Monday, June 28, 2010

one more cup of coffee 'fore I go to the valley below...

There was a universal fact that existed at the Starbucks in the Portland, Oregon airport. Soldiers never paid for their drinks.

“Hectic” doesn’t even begin to describe how busy those mornings at the airport could get. There were no less than 30 anxious travelers in line between 5 and 11 AM, and they were by and large unpleasant folks. Understandable, since we were the first stop after the demeaning and ridiculous security check, and these people hadn’t yet had their coffee. Add the stress of travelling, and you have yourself a train of grumpy, demanding customers.
But when there was a man or woman in uniform, hostilities were put aside, as proved to me by Ruth.

“I want a mocha,” she told me tersely. She was an older lady, impeccably dressed, probably on her way to Hawaii or something.

“Of course!” I chirped, in the most over-caffeinated, sugar-coated voice I could muster at 5:30 AM. “What size do you want that mocha? Do you want whip?”

This was met with an exasperated stare. “I said grande. And no.”

I sucked it up, got her name, called it out, and gave her the total. As she reached behind her to grab her purse, she saw the soldier a few paces behind in line. She stopped. When she looked back at me, she handed me the money to cover her drink. She looked back and smiled when I gave her the change.

“Thank you.” Her voice was noticeably softer. She paused before opening her wallet and pulling out a five dollar bill. “Can you make sure this goes toward his drink?”She gestured to the soldier. Hesitantly, I nodded, took the bill, and slipped it under the register.

In due course, the man in desert camo gear came up. He was tall, blue-eyed, and looked young. He was studying the menu board intently.

“Can I please get a...white mocha? In a…venti size?”

I found it hard to coat my voice with that fake sugar and extra caffeine. I looked at him and smiled. “Of course. Whip?”

“Uhh, yeah. Sure.” He reached for his wallet.

“It’s been taken care of, don’t worry about that.” I blushed as he looked up, a little confused.

“Another customer asked that this cover your drink,” I explained, waving the bill.

“Oh, no, that’s okay.” He opened his wallet. I panicked a little – I already felt moved by Ruth’s tiny, selfless little gesture, and now it was slipping away.

“Well, to be honest, I really don’t deserve a tip this big, so it might as well go toward your drink.” I completely ignored his own bill he was holding in front of me.

“What’s your name?” I asked, dropping his change into his hand.

“Josh.” He looked at me, then my nametag. “Thanks, Jami.”

“No problem.” I hesitated. “Best of luck, Josh.”

The pattern repeated all summer in that concourse. Soldiers, on their way to who knows where, always had a warm, familiar drink paid for by one of the customers ahead of them. They were always a little embarrassed (as I was, being the middleman) but they were grateful.

In the international arrivals concourse, which was never as busy, I met another soldier. Matt was tall and really handsome in his desert gear. He quickly came up and ordered a caramel macchiato. I’d never seen someone so excited to order a drink, and said as much.

He smiled, “I haven’t had good coffee in eight months.” I gave him a quizzical look as I started making his drink. “I’ve been in Afghanistan,” he explained.

No one had been there to pay for his drink. I frowned, and looked to the supervisor in the back. I asked if he wanted an extra shot (big smile and nod), and handed him a cookie before he left. He thanked me, took a drink, and then stopped.

“It’s so good to be back!” I've still never seen someone so happy to be drinking a mediocre macchiato.

I don’t support those stupid wars these men and women fight in. But I can’t stop them, so if they have to go, I’m glad I could play middleman and at least send them off or welcome them home with a warm drink.


Jami is 24, blonde, but a little on the bright side, with an infallible hope for the future marred by her relentless laziness that makes her wish that she was in Mexico about 90 percent of the time. She's currently a politico working in Olympia, Washington, which leaves her a little bored. She spends a lot of her time daydreaming and she thinks the world would be a much better place if everyone listened to The Beatles and followed their mantra, "And in the end, love you take is equal to the love you make."

Jami blogs at Jami's Trashcan.


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Allana said...

Great post! I heartily agree with you! I don't agree with war, but these men and women are peoples family and friends and they deserve our kindness :)

Ella Unread said...

That's very nice of people! I've seen how Americans treat their is touching.
But "decent coffee"? Lol, I laughed when I read that...

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post, Jami! The little kindnesses, the humanising touches for people who may miss them for a while- it's absolutely beautiful. The way people react to it and the way their hearts are lighter and heavier at once... I am at a loss for words.

It breaks my heart to be at an airport and watch all these fatigued (in all kinds of ways) men and women being shipped off to war. It absolutely breaks my heart. I say "breaks my heart" or "heartbreaking" a lot, but this truly just pains me.

I hope these tiny kindnesses go some way towards calming their concerns, their fears.. filling them up with some dutch courage, even if it's with just mediocre machiattos.

lalalalauren said...

this is so great :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Great and inspiring little story!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks everyone!

Mel said...

This is amazingly inspiring. It's funny how such a cheap, easy thing to do can have such a disproportionately profound impact on someone. $5 is nothing, but whenever someone spoils me with an unexpected coffee, it never fails to brighten my day.

Anonymous said...

What a great story, as I was reading it, I thought of my daughter, who worked at a Starbucks a couple of years ago. Imagine my surprise a few lines into the story when I saw her name (spelled correctly)!

Kris said...

I loved the last paragraph. I mean, the rest of the post was really excellent too, but the last bit sealed it for me. I think that's an attitude to aspire to.

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