|The Grady coffee shop|
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray. . .
No. Like, literally, you do.
There I was standing at the counter. Feeling a bit fancy on this day and a little like splurging on a latte of some sort instead of something regular. Definitely more regular than the regular drip coffee of the day. Anyways. In that time I spent in queue behind those other two people, you'd think that I'd have made up my mind about what I wanted to order. And mostly, I had made a final decision--I mean, it was definitely going to be some sort of latte--but, again, since I was feeling like something fancy today, the added part of selecting a flavor shot was a little more than I could fully handle on demand.
Vanilla, Caramel, Cinnamon, Hazelnut, Almond, Irish Creme, Coconut, and . . wait. . .Peppermint. Yum. Wait. Then there were these sugar-free versions of nearly all of those flavors, too. I imagined myself saying, "Can I have a sugar free hazelnut soy latte?" Blecch. Yeah, so even though the thought of those sugar-free ones sort of grosses me out, the fact that they were thrown into the option pool made me go even slower.
I realized that I was just standing there tapping my lip and squinting my eye while the cashier-lady just stood there quietly. And by quietly I mean like she wished I would get the hell on with it. She had yet to greet me with a "top o' the morning!" or hell, even a surly up nod. Instead she just stood there like a statue with one hand on the register and the other on her hip.
Now. It seems to me that there just has to be some barista rules in this place. And technically I know that there are some when it comes to Starbucks. This, however, wasn't a Starbucks--although it was just as nice and served up all the Starbucks stuff. To be transparent, this was in the newish coffee shop that we have in Grady Hospital now which, again, is just as fine as any Starbucks.
Even still, I'm not sure if the woman standing in front of me saw herself as a "barista". I'm also not sure if she was annoyed with me, bored, having a bad morning, or all of the above. Either way, I wasn't getting too much warm and fuzzy from her. I was not.
So she sort of shifted on her feet at the register which was a subtle-ish way of saying, "Come on, lady" which I got right away. And me? I was having a good morning mostly, so I flashed her this big smile and started a conversation.
"Good morning!" My voice was all musical. She was professional for the most part but definitely not seeing the point in giving back to me all that chipper energy.
"Hello. What can we get you." I didn't put a question mark on it because she said it like a statement. No soft and fuzzy query tone to it, just a factual string of words.
"Well. . . .I was thinking of a latte. So definitely having a latte."
She positioned her hand to punch in the order and then looked up like AND?
"Umm. . .wait. . .do y'all have soy milk?"
She nodded. Then she turned to her barista-buddy and said, "Soy latte." Her barista buddy looked equally as business as she when she reached down and pulled out the vanilla soy milk.
"Thank goodness. . . you definitely don't want me drinking the regular milk latte!" I laughed at my own joke. And kind of snorted a little bit which, I know, was kind of dorky. The two others waiting behind me in line chuckled, too. But my barista? Not even the tiniest smirk.
"What size you want?"
"Uhhhh, let's see. Wait. First, I think I want some flavor in it."
So instead of asking more, she just waited.
I took a deep breath and selected. "Okay. I'll have a small size or tall or whatever you call it with a shot of . . . uhhh. . . peppermint."
"That's seasonal so we ain't got that any more."
"So y'all don't have it anywhere?"
She shook her head and clearly was coaching herself not to yell out, "NO. DAMN. PEPPER. MINT." I knew there were a few folks behind me so I quickly chose an alternative. "How 'bout some almond, then? Yes. Almond."
She swung over to the barista-buddy and called the order out. "Small Almond Soy Latte." Next she rang up the order and told me the price. I handed her a five dollar bill and added for good measure what I hoped would warm things up. "Here you go, pretty lady!" The very edge of her mouth made the teeniest, tiniest of smiles in response.
But that was about it.
When she handed me the change, I smiled at her again. Still, not much in return.
My first inclination was to be annoyed. To start on some tirade in my head about how service is lacking these days and feeling like this was evoking some PTSD from Teenage Mutant Target Checkout Chick. I even thought of finding some manager with whom I could pull aside and share my disdain. But instead, I just paused and thought before doing anything.
My experience in that coffee shop has always been positive. I'm even pretty certain that this very woman had assisted me before--and was just fine. In fact, I can say identical things about the cafeteria, the gift shop and pretty much any service-related place within Grady hospital. So admittedly, this was a bit of a detour. It was.
