The Old Coot watches the show?

When I’m out of town, at one of our favorite destinations, I hang out in a Starbucks with a gang of coffee klatch pals; Mike, Mike #2, Don, Steve, Alan, Ed, Dan, Rita, Scotty, Lou, John, the third Mike and the other Merlin. The coffee shop is one of the new models: high ceilings, a long work counter, exposed steel beams, heat ducts and track lights. An industrial motif! It was built to replace a perfectly fine set-up, except it didn’t have a drive-up window. It’s a noisy place – six to eight servers are behind the counter – steam is hissing – metal containers bang and clank – globs of goop, coconut milk and other flavorings slop around, the metal ceiling bounces the racket back through the seating area.

There’s a cashier station at one end of the counter and a pick-up space at the other. As orders are prepared, the customer’s name and selection is shouted out, “Brenda, Mocha Late with two shots!”  

Call ahead orders are placed in the same pick up space, but with less yelling. I’ve got the Starbuck App with the remote ordering capability, but I never used it till the other day when the line at the register was out the door. I sat down with the klatch and put in my order. In a few minutes I heard, “Merlin – Tall Black,” shouted above the din. In effect, I’d cut ahead of the line and felt a tinge of guilt, having grown up in a “wait your turn and don’t crowd ahead” generation. But, it was an emergency; I was in caffeine withdrawal. 

And what a din in this place – with its high ceilings and the beverage manufacturing process going on behind the counter. It’s so noisy you can’t have a conversation unless you lean in. We sit in a circle and look like a group of ducks on a pond taking turns bobbing forward to hear what’s being said. I think the company should adopt the slogan, “Starbucks – bringing people closer together.”

Sometimes I give up trying to have a conversation and just sit there, watching the drama behind the counter – all the servers are equipped with headsets and microphones, to take orders from the drive-in and call-ahead crowds, and to communicate with each other. They are the cast in a play, running back and forth, shouting out customer names and beverage orders while slopping liquids, steaming milk, turning on mixers, and rattling pots that send a crescendo of blended noise over the audience. It sounds like an off-key orchestra playing background music for a one-act, musical play with actors racing around the stage in a frenzy. 

This musical would be funny if you didn’t see it for what it was, a modern day sweat shop, where workers toil at full speed, time on end, in an atmosphere that qualifies for an OSHA citation; noisy, confusing, random steam eruptions shooting in all directions and relentless mixing and serving. I’m sure the Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, appreciates their dedication, but he might consider giving them a thank-you bonus every so often, for his $13.4 million dollar salary and projected $50 million bonus if these workers achieve the corporate goals. I could then stop contributing to the tip jar. Then, it would be a perfect place for an old coot cheapskate.  

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