Tuesday morning at the Starbucks Drive-Thru
How many times have you found yourself sitting in your car, waiting in line at the drive-thru? It’s a daily ritual for millions and millions of us. (yes, I said “us” – we’re all in this together now). Some people (truck drivers, salesmen, refrigerator repairmen, plumbers) like the ritual so much that they do it several times a day. The drive-thru is an American phenomenon. We love it. We can’t live without it.
OK, so today let’s discuss the drive-thru experience at your local Starbucks. Before we get started – in the spirit of full disclosure – I must let you know that I used to work there. Three long years. I have no axe to grind with them. I just didn’t like this so called “third place”. For those not up to speed with the phrase the “third place” it is something that Starbucks is striving to be. There is home, work, and Starbucks. It is a special place away from home where you can come, find a comfortable chair with coffee stains and scone crumbs all over it, and sit with friends or other like-minded coffee lovers. This “third place” – the coffeehouse experience – is the place where great books are discussed over a grande non-fat, sugar free, vanilla latte. It is a place where you can hear great music while relaxing over your green tea soy latte. You will hear great music from artists like Kenny G, Wyclef Jean, and Jackie Green – artists that have truly revolutionized music (um, yeah…). Yes, sipping a $5.39 cup of coffee while listening to Kenny G is my idea of the ultimate affordable luxury. The “third place” where politics, community, and true human connection all take place, while reading a modern classic novel, with Kenny G softly blowing in your ear. Ah, the third place experience. There is nothing like it. (just kidding)
(Sidebar : As I write this, Starbucks has recently announced that it will be closing approximately 600 “third places”, forcing millions of people to find coffee, conversation, scones, and human connections with baristas somewhere new. They are hoping that you will go three blocks down the street to the nearest Starbucks. More that 10,000 people – the people that have made your coffee every morning for the past three years – will be without jobs.)
So, lets get back in the car. It’s 7.07am on a Tuesday morning. I am on my way to work. My meetings (see earlier entry) begin promptly at 8am. I am not in a rush but I am in need of my morning fix of Joe (wait, they sell premium coffee so maybe I shouldn’t call it that). I meant to say that I am in need of my morning experience with my venti cup of the finest Ethiopian blend, harvested by hard working, honest coffee farmers half way around the world. Starbucks has graciously offered to share all of this with me.
I am 17th in line. The tail end of my car is hanging off the curb just off of Main Street. This place is jumping. There must be a book signing or a newly released compilation of acid jazz, singer/songwriter, joint venture CD being released today. There is something just a little more exciting than a normal Tuesday going on here. I pick up the cell phone and immediately call my wife to let her know to get down here right away.
Because I was here last Tuesday, I have a copy of my newly produced, hand-crafted, compilation CD featuring the unique blend of tracks from Feist, James Hunter, Pink Martini, Ray Charles, Chicago, Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, and a never released duo done by Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers. I pop the beautifully designed disc into the CD player. An eclectic mix of tracks pulled together by experts in Seattle. The mix works somehow. I love it because it makes me feel special, even a little bit cool.
I am on the 9th track by the time I approach the menu board. Thank God they included 12 tracks on this CD. I review the large menu board. I notice the various types of coffee available to me. The size choices. The breakfast sandwiches that smell so wonderful. The doughnuts, scones, muffins, biscotti, mugs, stuffed animals, coffee makers, French press, coffee grinders, and personalized stationery. I am mesmerized by the variety of choices laid out in front of me. I am in awe that these nice people (and, they are all very nice people) have gone to the four corners of the earth to assemble a variety of coffee, mugs, music, and merchandise just for me. Valentine’s Day is approaching so I decide to do all of my shopping right here and now. I am caught up in the excitement of the “third place” and although I am sitting alone in my car I am somehow feeling connected to my fellow human beings everywhere. I decide that I need to bring a little “third place” home with me to share it with my wife. She will understand the depth of my love for her when she realizes I took the extra minute to buy that plastic coffee tumbler with the red hearts all over it. (Red hearts on my coffee tumbler– wow – these guys think of everything. My Valentine’s Day is sure to be one to remember).
