Tag Archives: Starbucks

Forced conversation while waiting in line

I was in line at a Starbucks when this guy to my back started chatting me up about raw sugar. “It’s so much better than the processed white stuff,” was his gist, and I just kind of nodded, making sure to smile so as to maintain a base level of a friendly enough disposition, but without responding to anything more than, “Oh yeah?” and, “huh.”


It’s like, you find yourself in a situation like that, where you’re in line, where you’re dealing with an unknown variable introduced into your fixed amount of time spent waiting, there aren’t too many options. Of course, you could just leave, just make an abrupt exit. That would certainly be the easiest way of not having to address that variable.

But then you wouldn’t have your coffee, and that’s why you’re standing in line in the first place. And so, bound to the fact that there’s nothing that you can really do for the foreseeable future, you’ve either got to engage this unknown, or ignore it. There’s potential for danger in either situation.

Some people don’t like being ignored. If someone says something to you, and you don’t respond back, you’re sending your own message, not interested, back off. Assuming you’re not dealing with a total psycho, at the very minimum, the rest of that wait is going to be awkward, regardless of how cool you try to play things off.

But if you decide to engage, how far should you insert yourself into the conversation? My tactic is always to do what I did above, to just kind of not commit to anything. “Yes, I hear you. I acknowledge that you are saying something to me,” is the underlying message of anything coming out of my mouth. And even this doesn’t always work, depending on how aggressive the other person is in pushing his or her point of view.

In the case of processed vs. raw sugars, I could just tell that this guy had an agenda. And the fact that he wasn’t afraid to start hurling his opinions on a random stranger in line at a coffee shop made me assume that he’d have no problem exploring the boundaries of just how far this interaction could go.

But my very passive contributions seemed to have worked, and after a while this guy started bothering someone else. “Hey man, can you believe how much post-consumer waste just winds up choking our local ecosystems?”

When he got to the barista, I could hear him making sure to specify his preference in raw sugar over the white stuff. “I don’t want that toxic crap anywhere near my latte.” And the barista was like, “Sir, unless you want a flavored syrup, all of the sweeteners are at the counter behind you, right next to the milk and napkins.”

And I’d been listening to this guy for a lot longer than I wanted to. Again, I didn’t have a choice in the matter, not if I wanted my coffee. Still, a big part of me wanted to be like, “All right man, we get it, you don’t like processed sugars. But what the hell dude? You’ve never been to a Starbucks before? You don’t know about the sugar packets on the counter to the back? Come on man, cut the act, all right? Make your own hippie coffee at home, because this place is about as industrialized as a cup of coffee gets.”

But of course I didn’t say that, because that would have only extended my forced coexistence with this bozo for a potentially really long amount of time. And I didn’t want that. I wanted my coffee. And then I wanted out.

Don’t mess with Greg’s coffee

I was with my friend Greg last week, waiting on line at a Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. “And can you leave like an inch or two of space for milk? Please? Thank you,” Greg asked the barista. And I saw it, I saw how everything went down, the polite request, it was almost like he was afraid to ask, like he was really trying to communicate how he didn’t want to be a pain, if he could just get a little less coffee. And then the please and thank you, all very, very timid.


“Here you go Craig,” the barista handed him the cup of coffee. I could tell by Greg’s face that something wasn’t right, and seeing as how there was only one aspect of that coffee that could’ve gotten him upset, I guessed that just by holding the cup, that he could feel the weight, he could tell that something wasn’t right.

My initial instinct told me that the cup was probably filled too high. Maybe some of the hot liquid leaked out of the top hole on the cover, a dead giveaway that the container had reached maximum capacity. But then again, it could have been almost comically under-filled. Maybe instead of one or two inches of space, there were four or five.

I think back to my customer service days. I hate to admit it, because it’s something that I can only really describe as a serious character defect, but a lot of my interactions with customers and guests were directly influenced by the fickle nature of my mood. Sometimes I wouldn’t feel like going to work and waiting tables. And I don’t know what it is, because it’s not something that I want to have happen, but every once in a while, someone would ask me a perfectly reasonable request, like, “Can I get some extra ketchup, please?” and my internal reaction would be this automatic, “Go fuck yourself. I hate you.”

