Cup o’Joe

The following is a true story about an adventure to Starbucks. The names, places, and events have been changed to protect the innocent. My name is Joe.

It all began a few weeks ago, in San Antonio. My mother, her cousin Louise and I were there for Jack’s wedding. Jack doesn’t play a part in this story, but his mother Joan does. She, Mom, and Louise are cousins.

The day after I signed the death certificate of Jack’s bachelorhood (I was the best man and a witness, poor Jack), Joan wanted to treat Mom and Louise to their first Starbucks visit. She knew that Mom was a cappuccino junkie, specifically General Foods International Coffee Italian Cappuccino. I think Mom would get the stuff piped into her using a slow-drip IV if she could still taste it.

Joan has always lived in what we would call a ‘big city’: Cincinnati, Memphis, Louisville, and San Antonio. That was just one of her appeals. She and Jack would come to visit us in the little town of Lexington bringing their big city talk and ideas. And we’d show them the good ole Southern hospitality. Mom and I both enjoyed their summer visits, except maybe the time when we found out that Jack was allergic to wasp stings. I felt real bad about being able to outrun him.

Anyway, back to Starbucks. Mom and Louise had never been to a Starbucks. I had. And I knew it was going to be interesting because I know them, and I know how they are. They grew up in a time when coffee was coffee. Your choices were black, with crème, with lumps, or a combination of these. And I knew that Starbucks offered roughly a bazillion combination of flavors.

On the way to Starbucks Mom, Louise and Joan were reminiscing, except when Joan was side-seat driving. I would have thoroughly welcomed it, if it weren’t for the confusing directions: “Stay in this lane. Or on second thought, the right lane would be better. We need to turn soon, so make your way to the other lane.”

During their conversation, Louise surprised us all by spouting out coffee tidbits. She seemed to delight in our fascination, especially Mom’s. “Espresso is just a straight shot of coffee made from the espresso machine without anything else added to it,” Louise pointed out. “The latte is milk steamed and blended with the espresso shot, and the mocha is basically a latte with chocolate added. You know, they call the guy who runs the machine a barista.”

I believe there was more, but I was focusing on deciphering Joan’s directions and making split-second course corrections without killing us all.

This particular Starbucks was inside one of those mega bookstores. The maze of bookshelves had several bookworms loitering in their favorite section or scurrying from one to another. The crisp smell of fresh bindings and new vellum filled the air – until I got closer to the Starbucks section. Then the pungent odor of coffee beans stripped away the lining of my nostrils.

By the time I caught up with the ladies, they were already in line. A rather tall brunette was between us. Mom had just stepped up to the counter, telling the cashier about yesterday’s wedding, the plane trip here, and about the fact that she had never been to a Starbucks.

“I just love Italian Cappuccino, but I can’t find it on your menu.” Mom was scanning the menu behind the cashier, like she was looking at one of those optical-illusion picture puzzles. I half expected her to shout, “There’s the giraffe!” or “Can you see the deer?” at any second.

“Well, I know what I want. I want a hit of chocolate,” Mom said pointedly.

“A hit of chocolate. Do you mean a mocha latte?” the cashier inquired.

“No. I don’t like those lattes. I said I want a cappuccino with a hit of chocolate.”

“Alright, ma’am. What size?”

“Medium, I guess.”

“Do you mean grande?” I could see the frustration on the cashier’s face. Learning about Mom’s fear of flying and Jack’s wedding should have soothed her. I mean Mom was treating her like family, after all.

“No, I said medium. I don’t want a large.”

“Ma’am, a grande here is a medium.”

“Oh. Okay, then.”

Louise was next in line. I watched her as she looked at the menu while Mom placed her order. Louise’s head kept bobbing up and down, jerking left to right, as she desperately scanned the menu on the wall. It looked as though she was watching two tennis games, one above the other.

Just as I heard her mumble something to Mom about not liking coffee, I noticed the brunette in front of me getting a little antsy. Feeling her pain, I offered my apology, “Sorry about this. It’s their first time to Starbucks.”

She turned around and flashed a sparkling smile, “That’s okay. I was just as bad on my first visit.” I’m sure she was lying through those pearly whites on both counts.

I missed what Louise ordered and Joan was next. She was a natural at this. A tall lungo Espresso Macchiato with wings. I had no clue what it was. I just hoped that it wouldn’t fly away.

Joan turned to look at me, “You want to order? My treat.”