Track 10 begins. It’s the third Feist track on this compilation. I don’t mind it because I discovered her on a recent iTunes ad. I am feeling pretty cutting edge now that I know she has passed the quality test at Starbucks and made it onto my fancy CD. I finally get to the speaker and am prepared to order. It is now 7:42am. I have been experiencing virtual “third place” euphoria for 35 minutes now and am in a state of mind that is beyond relaxed. I have discussed politics with the driver in the Honda Pilot behind me. I chatted and debated the key points (there are many.) of the newest Mitch Albom book with the driver of the 1983 Toyota Celica hatchback in front of me. (we can’t seem to agree on which of the 7 people you will meet first when you get to heaven– we decide to go to the Starbucks website later to see what they have to say….there is a live chat scheduled with Mitch himself. I have cancelled 3 meetings today so I can participate. I hope that he takes (and answers) the question I am going to submit via e-mail.).
Showtime. Track 11 starts to play. Norah Jones and her buddies the Little Willies begin to sing. I am in a state of pure bliss. I begin to order with an uncontrolled passion reminiscent of when I first fell in love with my wife (I still love her like this…..i just don’t normally get that excited when I’m at Starbucks).
“Hi welcome to Starbucks, it’s a glorious Tuesday morning and I am your personal Barista Tamika. I will be guiding you through your journey this morning. Now, what can I get for you?”. “Before you answer that question, may I have your first name please?”
Now this is not a question that I am used to being asked in the line at the drive-thru. The good folks at Burger Palace have never asked for my name. The guys at Big Frank’s House of Cheese Steaks drive-thru have not once asked this question of me. I am uncomfortable with giving my name. But, since the person on the other end of the speaker seems to be one of the kindest, most gentle coffee loving people that I have ever met, I go ahead and give her my name. (it should be noted that I am not comfortable enough to give her my real name). I say, “Um, my name is Mohammed Jones”.
“Well Mr. Jones, I mean – Mohammed, what wonderful experience can I create for you this fine Tuesday morning?”, she says to me. (Gosh, she is just being so nice to me. I have made a human connection. Praise humanity.).
I immediately begin to order. “Yes, I would like a few things this morning. Please give me a tall, non-fat, vanilla, sugar free soy latte with extra whip, a little caramel on top. Please put that in a grande cup, double sleeve it and make sure its extra hot”. She politely interrupts me, asking if I would like one squirt or two of caramel syrup. Well, what the heck its Tuesday morning. I go for two. She asks me if that’s all I would like. I say, “are you kidding me? I am going to make your day. I would like the following …. Give me a tall cappuccino with some extra splenda. Give me a venti Americano, please make sure its hot and add just a touch (not too much) of honey with one half of a packet of sweet & low. Stir it twice”.
Her next question to me, “How about a nice breakfast sandwich Mohammed?”. Of course I want a sandwich. “Give me a the egg and cheese one. While I am at it I’d like a few of those nice scones you have in there. Two doughnuts, chocolate please”. I can tell that Tamika is getting excited that she is dealing with one of her store’s most valuable customers. I am caught up in the moment and Valentine’s Day is approaching so I continue. (note, I hear the distant sound of what sounds like a Honda Pilot’s horn beginning to blow – but I ignore it because I am having my own personal “third place” experience). “Yes Tamika, I would also like to add a few other things to my order. I’d like the red coffee maker, two French presses, a measuring scoop, two of the Seattle city mugs with the Pike Place store on the front, some personalized stationery (yes, the one with the cool coffee bean and hearts design on it). I’d also like to know if you have any of those cute little stuffed animal barista bears. If you do, I need 6 of them – one of each of the six different designs. And oooh, before I forget – I need to get one of those new Valentine’s Day plastic coffee tumblers for my wife. She is going to love it”.
Tamika immediately plays back my order to me, not missing a single thing. She ends the playback by saying that she knows that my wife is just going to love that new tumbler. The entire staff is just crazy about them! I am relieved. I ask her if they have any of the new Wyclef Jean CDs left. The same CD that was on display at the counter during the Christmas holiday. She tells me they are out of them but recommends a CD by a new and emerging soul singer named Big Miss Thayer. I love when they make recommendations for me! I tell her to add it to the order. The sound of the horn coming from the Honda Pilot seems to be getting louder. I tell Tamika how excited I am about all that I have just ordered and also how much I look forward to meeting her when I get to the second window ahead. A little human connection on a Tuesday morning is exactly what we all need.
