Five dollars, gone

I was getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks a few weeks ago, I rarely go to Starbucks, I’m way too self-conscious about how much it costs, about how it’s so much cheaper to make my coffee at home. But I was out, and I needed some, and so Starbucks it was. And going to Starbucks, even though it’s not a regular thing for me, I get in there, I get on line, I know exactly what to do. It’s like somehow the etiquette of getting coffee at Starbucks is hardwired into our social DNA.


Of course there was a long line, but they usually move pretty fast. Usually, but this one, maybe it was just one of those days where all of the baristas were each having a simultaneous day where everything was slightly off, it wasn’t moving fast at all. Standing on a long line, it’s always the same problem, by the time you realize that the line is moving way too slowly, you’ve already invested too much time standing in line to back out, even though it’s crazy to wait around that long, for what, for iced coffee?

And I had no way of judging, not really, but it felt like I was about halfway through the line when this lady came in and started hawking bootleg DVDs. “DVDs, five dollars,” she opened up a plain Jansport backpack, showing off her stash like an oversized deck of cards. They all look the same, bootleg DVDs, the way-too-slim jewel case, the obviously printed-at-home cover, an image probably downloaded straight from Google Images.

This happens all the time, whenever there’s a long enough line, the bootleg DVD people, it’s like they have a radar. And yet paradoxically, I’ve never once witnessed an actual sale, not even anybody remotely expressing interest. I looked around, none of the baristas or anybody behind the counter made any sort of sign that even registered this lady’s presence.

I’d made the mistake of buying a bootleg DVD once, when I was eighteen, the first time I ran into somebody actually selling illegal movies I thought, no way, people actually do this? I think I bought The Ring. But that was the last time. The quality was awful, the sound unlistenable. Why would anybody do this to themselves?

I ordered my drink and had to stand off to the side, the after-order waiting space where the baristas call out your name when your drink is ready. Any semblance of what once was an orderly line of people was gone, we were now just a loose collection of bodies, people getting their drinks and then zigging and zagging by everyone else, trying to add a little cream, hoping to make it to the exit.

And this lady was still trying to get people to buy DVDs. “DVDs, five dollars,” she kept saying, holding out her offering, showing the inside of her backpack as if to say, there’s even more inside, I can mix up the selection here, just give me the slightest inkling that you’re interested in purchasing something, come on.

The line was no more and I was trying my best to zone out, to stop automatically trying to keep track of who ordered first, and whether or not the drinks were being handed out accordingly. This lady wasn’t going anywhere, it was crowded enough that, I guess she probably lost track of who declined to humor her, which was everybody really, nobody paying her any attention. I wondered how long they’d keep a movie in circulation, if after a certain amount of time, they maybe erased the discs and uploaded a more current bootleg.

“Rob!” the barista called my name, and by this point I just wanted out, I said a thank you and made a beeline to the door. “Hey!” someone called my way as I stepped out onto the street, it was a cop. I turned around, and the bootleg lady was right behind me. She took off, running down the block, I thought about how the cop recognized her so easily, she must have been a repeat offender. He chased after her for half a block or so but gave up, she was gone, lost in the crowd, and he didn’t really look like he was that into the idea of giving a serious chase.

My iced coffee was gone in what felt three or four sips. In no time I was left with a giant cup filled all the way with ice. Five bucks gone, I thought, and as I looked for a trashcan to throw it out, I wondered if the DVD might not have been a smarter purchase. No, just equally bad, the exact same amount of waste.