Infrequent Buyer Reward


I admit it. I like the 2 local Starbucks I frequent.

Hyperion: a robust longing

I wish I lived near my beloved Hyperion.

But Dorothy,

we’re not in Kansas– that is to say Fredericksburg– anymore.

One of my Starbucks is where I meet biweekly (bimonthly?) with my girls. In warm weather, I ride my bike there; in cold weather, I try to justify driving by combining the trip with bike-unfriendly errands. My own carbon/guilt-offset, I suppose.

We four talk non-stop for 2 hours and could easily go on for another blur of time, but eventually guilt and life tug us away from this sustaining pause. Two weeks later, we reunite over all-things-considered coffee, tea and oatmeal. I’m the one asking for a splash of barista-controlled soy milk on my oatmeal.

My other Starbucks is within walking distance of my house. It shares a parking lot with my regular grocery store, so I am within its lure rather too often.

But I don’t fetishize coffee as much as Some Folks I know. I’m pretty sure my sweetie would voluntarily give up wine and chocolate before anyone could pry the grande coffee cup out of his jittery hands. No Frackin’ Way, for me. But to each her/his own, of course. I save my coffee-house haunts for socializing.

And, recession/unemployment has ended the occasional spontaneous splurge on a cup of take-out joe.

Except last Tuesday.

Oh man, I was dragging.

It was almost 3:00, and I had just enough time before I was due to meet Sam at school to grab a tall soy latte. Yeah, I could have made a bracing cup of tea at home for virtually nothing, but I know the economy needs a boost as much as I needed one that afternoon. And no!—and with increasing self-recrimination– I cannot make my own cup of coffee at home.

Continuing the list, three things I can’t do:

  • Grill
  • Cut the grass
  • Make coffee

I’m not sure if all that twisting counts as my Constitutionally Guaranteed Rationalization for today or for last Tuesday. I do know that if I had bowed to guilt and not enjoyed a three dollar and change cup of energizing comfort that day, I would not have met Ishmael.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

Ishmael, really?” At Starbucks? Isn’t that just a little too coincidental? Frankly, I have no idea what the guy’s name was, but being of a literary bent, I’m going with Ishmael.

When you order a “specialty coffee” such as a tall soy latte, you have that couple of minutes of standing around waiting for your order.

Have you ever watched the people as they try to fill that time?

If you come in with a friend, you probably chat. If you’re there solo, however, what do you do? Look at the latest CD release? Stare at the holiday sale items? Monitor the baristas to ensure they make the coffees in the correct order? Because don’t you hate it when someone who ordered after you gets their coffee first?

Civilization depends on strict adherence to this most basic social entitlement:

First come, first served.

Last Tuesday, I was solo.

During my time in the cash register area, I was vaguely aware of a man speaking at a somewhat louder volume than social convention usually dictates, but in the midst of paying the pretty cashier whose perfect red lipstick always fascinates me, I didn’t make any further calculation. If I had, I probably would have headed for the condiments bar instead of the order-up area.

Ishmael’s volume wasn’t the only thing registering as out of step.

As I rounded the counter to wait for my coffee, I became aware of the body language of the person receiving Ishmael’s gush of observations. It was that awkward posture of someone trying, it appeared politely, to get out of the crosshairs. But this wasn’t an airplane. He wasn’t trapped until landing. So nodding and smiling indulgently, he stowed his computer and perhaps whatever expectations he had for an industrious afternoon, and left, taking my social buffer with him. Too fast for any reaction, Ishmael sidled right up to me with actually a pretty witty remark about the changing weather.

Quick, think…

What had I just heard on NPR? Oprah? about our most basic desire being the need to feel validated.

So I took a deep breath, looked Ishmael square in the eyes, and listened.

I didn’t look at my watch or stammer about really needing to pick up my kid or suggest that I was inwardly squirming with impatience. I just listened while Ishmael told me about his devastating car accident and needing life-saving surgery which has left him bankrupt and unable to work.

But grateful for his life.

A pause came, and it didn’t even take nearly as long as if I had tried to manufacture one. I smiled and said I was really sorry that life had been so difficult recently. And then Ishmael gave me a gift, better even than getting carded as a 48-year-old woman. He told me I was radiant.

Thanks, Ishmael. I’m not really, but at that moment, I did see a ray of hope.

[Dedicated with love–and long-windedness– to Vicky, Toni & Janet.]


2 Responses to “Infrequent Buyer Reward”

  1. sydney Says:

    You’ve been a self-professed Luddite for some time now, and this is where it pays off. Lots of people waiting for their Starbucks coffee assume the iHunch position, and tune out the loud talkers, the baristas, and the cashier’s red lipstick. You remain an observer of people, and accessible, and that’s so nice. If I were a stranger needing validation in a coffee shop, I would zero right in on you, babe.

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