[This story is from a few years ago. My sister J and I were in an airport, waiting at our gate to catch a flight back home after visiting our sister in California. I was tired and needed some caffeine. I asked J if she wanted anything to drink. She said no so I took off down the terminal in search of coffee.]
I found a Starbucks and queued up in line. After a few minutes I get to the front of the line. The customer in front of me steps aside and I step forward ready to place my order and get on with my life. No one behind the counter greets me. Two employees are busy squabbling over some personal issue, work grievance, God knows what. Their conversation is not discreet. They seem unconcerned that I can hear them argue.
Finally one of them steps up to the cash register. Makes no eye contact with me. Just stands there. I realize I'm expected to walk the employee through the order, rather than the other way around. I order my usual cup of coffee.
The kid behind the counter mumbles something incoherent. He has refused to make eye contact with me and has not bothered to enunciate any of his words. Do you know how difficult it is to understand an unmotivated cashier who's mumbling at the ground?! I feel no obligation to ask him to pick the marbles out of his mouth and help the customer. Seriously, is it my job to ask him to look at me and speak clearly? No- that's a given. If the kid feels no need to make himself understood than I'm content not to understand.
"Your name?" I manage to hear.
"Erik," I respond. I see the total due on the cash register and voluntarily hand this to the kid behind the counter. I step to the side and join a group of discontented travelers staring blankly at the Starbucks counter, hoping for their beverages to appear.
I watch a Starbucks employee- not the cashier, a different employee, equally miserable and apathetic- place one, then two beverages on the counter without making eye contact with anyone in the crowd. She says not a word. I remember I was asked for my name when I ordered my beverage. The discontented, caffeine-deprived travelers exchange puzzled looks but make no inquiries. No one claims the beverages.
At this moment I decide I will take the next beverage placed on the counter. I don't care what it is; I don't care how long the other customers have been standing there, mute and timid; I'm taking the next drink. If this is Starbucks' system- to mumble incoherently, then ask a customer to say his name aloud only to place drinks anonymously on a counter- then this is what they get. I'm taking the next drink and walking away with a clear conscience.
A large beverage is placed silently on the counter. I step up, take the drink, and walk back to my gate.
My sister asks me what I ordered. I'm still steaming about the whole incident, mad at these Starbucks employees who fail to understand a very simple transaction: The customer hands over more money than a cup of coffee is worth for one reason: He expects service.
"What? Oh, I got a venti."
"A venti what?"
"What do you mean?"
"Venti is the size of the drink. What kind of drink did you order?"
"I don't remember. I just took the first drink they put on the counter."
I inspect the paper cup in my hands. I see a checkmark next to the word "Latte." I see the name "Andrew" written in red ink below the rim of the cup. "I guess I'm drinking Andrew's latte. Mmm, mmm, good."
[This story reminds me of a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm.]