Tamika tells me to go ahead and pull to the first window. This step in the process always puzzles me. Just like leaving a voice mail I am fully capable of taking the next step of driving to the next window without any instruction from anyone. But, because I am feeling so wonderful and inspired I let it pass (if I were in line at Big Frank’s House of Cheese Steaks I would be copping a serious attitude right about now).
I pull up to the first window with a huge smile on my face. I am met by the assistant manager Stanley. Stan is efficient in his approach to me. He quickly and politely goes through my order making sure that Tamika entered into the system correctly (she did. Wow, she is good at what she does….and just so nice too! I think that I have a crush on her). I confirm that I have ordered all of this and I explain that Valentine’s Day is coming up. I also thank him for making my morning ritual such a pleasant experience. I love the new one-stop shopping approach they are taking to their business. I express deep gratitude for the time he has saved me and that I no longer need to go to Tiffany’s for the Valentine’s Day present for my wife. They have it all right here (minus the diamond earrings she is hoping for). He thanks me and tells me how much he likes my car, saying that the color matches my eyes. It makes me a little uncomfortable but I know he is just trying to make my day a little brighter. He is making a connection with me and I am feeling a new home away from home. He asks me if I would like to purchase the extended 5 year warranty on the red coffee maker I’ve just purchased. For a brief minute I ask myself if I am in a Best Buy. (I politely decline because I am concerned that I may not have enough of a balance left on my Starbucks card. The warranty costs $74 and I don’t have the money left on the card). My total is $647.39. I am relieved because I only have $700 left on my Starbucks Duetto debit, auto-reload card. The special cardholder is beginning to get a little torn and battered but I really love it. He offers a new holder but I politely decline. I got this one while visiting the Alamo in San Antonio last year and it means a lot to me. I hand him my card and he scans it. He hands it back to me along with a receipt that is the length of a yardstick. He tells me to pull forward to the second window just as soon as the Celica pulls away. I thank Stan and promise to e-mail him about how I feel about the Big Miss Thayer CD. He promises to let me know when her in-store performance gets confirmed.
I pull forward. Track 12 has just started and I recognize that my Starbucks, third place, experience will soon be coming to a close for today. The track is a real tear-jerker by Coldplay. It’s called “I Will Fix You” (for a minute I contemplate the irony of the timing of this song – the same exact moment when they will hand me my daily fix of coffee. Again I am reminded about how good these guys are – every step of my “third place” experience has been orchestrated just for me). I look down at my receipt and am surprised and somewhat delighted to see a special message to me. It says that the new Coldplay record will be in stores next Tuesday. It makes me feel so good I want to start singing “Yellow” at the top of my lungs. The Starbucks people are keeping me on the edge of what’s cool in popular culture, helping me to discover the world through a cup of coffee and a smile.
Track 12, the second chorus begins. I am greeted by a smiling Tamika. We’ve only known each other for 37 minutes but we feel as if we’ve known each other for years. I must admit to you, I have a small tear forming in my right eye. I wipe it away quickly before she sees me. I am too late. She knows I am tearing up. Before I can wipe my eyes she is standing outside, next to the driver side window (how did she do that so quickly?). She gives me a great big barista bear hug and tells me it’s going to be ok. She then helps me load the trunk with all of the merchandise I have just purchased. I can still hear some type of horn blowing in the distance…I wonder what could possibly be bothering someone so much that they feel compelled to blow their horn. It doesn’t matter though. Nothing is going to ruin my moment of bliss.
She finishes loading the goods, slams the trunk, walks back to me and gives me a friendly pat on the elbow. She makes me promise that I will stay in touch. I tell her that I will be sure to tell her how my wife reacts to the new heart designed plastic tumbler. I confirm my attendance at this Saturday’s community dog-wash fundraiser, promising to bring the kids with me.
As I pull off I look down and see that I have missed several calls. It says that I have 4 voicemails. I call the office and ask my assistant to cancel my first three meetings of the day.
This is going to be a great Tuesday.
(yeah, I know…but I am on a plane from LA to Boston and all of this just came rushing out of the head and rolled thru the fingers…..if you stayed with me to the end I want to thank you…….can I buy you a cup of coffee? I will meet you at Starbucks next Tuesday morning bright and early….the third one on the left side on Main Street, just across from the one that’s closing).