If you've been to the Starbucks on the southwest corner of Ina and Oracle roads on weekday mornings, chances are you've seen Jason Staves. At a coffee shop that has a service line six or seven people deep each day - and a drive-through backup that can cause delays in southbound traffic - Staves stands out. People dash in for coffee and dash out for work and the 29-year-old ex-musician, one-time computer geek and current Pima County Community College student sits quietly at his regular table on the patio, observing the mad rush of people from behind his dark sunglasses.
"This is the highlight of my day - my morning coffee. It's sad, but true," Staves says, laughing. "It is part of my routine, coming here before school. This place is just jumping all the time, and I'm a people-watcher - that's the main reason I sit outside, to watch all these people."
And people watch back. Staves is unique among the crowd of SaddleBrooke bicyclists, yuppie soccer-moms and on-the-go business-types tethered to their cell-phones and laptop computers. He wears black most days, regardless of the weather, and his long dark hair falls halfway down his back. He has a silver nose ring, silver hoops in both ears and myriad bracelets peeking out from the cuffs of his leather jacket.
One can't help but notice Staves, with his rhinestone studded sunglasses and red snakeskin shoes, quietly drinking his mild-blend Venti coffee and smoking an occasional cigarette. It isn't unusual to overhear someone whisper, "Who IS that guy?"
"People look at me, and one time an older man came and asked me if I'd been in an MTV video," Staves says. "Everywhere I go, I get a lot of looks, but not a lot of contact."
Stave's "look" is certainly one reason he gets noticed; his quiet manner at a place literally teeming with noise is another.
"Not sure what it is, really, people just don't always come up to talk," he says.
Currently studying computer science at Pima, Staves spent most of his early life in Houston before moving with his family to Tucson the summer before he started high school.
After graduating from Sabino High School, 5000 N. Bowes Road, Staves moved to Denver with a couple of high school buddies to start a band. Staves played lead guitar in a combo he describes as "sort of The Cure meets Pink Floyd." The band eventually split up, but Staves remained in Denver pursuing a solo career.
"Then I got to the point where I thought, 'I really gotta go to college.' I was about 25 at the time … so I moved back here and started attending Pima in liberal arts," he said.
Staves was still "living on the dream" of a possible music career when he got his first computer. He was hooked instantly and began teaching himself how to program and maintain computers.
"I really enjoy it," Staves said. "There's so much to know and it is always changing."
He dropped out of Pima and worked as an independent contractor in informations technology. He spent three years at Weiser Lock Co., 6700 S. Weiser Lock Drive, maintaining their servers before moving to Portland, Ore., for a year.
"The bottom was falling out of the IT (informations technology) field and I thought my chances at a good job would be better in Oregon," says Staves. When he discovered the market was equally glutted in Portland, Staves returned to the Old Pueblo and decided he'd go back to Pima for an associate's degree in computer administration.
"The classes are all easy, since I know how to do this, but I've gotta do it - all for that piece of paper," Staves says.
In addition, since September, Staves has been studying on his own for certification as a Microsoft Certified Engineer. The University of Phoenix offers certification classes, but they are expensive so Staves is self-teaching until he thinks he's ready for the certification tests, also offered by the University of Phoenix.
Money is an issue, Staves says, since he hasn't worked since September and college costs add up. He used to drink lattes and other, more expensive, signature Starbucks' coffees, "but my coffee bill was about $300 a month and I decided I needed to scale back."
Staves lives in SaddleBrooke, where he house-sits for his parents, who live in Tucson only part of the year.
How does a dress-in-all-black, long-haired, multi-pierced, ex-rock musician fit in in an "active, adult community" where one community requirement is that 80 percent of the population be older than 55?
"Well, the few folks I talk to up there seem pretty friendly, but I stay inside most of the time I'm up there," he said.
When he's inside, there is no heavy rock-n-roll going on - music is just a hobby now and Staves says he has no regrets.
"You know, you get all kinds of crazy people in the music business," he says. "It's hard, the business itself, and there are lots of less than moral people involved in it. Their moral outlooks are pretty grim. It just wasn't for me. Now I just play for myself."