Incident at Starbucks

Today we visited the new Harris Teeter that just opened on Reynolda Road where the Roses once stood, mainly to see if they carried Hoffman hot dogs, which is a favorite of my roommates. While there, we picked up some roasted chicken, some ice cream and a few other items, and while going through checkout, my roommate noticed that there’s a Starbucks in the store.

I like coffee and despise yuppies too much to like Starbucks, which insists on ruining gods-little-beans by adding milk, sugar or any other ingredient they can find to everything. Coffee is perfect by itself; it doesn’t need any help. But order a plain cup of joe at Starbucks, and they decide — meaning the guys and gals who, by dint of working behind the counter, are the arbiters of what passes for cool and what doesn’t — that you’re an uncouth and unsophisticated laggard who wandered in from (stereotyped cliche alert) some trailer park.

Starbucks

The headquarters for the friendly down-the-road little place where everybody knows your name and you can stay sober.

Needless to say,

But my roommate doesn’t share my disdain for corporate deceit, and asked if I would fetch for her a decaf mocha latte while she took care of paying for the groceries. No problem. I sauntered up to what looked like an ordering spot at the Starbucks counter, and waited a minute or two for the young lady who had absolutely nothing to do, to notice she had a customer.

For a while she chose to keep her attention on the store’s front door, but she eventurally turned around and without smiling or being in any way cordial asked if I wanted to order. Yup, I do, I nodded. She walked up to another ordering area, about ten feet away and told me I’d have to go to her to order. Fine. I did.

“I’d like a decaf mocha latte…,” I managed before being interrupted.

“What size?”

“Well, how much are they?” I asked, expecting to hear the prices for large, medium and small, or whatever cutesy sizing scheme they use at Starbucks.

“Each size has a different price,” was her deadpan answer, delivered without a hint of irony.

She couldn’t be that stupid, I figured, so I got slightly ticked off, but I didn’t let it show. However, I’m sure I was a little curt with my reply.

“How much is a large?” I asked.

She pursed her lips and started to glare, maybe to cover embarrassment. I don’t think she cared for me any more than I was beginning to care for her.

“A tall is three forty-eight,” she said at last, with the emphasis on “tall,” to replace my ill informed medium or large — which is which, I’m still not sure.

“Yeah. Make it one of those.”

She grabbed a cardboard cup and began writing along the side. “A tall decaf mocha,” she half repeated and started to walk away.

“Latte,” I reminded. “A decaf mocha latte.”

“Those are two different drinks,” she said. “Which one do you want? A mocha or a latte?”

Again she was completely deadpan, with no offer to help me with my decision.

I should have answered, “Yes.” That would have thrown her for a loop. But I was too disconcerted to know exactly what to say.

My roommate used to frequent Starbucks, back when we were friends with a yuppie couple who visited us at least once a week. I knew she always got a decaf mocha latte, even when she was sending someone to fetch one for her. But I also knew I’m a plain black coffee drinker who knows nothing of these drinks concocted for people who like desert more than they like coffee.

“Wait a minute, it’s not for me,” I said. “Let me go get her and she can tell you what she wants.”

The girl nodded as if to say, “Whatever.”

I was beginning to become unimpressed with this shiny new Harris Teeter that houses a shiny new Starbucks.

My roommate was just finishing up paying at the checkout counter. When I told her she’d have to order herself, that what she wanted was evidently two separate things, she asked me what I meant, ending with “I order them all the time.”

“I know,” I said wearily, and recounted the story of how “every size has a different price.” The check out gal grimaced sympathetically. Evidently she already knew something about the young lady working at the Starbucks counter.

On the twenty feet or so return to the coffee counter, my roommate managed to question me two or three times about what was meant by her drink being “two different things.” I kept replying with “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask her.”

We stopped short of the counter, so roommate could take a minute to inspect the menu, which was hanging on the wall, McDonalds style, which I thought ironic, coming from such a highfalutin bunch. Eventually she figured out the tack she was going to take and approached the girl, who was by now standing by the register looking bored.

“Explain something to me,” asked my roomy. “What’s a latte?”

“It’s got milk in it.”

“And a mocha? What is that?”

The girl looked perplexed. “It’s got…”

She paused for a long time, obviously having no idea what the stuff she added to a mocha actually was.

“Some kind of chocolate?” I offered.

She nodded, looked relieved, and for the first and only time during our encounter, smiled just a bit. A way of thanking me, I suppose, for not exposing her ignorance, which was unnecessary. She was doing quite well enough at that on her own.

“And they’re two…” my roommate started to say before being interrupted, as realization finally came to the wannabe barista.

“Well, I can make them together, with both,” the barista offered, returning to her deadpan, noncommittal stance.

“Yes, do that” my roommate answered calmly and politely, while I suppressed the urge to find something heavy and hard to lob and bounce off the barista’s head.

I figure she’s going to go far in the hospitality trade.

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Christine Hall

Christine Hall is a journalist and writer who lives near Winston-Salem, NC.

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