Last weekend, I saw Sheryl Crow at Starbucks.

I’d been sitting there for an hour at the Medieval Feast Table* reading when two ladies came in and sat across from me. A few minutes passed before I glanced up and noticed that one of them was Sheryl Crow.

My mind rewound to 1994, when I began riding the school bus to Daviess County Middle School. Every day by popular demand, the bus driver tuned into 96.1FM, the local pop station. Not a weekday morning passed that I didn’t hear Ace of Base (“The Sign”), Bryan Adams (“Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?”), All-4-One (“I Swear”), Boyz II Men (“On Bended Knee”), Green Day (“When I Come Around”), Hootie & the Blowfish (“Hold My Hand”), Madonna and Babyface (“Take a Bow”) and, perhaps most specific to memory, “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow.

This ain’t no disco. It ain’t no country club either. This is L.A.

Those opening lines about California still evoke the Kentucky backwoods and backroads of that bus route, of the bypass and bourbon distillery downtown, and of not knowing what bourbon was or what Sheryl meant by that happy couple being “dangerously close to one another”.

While much of my generation currently seems obsessed with nostalgia for their childhoods (due in part to lackluster adulthoods), I find the most tender and formative years came a bit later, when things went beyond entertaining and became interesting. As I entered middle school, pop radio, not public school, was responsible for my emotional education. The music of that era became the missing second half of “the talk”, material not covered by our parents or that special class where they separated the boys from the girls and the girls came back with swag and we didn’t. And it really wasn’t that bad an introduction to how we humans feel about each other: Boyz II Men were sensual but not dirty. Hootie & the Blowfish got melancholy at times but knew how to get over it and play golf. All-4-One were swearing in a good way, Collective Soul beckoned Heaven let it’s Light shine down, and Enigma returned to innocence. Bryan Adams asked if I’d ever really loved a woman (providing criteria in case I wasn’t sure) and Sheryl Crow whether or not I was strong enough to be her man. (I was 12.  So no.) The music was good, sticking with you like a Parental Advisory.

I like to believe I graduated from my 90s pop education more Hopeless Romantic than Rebel. Always the introvert and ever the mediocre student, the one lesson I failed to learn was how to muster the courage to start a conversation with a pretty girl I didn’t know. I mostly kept to my books, reading on the school bus, mostly Michael Crichton. I’d read until my friend Joe got on a few stops down the road or until “All I Wanna Do” came on, not a clue that twenty years later I would again look up from my book to the sound of Sheryl Crow…

I didn’t say anything to her. Probably should have. My favorite mistake.

*the unnecessarily long tables one occasionally finds in Starbucks. How often does Starbucks host a party of twelve?