Like most working people, I make the trek to the store to get coffee on my way to work every morning.
Most places have gone the self-service route, which is fine with me. Like the other zombies, I wordlessly head for the coffee station, efficiently get mine the way I like it, and head over to the cashier to pay.
Those of us who are regulars know the routine—starting from one side, you grab your cup and the top. Next, choose whether you want hot water (for tea), decaf, or regular, all of which is dispensed from large, stainless steel coffee makers with spigots. Shuffling right, choose if you want sugar, sweetener, or nothing. Finally, choose from among skim, regular, or half-and-half milk (or have it black).
The unsaid rule is: keep it moving. We are working people, and we need to get to the job. If someone talks to you, be nice, but be careful not to engage in conversation. I just mumble, “howyerdoinbub.”
Lately, a new generation of coffee drinkers are mussing up the works for the rest of us. At first, I suspected the half-mocha, half capp, decaf Frappuccino crowd but it’s not them. It’s a totally new strain of annoyance.
We’ve all observed the “Hey, Put a Little Coffee In That Sugar Guy.” You know the one. He gets his empty cup, and begins to violently shake sugar into it. Meanwhile, the line is getting longer and longer. You realize this poor slob is trying to make a meal out of this thing. When he finally gets around to putting coffee in, it looks like a Slushy.
We’ve all had to deal with “Wrong Way Charlie” who fills his cup up, gets to the milk, and when he’s all done, reverses fields and heads back for the container top. Meanwhile, he steps on the toes of the 43 people who are right behind him blindly moving forward. Our coffees are spilling all over our hands because, of course, we insist on overfilling them so we can sip them on the way to the counter.
Once I had a job interview and Wrong Way Charlie made me spill my coffee all over my pleated khaki pants. The interview didn’t go well, and that’s why I’m still stuck here at The Independent.
Ever see the “Serial Stirrer?” You know this guy—the line comes to a halt as he feverishly stirs his concoction like a Kitchen Aid for what seems like hours, creating a whirlpool, which turns into a vortex and inevitably ends when he spills some on the counter.
Which brings me to the “drains” on the counter. They are stainless steel, and they have slits, and they appear to the world to be a legitimate place to pour excess coffee—except it is all a mere illusion. Thus, when some slob dumps his burning hot java because he’s overfilled his cup, it will simply run off the counter and onto the pressed pants of highly paid executives like myself.
But the worst imaginable scenario confronting a coffee drinker on his way to work is the dreaded, “Construction Guy With Shingle.”
This poor guy gets sent from a construction site, the order scribbled onto a shingle in pencil. Fourteen surly guys yell out what they want simultaneously: “Coffee with one sugar and cream,” “Decaf black,” “Coffee with half and half,” and so on. The guy starts filling the cups, but he can’t read his own writing because his pencil has a nub with no lead.
Then he puts sugar in some, milk in others. But he forgets what he put in which, and now he realizes Surly Gus, the roofer, is going to rip him a new one because the coffee tastes like piss. Beads of sweat form on his forehead as he begins the unsteady walk from the coffee station, with 54 of us who have been standing there, glaring at him, waiting to pounce on the coffee spigots.
Then he remembers the other side of the shingle.
Three buttered rolls, two bagels with cream cheese, a jelly donut, four Bonac Burgers, and a nine-grain muffin for Sven, the interior designer.
He has to shuffle to the counter with everything precariously perched.
The laborer is in agony, the hot coffee seeping through the cardboard, the muffin perilously perched on top of Devil Dogs and donuts piled atop the buttered rolls. He’s staggering, trying desperately to keep his balance. “He looks like a Falling Wallenda,” I rudely exclaim.
He’s almost home free when the electric door whirls open and a group of teenage girls rush in, all talking on cell phones. They brush him, and the tray collapses.
Karl Wallenda put his high wire act together in 1922 and became famous for the seven-person chair pyramid he perfected with his adopted son, Mario. Such was their grace, they were dubbed The Flying Wallendas. In 1962, three men fell to the ground during the act. It could have been worse. Karl gripped the wire with the toes of one foot to break his own fall and simultaneously extended both arms and the other leg. Three family members grabbed a hold of his limbs and saved their lives.
But Karl never thought about retiring and, a year later, he was back performing.
The next morning the gofer was back, too, and with another big order. This time he plugged the eatables into his pockets and made two trips for the coffee, holding the collapsible tray firmly with both hands. He was learning and evolving. I slapped him on the shoulder.
“Howyerdoinbub,” he said, and kept on moving.