And of course, I don’t want to be that guy. That’s just not a nice way to live. And if you want to be employed as a waiter or a barista or whatever, you can’t be that guy. You’ll get fired. But on an especially dark day if I just couldn’t get my better nature to wrest control of my actions, I had a choice, I could just not get them any extra ketchup. I could say, “Sure, coming right up,” and then disappear for a while. Or I could take a really long time, watch for that customer to flag down someone else, and then right as he’s in the middle of asking that person, “Hey, could I get some extra ketchup, please?” I could show up in mid-sentence, “Here you go, sir,” make it look like he’s the one being really annoying.

This is all terrible, awful behavior, and I hope that nobody thinks that I’m condoning it or trying to make it OK. And it’s not like that’s something that I did, certainly not often. But yeah, I’d be lying if these thoughts weren’t a part of my underlying consciousness, that there’s something in me, and I’m sure in a lot of service industry workers, that just don’t want to, they don’t want to do anything, even if it’s a perfectly good-natured request, it’s so easy to slide into this almost comfortable pit of bitter entitlement.

Anyway, Greg took his coffee over to that little table by the side where you put your milk and sugar in and, it was just as I’d initially suspected. That coffee cup was filled all the way to the top. By the time Greg managed to get the lid off, there was coffee splashing down everywhere. He couldn’t even lift it up without spilling even more, and the cardboard container was already stained, becoming visibly warped by having so much hot liquid poured over the outside of the cup’s lip.

His face said that he was pissed, but I didn’t expect what happened next. I thought, maybe he’d try to take a big sip, which he did, but it was too hot to really get down a good gulp. And there was still the mess to deal with. I thought maybe he’d shake his head back and forth a little bit, try to make eye contact with the barista, give him a really nasty look. Of course the barista wouldn’t be looking. You don’t want to engage too much. The key to being passive aggressive is to focus on the passivity. That way if you get called out, if some guy that you screwed over confronts you, you’re not giving him anything like eye contact or any other sort of ammunition to further provoke a fight.

And I said it already too, that Greg’s a pretty cool guy, very polite, hardly confrontational. But that same thing that’s in me as a waiter, that same voice telling me to tell random people “fuck you” for asking for ketchup, it had to have been in Greg too. And sometimes you just can’t hold it back. Sometimes you know you shouldn’t do something, but you do it anyway.

So Greg went right up to the counter and screamed, “Hey!” and the barista looked up, and Greg splashed the whole cup of coffee right on him. And I’ve got to say, it was a perfect shot. Obviously you can’t go for the face, because that’s a hot cup of coffee, and you’re looking at burns, at legal action. No, it was right in the middle of this guy’s thick, green apron, right where you just knew there were enough layers of apron and black t-shirt and undershirt to absorb a lot of that heat. But it was a big cup, a venti, and so now this guy was soaked. And maybe it wouldn’t scald him, but there was probably a burning sensation, or at the very least, a really uncomfortable feeling of being very hot and wet.

And we just walked out. Nobody said anything, no manager came running after us. Because what were they going to do about it? What would I have done if I were in that barista’s position? I have no idea. It felt really good at the time, to have been there, to have witnessed what surely felt like such a release, just taking that “fuck you” and returning it right to sender, but without actually having to have done anything, no guilt afterward, no regret.

Because there would have been regret, if that were me anyway. Even now, a week later, I can’t help but thinking, what if that guy really did just make a mistake? What if he was really busy, and meant to leave that extra inch, but for whatever reason, he forgot? What if he’s just so conditioned to filling those cups all the way up, that it’s not even a conscious decision anymore, that it’s more muscle memory than anything else? And yeah, he made a mistake, but it’s a mistake. And now he’s got to, what, ask the manager for a new apron? For a new black t-shirt? What if they didn’t have any available? Would he have to go home, leave his coworkers short-staffed? “And why did he splash you? What did you do to piss him off?” the manager might ask, suspiciously.

