I have a message for the baristas at the Starbucks at Sixth and Broadway: tall café mocha, whipped cream, hot, not cold. There will be occasional days when I request a piece of your pumpkin loaf, but please do me the extreme favor of not assuming that I want it every time I walk in there. Just be prepared for the fact that I sometimes want to order it. I tell you this, Starbucks at Sixth and Broadway, because you will be seeing a lot more of me these days. I have moved into the neighborhood, and though it pains me to my very core to admit this, I cannot stop sucking down your delicious, crack-infused yuppie fuel. I'm hooked. But I'm not addicted because of all the indigenous, migrant-worker blood that everyone says you lace your coffee with. I'm addicted because your tall café mochas are the closest thing I've found in this country to café con leche.
When I lived in the small town of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, I frequented a certain cafe. I did not go to this cafe for the ambience; the waiters were prickish and the modern decor hideous when juxtaposed against the beautiful, medieval caverns that dotted every crooked street. No, I went there for the cafe con leche. Every day I would read over the newspapers, checking the soccer gossip of the day and seeing if Bush was still pushing toward a war with Iraq -- he was -- and I would sip my café con leche. It was nothing fancy, really, just two shots of espresso, steamed, frothy milk, and a little piece of chocolate that you added to the concoction and allowed to melt before sipping. But that was all you needed. After a drink like that, you could walk back out into the eternally rainy streets of Galicia, ready for whatever the Spanish were going to throw your way that day.
When I got back to the States, I looked long and hard for a coffee drink that came close to matching that café con leche. I tried the mom-and-pop shops, thinking surely the more independent, thoughtful purveyors of caffeine would have the time, taste and dedication to craft a delicious café con leche. But I didn't find what I was looking for there. When I finally located a passable substitute, it was in the most unlikely of locations: Starbucks.
So don't hate me for frequenting an evil corporate giant that puts indies out of business at a rate faster than Wal-Mart; hate me for being an arrogant bastard trying to rekindle some sort of vain, ex-patriot experience.
My affinity for the drink got so bad that at my old Starbucks, the one that looks like a barn on Colfax and Milwaukee, they began to recognize me. That Starbucks is a drive-through, and one day when I pulled up to the intercom, a voice asked, "Tall café mocha for you today?"
I was shocked.
I started to go inside the shop to make my order, to change it up so they wouldn't recognize my car -- but that made it worse, because they got to know my face. And one day, when I walked into that Starbucks, the girl behind the register said this:
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"Hey, what's your name, anyway? Because we've all just been, like, calling you Tall Café Mocha."
I've had many, many bad moments in my life, but at that exact point in time, my self-loathing reached new heights. Not only was I frequenting Starbucks every day, forking over three bucks a pop so that somewhere, some mogul in Seattle could eat only the finest of immigrant babies, not only was I recognized daily at Starbucks, but the employees were actually referring to me as Tall Café Mocha? I thought about what I could say to this girl, how I could possibly redeem myself from having sunk so low. Perhaps if I humped the Akeelah and the Bee DVD display, they wouldn't refer to me as Tall Café Mocha anymore. I'd forever be known as Creepy Display Humper Guy, which would be infinitely better. But in the end, I just told the girl my name and skulked back to my car, delicious drink in hand.
You Starbucks employees whom I know and who now know me, please do not interpret this column the wrong way. There is nothing wrong with you; you're all fine, hardworking, good people. But no one goes to Starbucks looking for a "Hey, Norm," experience. If we could, we'd eliminate the people out of the equation altogether. We'd just walk in there every morning, have a giant robot shove a syringe full of caffeine into our jugular, pick up the new Dylan album and call it a day. Besides, Starbucks, if I really wanted a mom-and-pop experience, I'd go to the Brazilian place down the street that smells like a gangbang.
So allow me to save you some time, Starbucks at Sixth and Broadway: My name is What's So Funny, and I'm addicted to your tall café mochas. I'm sure you'll come to recognize me soon.