bit the bullet, and I went to Deaf Night at Starbucks at the local mall. Ironically, I didn’t meet any deaf people. I did meet plenty of ASL speakers though, and there were so many people there that I’m sure I just didn’t get around to meeting them as I chatted with others. I had an amazingly great time, and I’m so proud of myself!!
It was a cool, dark evening. I pulled into the white and concrete parking structure with the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I had specifically asked both my sister and my husband not to come with me, because I was so afraid that I would spend the whole evening talking with them in English, and use them as a crutch to not use ASL. I regretted that decision a little now, with my sweaty hands gripped against the steering wheel of my parked car. I knew it was the right decision, but I could really use the backup right now. My outfit of crisp jeans and a brown button-down underneath a beige trench was carefully chosen to make me look adult, but not stuck-up. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“You can do this” I told myself. “All you have to do is walk in there, buy a coffee, and assess the situation. If it looks too intimidating, you can just go home.” I stepped out of my car and walked to the Starbucks.
I saw them right away. There was a huge group of animated people sitting on the outside patio. They were the quietest group of people I think I’ve ever seen sit together, and I knew instantly that this had to be the group I was looking for. My suspicions were confirmed when a girl stood up and signed something excitedly to a friend across the patio. I wished I could survey a little, see if I could recognize some of the signs… if they were too advanced for me, but I knew how rude it is to stare at conversations you’re not a part of. I took the long way around to the Starbucks entrance and got in line to order my tea.
OK, I’m not that proud of it, but I did hide out in the Starbucks for about ten minutes. I nonchalantly stationed myself behind the CD display and peeked at the people signing outside. “Just go out and do it” I told myself. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“They could give me a look of pure and utter disdain and turn their backs on my feeble attempts to make distinguishable signs.” I answered. But what were the chances of that, really? Probably not that good. I realized right then that they don’t teach you in school how to politely introduce yourself. Most of the people on the patio looked like they would be nice to me, though. I decided to just walk right up to the first group I saw and see what happened. If they thought I was rude, I guess I could just never come back. It’s all about taking risks, right? I was almost sure they wouldn’t look at me with disdain.
It worked. Everyone was amazingly nice to me, and one gentleman even insisted on giving me his chair. We realized after a little bit that we both went to the same school, and he had tried to add my (full) ASL1 class almost a year ago. I chatted with students from RCC and Mt. SAC too. It was only after a while of signing with everyone that I realized they were all hearing, in various levels of ASL class. I laughed a little to myself about how ironic it was that I didn’t meet any deaf people at Deaf Night. Not that I minded, I just found it a little chuckle-worthy.
My ASL stood up fine, and I was even able to teach the others a few terms (like semester). I learned “diploma” “freshman, sophomore, junior, senior” and “Norco” from them. One of the students even asked me if I was in ASL 3 (I’m still in 2)! I felt that maybe my skills are a little bit better that my perception of them. I love it that ASL speakers are just so kind to learners.
It was a grand night, sipping tea under the stars and chatting the night away. I will definitely go again next month, and in the meantime I plan to visit other similar Deaf Events in my community. There’s a Panera Bread on my way to work that has a Deaf Night once a week, and I know that other Starbucks have gatherings on different nights. I can’t wait to go and chat again. I think that some conversational practice is really what my ASL skills could use. I’ve gained so much confidence from just those few hours, all the grief I gave myself beforehand was well worth it for the knowledge that my skills translate to the real world too.