When I was a senior in college, I stopped every morning on the way to class at a coffee shop called the Java Bean. Every day, I ordered the same thing: a 16 oz. cup of coffee with room. That’s all, nice and simple. The baristas recognized me, and I always had exact change for my coffee – $1.89.
Until one day.
I walked into the Java Bean, ordered my coffee, and opened my wallet to find $1.39. I was 50 cents short – but these people knew me. They knew I would be back tomorrow. They knew that I always ordered the same thing. They would take $1.39 for my coffee today, knowing I would be back in the morning with the difference. Right?
“I only have $1.39,” I explained to the man at the counter. I waited for him to waive the extra 50 cents, to tell me that the Java Bean loves me, to say, “I’ve gotcha, girl,” and send me on my way with a wink. I waited. I waited.
But this man knew no compassion. He just stared at me.
Finally, he said, “Well, do you have a credit card?”
I was slightly shocked, but cooperatively opened my wallet and handed over my debit card. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t going to let me slide on out of there, cup of joe in hand, but whatever. I didn’t invent coffee. I didn’t invent money. I’m just here for the buzz.
“There’s a $10 minimum on credit card purchases,” he said.
But never fear! This man had an idea. “You’re here every morning – why don’t you get a pre-paid card for your coffee? If you pay for 10 cups right now, we’ll give you this punch card. I know you’ll make good use of it.” Yes, of course you know I’ll make good use of it – I’m here EVERY MORNING and will bring an extra 50 cents tomorrow – why don’t you love me?
“Well, okay,” I found myself saying. My card was about to be charged $19.15 – $18.90 for 10 cups of coffee, plus a 25 cent credit card fee – all because I used two quarters in a parking meter, but no big deal.
I watched this man swipe my card, and then swipe it again, and then again and again and again – but the machine wasn’t having it.
At this point, there was a line of about 6 people behind me, stomping the ground like horses. Come to think of it, they were exhaling loudly like horses, too – that exasperated puff of impatience. My card continued to be no good, and finally, desperate for caffeine and escape, I couldn’t take the pressure.
“I’ll write a check!” I exclaimed. “My checkbook is in the car. I’ll be right back.” I dashed out of the Java Bean, and returned to scribble a check for $19.15. I handed it over just to have the man remind me, “Since this isn’t a credit card purchase, it’s only $18.90.”
My turn to exhale like a horse.
I tore up the check, and wrote a new one for $18.90. The moment that I gave it to the coffee man, his dim mental lightbulb flared as he realized that the credit card machine had not been plugged in.
His “Aha!” moment was my “GAH” moment.
He handed me my freshly punched punch card and a paper cup for my coffee. I walked to the pump pot on the counter to fill my cup and get on with my life, but the coffee pot was empty.
The coffee pot was empty. I had just paid $18.90 and wasted 9 minutes of my life to discover that the coffee pot was empty.
I lifted the pot and marched it to the man at the counter. “I’m sorry, but could I get some COFFEE?” I practically bellowed.
Scene? Officially made.
I found an arm chair in the corner to sit in and stew as a fresh pot of coffee was being brewed. I watched the clock on the wall, every ticking second matching the time-bomb in my chest. My face was scrunched. I was late for class, I was desperate for caffeine, and I was down $18.90.
“Anne,” the man called. “Anne, come here.” He had seen my name on my credit card – Anne Parsons – and was now calling me by my given name that I never go by, because if there’s anything that Annie Parsons is not, it is Anne.
“I’m so sorry for the craziness. Here’s a coupon for the next time you’re in.”
The coupon? 50 cents off my next purchase.