No, I can’t, I couldn’t, it would have been too much. And I was expecting something out of Greg, an apology, maybe just the slightest expression of remorse, but nothing. I’ve seen him like once or twice since, and it’s like it never happened. And I don’t know, man, there’s something of that in me, definitely, and I’m pretty sure Greg has a little bit of it too. What else is inside? Aren’t you just a little bit sorry? What if he got him in the face? In the eyes?

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.

There, I said it

I’m going to go ahead and say it: I don’t like Starbucks. There, I said it. Come on, it’s like, why does everybody like Starbucks? They’re so stupid, with their dumb green signs, and their lines of people waiting to buy coffee. Oh look at me, I’m Starbucks, I sell bottles of water and little packages of fruit salad in an open display right before checkout. And get a load of this, I have Wi-Fi. Does anybody need to use the Internet? Because I have Wi-Fi.

And I’m going to go ahead and say another thing: I hate Wi-Fi. There, I just said that too. It’s like people can’t go anywhere without having to log on to the nearest Wi-Fi network. Every time somebody asks me, “Hey man, do you know if this place has Wi-Fi?” I want to be like, “Fuck you, man. I hate Wi-Fi. Why don’t you just use your cell phone’s data plan? Aren’t they all like unlimited data anyway? And even if it’s not, how much data are you really using, sitting there checking out Facebook at this Starbucks? Huh? And why are you asking me, do I look like I work here? Fuck no, man. A guy’s not allowed to wear a green hat, black polo, and green pants to a Starbucks without working at Starbucks? And who the hell are you, anyway? Where have you been for the past hundred years? Everybody knows that Starbucks has Wi-Fi, just look around man, what do you think all of these people are doing with their laptops open, huh? Playing solitaire? They’re not. Get lost.”

And I don’t even like coffee. Wow, I can’t believe I just said that, but there it is, I said it. It’s entirely way too much of a big deal over nothing. You ever see coffee in the wild? It doesn’t look anything like coffee. It’s these tiny little berry things, the kind of wild berry-looking fruit that your parents warned you not to touch as a little kid. OK fine, I won’t eat the berries, I’ll just cut them open, take the seeds out, let them dry, then I’ll roast them, grind them up, pour boiling hot water over them, and then drink the resulting brown liquid. What are you crazy?

You know what else I hate? Coffee cups. Let me get this straight, you make a stupid little paper cup to hold all of that boiling liquid, you pour the hot liquid inside, and then you reach to grab it, realizing that it’s too hot to hold. OK, that might have been an acceptable mistake the first time around. But to keep doing it over and over again? And you get those little sleeves? Hold on, I forgot to say, “there, I said it.” OK, I said it. So here, I’m saying it one more time, those sleeves are stupid. Just make a stronger coffee cup. Don’t take some piece of garbage cardboard and give it to me like, look, this is for you, so you don’t burn your hand. How about just don’t give me a cup of coffee, and don’t talk to me about Starbucks.

And you know what, I said that I hated coffee cups, but I hate all cups. It’s like, here, let me totally insult your intelligence and pour all of this water into some stupid receptacle, because you’re too dumb to figure out how to get that liquid inside of your mouth without me having to literally set it down right in front of you. Oh gee thanks for the cup of water. What, no instruction manual? Whoops, I accidentally poured everything out on the floor instead of in my mouth. Looks like I’m too much of an idiot to know how to use a stupid cup.

There, I said that too. I said it all. And I hate coffee, I hate cups, I said it. There. And I hate water. I hate the fact that we have to drink anything at all. What’s wrong with having a dry mouth? I like having a dry mouth every once in a while. There. It’s like, you ever have a conversation with somebody and they start talking really fast and all of the sudden they spit a little spit bubble in your mouth? I said it. I hate it. There. That would have never happened had humans evolved in such a way that they didn’t constantly need to wet their whistles with stupid liquid water. That’s why, given the option, I’ll always choose the intravenous saline solution. Because, fuck you biology, nobody tells me how to stay hydrated. You tell me what to do and I’ll do the opposite. I just don’t like it. I don’t have to like it. Everybody else likes it? I’m not afraid to go ahead and say it. I hate it. There. I said it. There.