“No thanks. I’m in line. I can take care of mine.” I had no desire to break in front of the frustrated but definitely cute brunette. Just then, I caught a glimpse of the guy behind the counter smiling in my direction. I guess he’s the barista.

“Okay,” Joan said.

The trio moved down to the pickup counter and chatted amongst themselves. The brunette placed her order, post-haste, and stepped around to the back of the trio. As I moved up to the cashier, there was a growl and a loud hiss. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the inept barista spray the front of his apron with steamed milk. I could see that he was not only steamed literally, but also emotionally. He put on his best embarrassed-face for a second before replacing it with a sour expression as he continued his fight with the espresso machine.

I ordered my usual – a grande vanilla frappuccino crème with whipped topping, double cupped. As I was paying the cashier, I heard the decadent pastries calling my name. “Joe. Eat me,” said a caramel brownie. “No, Joe, eat me!” yelled the double chocolate chunk cookie. The sesame bagel pouted, knowing that I’m not partial to bagels.

It was about this time that I noticed the cashier didn’t ask for my name. Back home in Jackson, they always ask for my name to write on the cup. Sometimes I pick random names to give them, like Wizaiker or Zachariah, just to see how they spell them. With five orders, my mind concocted several outcomes involving the frustrated barista. None of them ended happily.

I met up with Mom and the rest of the ladies. Mom had her mocha cappuccino in hand and Louise just picked up her frappuccino. Louise stared at it with puzzlement which I figured was because it was her first frappuccino. Soon the puzzlement jumped from her face onto mine. I did the standard double-take as I saw her draw the cup close to her mouth to lick a dollop of whipped topping out of the quarter-size hole in the cup’s top.

Louise looked to the rest of the group, “Boy, this is good. If the rest of the cappuccino tastes as good as this topping, I made a great choice.”

“W-What do you mean ‘cappuccino’?” I asked Louise.

The barista placed another drink on the counter, “Here’s the tall lungo Espresso.”

“I ordered a cappuccino and it tastes pretty good,” answered Louise. She seemed pretty excited about her selection.

“Is that cup hot or cold, Louise?” I paused here just a little to see if my question would sink in quick or if it would slow drip like coffee. “You see, if it’s cold, then that’s a frappuccino, not a cappuccino.”

Louise stared at me blankly. A bead of topping crested her nose like a snow covered mountain.

As the barista finished another drink, he said, “Here’s your cappuccino, ma’am.” He realized the drink he had sat down a minute ago was in Louise’s hand. “Uh, that’s frap’s not yours. It’s Rose’s.” He pointed to the brunette behind Louise. The brunette shifted her weight to one leg and checked her watch. “Could you give it to her?” the barista asks. Apparently, he didn’t see the whipped topping on the tip of Louise’s nose.

“You better make her another one. I touched the top of this one.” Louise sat the molested drink down on the counter. She didn’t realize her nose was still snow-covered.

The barista looked at Louise, the disgust glaring from his eyes. He snatched up the drink and tossed it in the trash as he mumbled something under his breath. He began remaking the brunette’s frappuccino and looked over his shoulder back toward me.

Mom and Joan, who had been perusing the nearest stack of books, came up to Louise. Mom asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Well, I asked that guy if the drink he put down was mine and he didn’t say anything.” Louise’s reply sounded legit. “I just thought it was mine because I was next to order.”

“Well, that was an honest mistake.” Joan was trying to diffuse the situation.

“Yeah, he should have said something when you asked him,” chimed in Mom.

I guess Joan and Mom were still zoning in their own little world; they didn’t seem to pay attention to Louise’s white-tipped nose. Am I the only one who sees this?

The barista came back to the counter holding out the fresh frappuccino, “Here you go, Rose. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

The brunette steps up to claim her prize. “That’s okay Chad. Are we still on for tonight?”

“Sure. I’m really looking forward to our first date.” I never thought I’d be so happy for Chad to be dating Rose. Those smiles he flashed must have been for her.

Louise backed away from the counter, joining Joan and Mom. A minute or so later, Chad set my double-cupped frappuccino on the counter. “Here’s yours.”

I get my drink and turn to the trio. “Are we ready to go?”

The four of us came to an agreement faster than you can say ‘bad day’. On our way out, something still bugged me.

“Louise, could you wipe the crème off your nose?”

©  2004 David Carroll. All rights reserved.