I went into our local Starbucks today, wondering whether it was going to be one of the hundreds that will get closed. I hope not. I need someplace reliable to go to when I’m striving to stay awake in mid-sentence — and I don’t feel like going to the other nearby franchise that’s in the shopping center owned by a vegetarian lunatic. (Over the years since she inherited the shopping center, the lunatic has run off business after business that isn’t pure enough or pro-four-footed enough for her standards. In the meantime, she’s caused several stores and restaurants to close, putting two-legged creatures out of work and earning the undying enmity of our neighborhood. But I digress into local bitterness.)
At the Starbucks, I couldn’t help noticing, the usual behind-the-counter clerk wasn’t there. He’s a perfectly swell guy and all that, but his unbridled enthusiasm often drives me nuts.
“How are you today?” he always screams at me, as if we were long-lost friends.
Fine, I usually mutter. Which isn’t true. If I were fine, I wouldn’t be needing a caffeinated pick-me-up. Then, out of Southern politeness, dammit, I always have to ask him how he is.
“Fan-TAS-tic!” he screams back. “I’m having a great day today!”
God. To the Starbucks town crier, every day is fan-TAS-tic. He announces my “great choice!” of a beverage, then turns to somebody else. “Have a wunn-derful day!” he tells me before I leave, his face lighting up like an all-purpose Christmas tree.
By this time, my nerves are so frazzled I don’t need the damned coffee. Why, I wonder, can’t I just get my drink from somebody who’s nice and quiet and appreciates the fact I don’t go to Starbucks to engage my own personal cheerleading squad? I just want a drink, a little lift, my God-given right as an American to get some kind of overpriced, bastardized latte. I’ve come to dread the ritual, the screaming, the neon-lit good cheer.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s Starbucks’ problem. Too many counter cowboys like this guy who are driving mild-mannered coffee drinkers away. Can’t I just order something from a sullen teenager who glares at me and forgets to command me to have a greaaaat day?
It reminds me of a nearby restaurant my husband and I have been to a couple of times. The food is good, the atmosphere is fine, and all that. But the waiter, whom we always get, no matter how hard we try to seek out a faraway corner, drives us nuts. He has a deliberately soulful-looking face with a carefully cultivated resemblance to Nicolas Cage, and he wants to tell us all about himself and his life. One time, he even gave us his business card.
We want to sit. We want to eat. We want to talk to each other. It’s a restaurant, not an encounter group or a mixer.
So maybe the restaurant will close, our neighborhood Starbucks will fold its tent. And you won’t be able to blame the economy, the vegetarian lunatic or the product. They’ll both be the victims of too much over-the-counter personality. We don’t want your life story or your admonitions to go out and knock’em dead. All we really wanted was a good meal or a cup of coffee. Maybe somebody forgot that.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)