my order and would often ask how my mom was doing.
To be honest, it was really scary, sad and difficult all at once. Stardust is my comfort place that allows me to live and relive my most cherished memories. I have probably cried after tests in the bathroom, laughed with other random cafegoers until my stomach was sore — hell, I even opened a few college decisions in Stardust.
Now that I think about it, there isn’t really a happy ending to this story. Coming to college has been hard, and I have had to learn to find other places of comfort (yes, one of them is M level of MSE).
To put it simply, change sucks. I miss Orlando — the people, the colors, the smells, the collective joy in people’s eyes. I even miss the weekly question I would get from the baristas about my mom’s well-being. Nothing quite compares to the magic of the tiny tavern; the fleeting moments back home will never be enough to bask in the wonders of the Stardust Cafe.
Aashi Mendpara is a freshman from Orlando, Fla. studying Neuroscience and Anthropology.