I thought for a moment. Maybe she was having a not-so-great morning. Maybe the last twenty-five doctors who'd entered before me had treated her like "the help" and refused to even make eye contact with her. What if this was one of two jobs or what if she'd just gotten a call from her child's daycare saying that his eye was pinkish and that she'd need to come and get him? Maybe it was all of that. Or some of that. Or none of that.
And so, I decided to keep things light. I made up my mind to give this seemingly indifferent young barista-woman the benefit of the doubt. It was as simple as that--making up my mind to see it a certain kind of way.
"Have a good day." She said that to me as she finished up the transaction and placed my receipt in my hand. And, okay, it wasn't that kind of "have a good day" that makes you feel all warm inside and ready to go out and really, truly have a good day. Instead it felt more like some drone-like, pre-programmed and scripted line that came from hours of working on retail autopilot.
Have a good day.
"Hey," I finally said while looking into her eyes. She widened hers, wondering what I was about to say. I quickly took my serious gaze to something more mischievous--right along with the tone of my voice. "Dag girlfriend! Why you gots to look so mean up in here today?"
And yes, I said "why you gots to" instead of "why must you look so" -- not because I didn't think she'd be fine with standard English, but instead because I knew that would make this a little less heavy and judgey-judgey. I also knew that because of our cultural similarities that those words would be easy and authentic.
I repeated myself for good measure. "Why you gots to be so mean up in here this morning?" That time I even rolled my neck a little--which I knew would be a funny sight from a doctor in a long, stiff white coat.
My expression was playful instead of accusatory. She saw that and immediately cracked the first real smile I'd seen the whole time I was there. "Yeah, you! You're all like, 'Tha's seasonal.' No love in it, nothin'." My impersonation was exaggerated which made her laugh. Her barista-buddy chuckled, too. "Don't be laughin' at her! You're the accomplice. I saw you over there all like, 'Soy milk? Aiight then.'"
This time every person there, including the baristas, erupted into fluffy laughs.
She defended herself the best she could to the lighthearted onlookers. "I didn't say it like that! I didn't sound that mean, did I?" She covered her mouth and looked around. People nodded all together which made us laugh even more. Her mouth fell open. "Oh my gosh! Really y'all?"
That's when I decided to make it a full on stand up routine. Not even kidding. Right in the middle of the Grady coffee shop.
"This is you--you ready?" She and the rest went along with it. I made my face as flat and surly as ever. "Mmmm hmmm. What you want, lady? And here's me: 'Uhhhh, can I have a latte?' And you're all like 'What size you want? What flavor--wait. We ain't got that.'" She reached out and pretended like she was swatting at me. I pulled back and kept with my funny business. "'Hey! How 'bout some peppermint?' 'Tha's seasonal.'"
She was doubling over the counter cracking up. So was her buddy. "I didn't say it like that!"
I put my hand on my hip and twisted my lips extra hard. "THA'SS SEASONAL."
She was a great sport about it. None of it was awkward or angry or judging. But there was a message in there that I wanted her to get. And so I made sure of that. "Look at that beautiful smile on that beautiful face! That's more like it!"
She couldn't help but grin. And her face really was gorgeous. As was that of her barista-buddy who was now smiling, too.
"You're our sunshine when we first come in here, pretty lady. I mean that." I glanced at both women over the counter. "Let your lights shine, okay y'all?"
"Yes, ma'am," they replied in unison. Both were nodding their heads like they meant that, too.
The barista buddy handed me the almond latte with the biggest, widest smile ever. And I returned the favor which really felt awesome.
As I prepared to leave, I noticed that the atmosphere was decidedly lighter. Their greetings were more pleasant and those 'have a nice days' were more genuine. And it was good. All of it was very, very good.
I'm not sure if that young woman was just tired that morning or if something altogether different had stolen her joy before I'd walked in. But whatever it was, now I realize the power of human interactions. It doesn't always have to involve a manager or a supervisor. Sometimes something as simple as a smile and some playful teasing could be enough to get the ship back on the right course. And, sure. Sometimes that may not be enough. But a lot of times-- if we give it the chance-- it is. It is.