Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Californian Demonstrates that I Have Become a New Yorker

I've been sidelined a few days with a stomach bug, but I'm well enough now to stir around some. We took a drive to Los Altos, a nearby town, and while we there went into a busy coffee bar, where they were taking a long time to fill orders. The cashier asked for my name; this always gives me a slight desire to lie, to call myself Melchior or Ulysses, but I never have yet. After quite a while, I heard the barista say "Mark" so I claimed my drink, went outside to sit down, took a sip and -- feh, chai! Way too sweet. I took it back, told the young man it was an error, and that perhaps there were two Marks. Nope, he said, he'd called out Bob. Oh well, I said, one syllable name, hard to hear... Then an officious man, clearly the manager, swept in and said to me, Did someone get a chai? and swept away with the drink.

So far so good. But then, as my new coffee is being prepared, the manager sweeps back to the kid again, clearly thinking about blaming him. But then he says, What, did someone who wasn't Bob just take the chai even though you called Bob?

I said, I took the chai, it's a one syllable name, it was hard to hear. And he said, well, that's why we ask for your name, and swept away again. So I said, to his vanishing back, Well, I'm just an idiot. Rather forcefully.

The interesting part of this story is that the woman beside me, politely waiting for her whatever, turned to me and made a gesture with both her hands like smoothing out a mountain, and at the same exhaled, and said, Ex-haaaale, breathe out. Meaning, clearly, let it go.

There was probably a time in my life, back in my old Arizona days, when I'd have thought that was admirable. Ah, let's rise above the fray, let's release tension and rise to a higher plane... Thus the proof that I'm a New Yorker now: I want my coffee made attentively and efficiently, without fuss, if somebody's going to call my name I want them to bark it loudly and clearly, thank you. But somehow the baristas in the city usually don't seem to need your name; they just look right at you and say, Medium Americano... and you're good to go.

And I don't want anyone to tell me to calm down.

I don't think Bob knows I had a sip of his chai.


Leslie said...

Gross. I mean, no offense, but I wouldn't want a used chai.

And lets face it Melchior, if you didn't always insist on using your nickname, nobody would be able to call your name and claim they'd said Bob.

I know someone who never gives her real name when ordering pizza or anything else. If I did that, I'd forget who I was.

Elizabeth said...

This is hilarious. The description of the flaky woman smoothing out the mountain was hysterical -- I imagine you having one of those Michael Douglas meltdown moments -- what was that movie? Falling Down?

lu said...

The Bastards.

All of them, I mean really-there is nothing that saddens me more than a hubris in a barista -wtf?b

Peter Kent said...

Thanks for making the lunch hour more enjoyable! I love YOUR attitude. When we want our coffee, we want our coffee done right and right away.

shoppista said...

Does telling other people to "calm down" EVER calm anyone but the person doing the telling?

Philip F. Clark said...

Clarity and attentiveness; two important components of a poet's basic core that all service staff should follow. So, read more Poetry! How refreshing to see someone get mad for a good reason.

jayme said...

since i used to be a barista, i have to defend that side briefly. no one is more demanding than a customer in a food-service environment. however, when i worked in a cafe, we never took the person's name that ordered; i think it leads to significantly more confusion. take the order, make the drink, say what it is and stick it on the counter. not too hard.

as an aside, i laughed and laughed at this. my coffee always gets mixed up with the chai. it's not the same!

Mark Doty said...

I am with you, shoppista; there is little more annoying than being told to calm down, and the statement has almost an immediate opposite effect.

Catherine in SF said...

Your description of "smoothing the mountain" was perfect! I've seen this done (and done it myself) but only tongue in cheek, though it sounds like the woman in the coffee shop was serious (and oh, so much more highly evovled than you!) As for the employees, doesn't hospitality preclude blaming customers except for the most egregious cnduct?