I was sitting outside Starbucks, enjoying my coffee, half decaf-half blonde extra nonfat, trying to think of a poem, something good. Nothing. The best I could come up with, although I only gave inspiration about 20 seconds to show up, was a skinny haiku.
A tall blonde nonfat
table outside nothing more
cell phones chatter noise.
It wasn’t much; but it started the day off on a creative bleep – see what else would come my way. With that thought, 2 young women baristas, clip boards in hand, walk up to the guy sitting at a table opposite me.
The Manager-in-training said, “Hi, Jason. Mind if we ask you some questions about your service you received today?” She would do most of the talking. The other one was Chinese-American and was a knockout – long raven hair loosely piled on top of her head, eyelashes way out there, and dressed all in black with a gossamer blouse.
“No. Go ahead,” Jason said.
“What’s ya’ drinkin’?”
“No blonde. Pike sucks.”
“How is it? Okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Yeah, service was okay. It’s always excellent here. You know this is my home Starbucks.”
“Well, that’s good. Got any comments, anything else?”
“Since you asked. My wife and I were in L.A. and we went to the Starbucks there, but they didn’t have any water. You see, my wife was born without salivary glands and she needs to drink a lot of water. When I asked for a glass of water to go, all they had was this metal decanter with some small Dixie Cups like the kind you find at the dentist.”
“We always give out water, even to the homeless guy who comes around. I don’t know his name.”
“I know you do. I see him, don’t know his name, drinking a venti water all the time,” Jason said.
Knockout said, “I give him water.”
“Did you complain?”
“Called corporate headquarters,” Steve said.
“You know I’m a gold member. Sometimes I’m in here twice a day.”
Gold member? What was this guy talking about. Have I been missing something? And he used venti. He speaks Starbucks.
“What about our furniture, our interior and all that? How’s that?”
“Here it’s fine, but the Waterman store… I’ve talked to Dave about them. Here, let me show you what I’m talking about.” He starts showing them pictures of interiors of Starbucks stores on his phone. The women are a little rocked back on their heels. “Oh, yeah, I got pictures.” Jason goes through about a dozen pictures, detailing the pros and cons of each interior. The Waterman store, the nearest rival, got blasted. I could sense that the young women were hiding their gloating.
Then Jason got on the subject of Starbucks stock. Jason knew everything about it – price history, current p/e ratio, you name it and he knew it. The Manager-in-training knew about how employees could buy and how they could sell shares. Knockout didn’t know anything, and I lost interest in her at this point.
“Some baristas in the early days became millionaires. Just not a millionaire but a multimillionaire,” Jason said.
Jason saw that I was paying attention, and he didn’t seem to mind that I was listening in. I thought, “I’ll tell them when they ask me for the survey: I like my coffee like I like my women, strong and cold. That’ll get a laugh. Then I’ll make up some water story. But, maybe Jason won’t like that. I might be disrespecting him by one upping his water story…” I continued to think up a story as the three of them moved away over by the entrance doors. Manager-in-training gave me a look that said she was highly amused by what was going down, one for the books. Not a customer from hell, but one from who knows where, a Starbucks super customer. She didn’t know that getting a cup of coffee could mean so much. Just thought that was corporate propaganda that they tell you about in company indoctrination, as a new employee. Maybe they were right. They weren’t in the coffee business. They were in the people business.
Jason wanted to show them what he was talking about – something about water stains from mineral deposits. They eventually came back, and I had come up with a water story. I was ready . I’ll even show them my haiku. The young women thanked Jason “for his time” and went back in the store. I think they learned their lesson never to ask a customer again for their input. If they had a complaint, fine, but never for their input. Let sleeping dogs dream about chasing rabbits.
What the heck? I was all geared up ready to go. Ready to make them laugh, and they retreated to safety behind the counter. Jason, you must have ranted on for half an hour. You cut into my time. Now where am I going to use my repertoire? How about on you, Jason?
“You a Starbucks employee or something?” I asked.
“Nah, just a customer,” Jason said.
I told him, “Never used to drink Starbucks until they got Blonde. Pike sucks.”
Jason gave me a knowing nod of approval for both my discretion in coffee as well as my conversion to Starbucks. I sensed he was baptized as a Starbucks.
We talked about coffee. We talked about Pike, Blonde, decaf. What happens to them over time, the chemistry. How they’re roasted. Various independent coffee shops that have come and gone in the community.
“The way you know Starbucks – I know Pollo Loco. I can tell you all about all their stores all over the state. “
“Oh, yeah?” Jason said with a look on his face that I too was one of them. The coffee buzz had me hearing Jefferson Airplane singing “…I can tell from your coat, my friend, that you’re from the other side…purple berries…wooden ships on the water…”
“Don’t go in the one in Bakersfield. It smells like a dead chicken with wet feathers,” I cautioned.
We talked for a while about Pollo Loco: its menu, store locations, its business history, its recent public offering and its future as an investment. Then I said to Jason, “I was going to tell them my Starbucks water story but thought it might be disrespecting you since yours was true and mine is just made up.”
“Nah, that would be alright,” he said.
“You want to hear it?”
“I was in this Starbucks talking to this old guy, just like I’m talking to you, when he says to me, I think I’m having a heart attack. Get me some water, got to take my nitrate.”
I go to the counter and the girl tells me, “It’s against store policy to give out water.”
I turn around, and the guy is laid out on the floor, clutching his chest. I go to him and explain the policy about free water. I ask, “You want something else?”
He says, “Blonde.”
I go back to the counter and the girl says, “Sorry. All we got is Pike.”
I turn around and holler to the guy because I don’t want to lose my place in line, “ALL THEY GOT IS PIKE.”
He says something but his voice is weak and I can’t hear him. “What? Can’t hear you,” I say.
He gasps, “No Pike. PIKE SUCKS. “
I ask the girl, “How about a decaf?”
She says, “We can do a decaf, but it’ll take a couple minutes. Gotta’ do a pour over.”
photo credit: Thomas8047 via Flickr, cc