I sat in Starbucks a couple of Wednesdays ago quaffing my usual caramel latte, reading the morning newspaper and soaking up a friendly vibe.
As far as I could tell, no one toted a concealed firearm.
It seemed as though everyone in the establishment knew everyone else on a first-name basis. This particular retail outlet is quite obviously highly regarded by its local community.
At the table to my left sat two young men in their mid-20s engaged in a deep philosophical discussion. With Bibles spread open on the table before them, they good-naturedly argued a scriptural point and its application in their lives.
At one juncture, I noted that their eyes were closed and they seemed transported into the presence of the deity with whom their existences were inextricably bound. They were unruffled by the clamor around them.
To my right sat a mid-30s young man furiously pounding a laptop and lustily chugging swigs of precious java. I naturally assumed he was a caffeine-addled graduate student working on a project.
Through the establishment's front entrance bounded a young man seeking a steaming cup of russet-colored rectitude. His attention was drawn to the laptop abuser at the table next to mine.
"Hey, Pastor Ron!" the young man yelled as he approached the table. "What've you been up to?"
As if summoned from a parallel reality, Pastor Ron reluctantly pulled his attention from his screen and looked up. It took a moment to shift gears.
"Oh, hey, Bobby. Just working on Sunday's sermon. Got a late start this week and I'm trying to catch up. Can't short-change the flock!"
"Well I won't keep you," the interloper promised, and proceeded to use the next 10 minutes to talk about a recent fishing trip, the new foreman at the metal fabrication plant, and his young daughter's bout with the mumps."
I squirmed in my seat. I've never had the mumps.
This experience was novel for me. I've never knowingly encountered a pastor working on a sermon on his laptop at Starbucks. I'm sure it happens; I've just never noticed it before.
The next day my wife, Hedy, and I took our 7-year-old granddaughter, Eva, to a dentist for a couple of fillings.
"Grandpa, I have a tummy ache," she informed me just as we exited the car and made our way to the office's front entrance.
"Oh, that's just nerves, Baby." I tried to be reassuring and took her hand. "It won't be bad. A piece of cake!"
Easy for me to say.
Hedy accompanied Eva into the office's internal chambers. Like a dutiful grandpa, I cooled my heels in the waiting area.
I glanced around the room and spotted a book on the table next to my chair. It said "Holy Bible" on its cover. Hmmm. Never before seen that in a dentist's office. I know lab coats can be intimidating to some, but is there a need to invoke the supernatural?
Still, a patient can elect to pick up the book or no.
Across the room, in the children's waiting area, were books, games and a carpeted hopscotch grid. One of the books on the shelf was titled "Bible Stories for Kids."
OK, I'm convinced. We're no longer in Orange County, Toto!
As a matter of fact, we were in rural North Carolina, visiting our kids and grandkids in the heart of the so-called Bible Belt. On Sunday mornings the churches are filled with respectfully clothed devotees, and every other station on the radio dial carries a church service, Bible study or Christian music.
Folks in this community are up front about their beliefs.
I later told my daughter, Jade, a native Californian and nine-year resident of North Carolina, of my Starbucks and dental office experiences.
"Dad, things are accepted here that wouldn't be tolerated in California," she told me. "PTA meetings at your grandchildren's secular, public school are opened with prayer — and no one faints or calls the ACLU. It's just the way we do things here."
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.