This morning at the Starbucks on Pass & Oak in Burbank it was business as usual. The staff are particularly friendly and engaged there, which is what keeps me going back. I sat in my corner chair with a brand new notebook, this time a bona fide sketch book with sensuously smooth paper that’s perfect for my fountain pen.
A man in a wheelchair rolled in with his dog on his lap. He had trouble speaking clearly and it took a while for the cashier to understand his order of a grande salted caramel mocha, but she was typically forthright and at ease with him.
As he waited for his drink next to the delivery end of the counter, other customers maneuvered around him to pick up their quicker drip-coffee orders politely. Finally his was ready. Just as he picked it up, a nice looking woman in her mid-sixties picked hers up and as she swung around, her hand hit the man’s, sending his drink cascading to the floor. His expression of dismay and disappointment… I’m not good enough to capture it in words or in a drawing. I can just tell you, it was utter and complete in that moment.
It made a huge puddle at his feet. A little got on his pants and some on the lady’s shoes. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he fairly wailed.
“He spilled–” the lady said to the barrista, “It was my fault, I spilled his coffee.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said again, to the barrista.
“No, it’s okay. We’ll get you another.” The espresso machine whined.
Before I could get up, no less than five of the strangers gathered around waiting for their drinks grabbed napkins, bent down in front of the man and started cleaning up the mess.
“Oh,” one of the sweet employee women said with appreciation in her voice, “You don’t have to do that, we’ll clean it up.”
But it wasn’t about the sticky puddle on the floor, it was about relieving the man’s embarrassment as quickly as possible. By the time a staff member arrived with a mop, the potential pool of shame was mostly sopped up, and the man actually had a smile on his face.
The woman, well, she did what she could I suppose. She admitted her guilt, and she asked if he was okay because some of the hot coffee got on his pants, but then I also saw her stuff some cash into his hand. As she wiped off her sneakers with a napkin, she turned to another patron and said, “Well, I hope this isn’t an indication of how the rest of my day is going to go.”
Does it sound judge-y of me to write that down? I just don’t want to engage in my usual Pollyanna attitude of seeing the best side of things without acknowledging the less than fabulous parts. It made me uncomfortable. It made me think she wasn’t really seeing what was going on…which admittedly can be hard when you’ve just done something oafish.
I don’t think he was homeless, though in this neighborhood I’m not sure where he could afford to live. But it was clear that he wasn’t buying coffee just to secure himself a place out of the cold. He had a couple of fresh plastic bags on the handles of his wheelchair (which I see I forgot to draw!), as if he’d just been to the nearby Von’s to pick up a few things.
I am so glad all those other people were there. It was tribal, the way they rose to the occasion. The man thanked them. He smiled as he wedged his fresh salted caramel mocha between his patient lap dog and his chest. Two guys hurried to hold the double doors for him on his way out.
I love people. Really. That’s why I was sitting there sketching with tears on my face when a new batch of customers came in, unaware of what had happened.