“That’s why I don’t give handouts to the homeless!” The third-year Maryland law student wheeched (whined/screeched) to her snooty friends as they passed the homeless guy. He was sitting against the City-Paper machine outside of my favorite Starbucks on North Charles with a Venti-something-or-other, a boxed lunch, and an iPhone 4 (the new white one). If I got done early enough from working in the crap-machine otherwise known as the District of Columbia, I would get off the MARC train at Penn and walk down there to grab a bite.
Tonight I was lucky, I just squeezed onto the 6:20. I had to stand next to, of all people, a Steelers fan bedecked in his new black and gold leather jacket with the logo of the hated team on its back. In my olfactory lobes, the beautiful smell of new leather was denied by the rest of my Ravens-purple brain yelling how much the Steelers sucked. I pretended not to notice the chatter going on around him by playing the “I have my headphones on with no music playing” trick. It was my favorite way to hear office gossip when nobody thinks I can hear. It’s like being a voyeur without the inherent risk of discovery. It also allowed me to force my boss to repeat himself when his behavior was becoming rather onerous. He’d have to tap me to get my attention and I’d do my award-winning “you startled me” reaction. When somebody would say something particularly foul having to do with the Steelers and farm animals, I would turn toward the unknowing fan and smile one of those courteous, “hi, how are you fellow-commuter/comrade?” smiles. My internal game was to see how long I could make it without laughing at the comments two fifty-something legal secretary hons were making. They had something to do with Mike Tomlin, sheep, and hip waders.
I made it to the 1200 block on North Charles and turned into the Starbucks. I was starving. My daughter, the payroll director over at Deutsche Bank, had been “encouraging” me to go vegan for some time. I saw a boxed lunch with noodles, tofu, veggies, and a postage-stamp-sized chunk of dark chocolate. I figured it was the prize I got for grazing through the other stuff. At 8.4 ounces, it would hold me over until I got home to Fells. Pumpkin spice latte was in the air. I wanted one but they have 510 calories with all the bells and whistles. Andi, the full-time barista, assured me that she could hook me up for about half of that. I believed her and ordered. Stacee, one of the part-timers that went to school at MICA rang me up. She was always nice. Nice was nice because the world is not nice.
I queued up with the other Starbucks faithful while my almost-as-yummy-as-a-510-calorie pumpkin spice latte was being prepared. I got it and sat down in the pit with the comfy chairs. I took out the box’o’non-meat and began to put the components together. The noodles with their peanut sauce, the pickled veggies, and the half-dozen sugar-cubes of braised tofu looked and smelled pretty good. I looked away for a moment, turned back to my food, and as I reached for it, I knocked it in the air. It fell non-daily-spread-side-down into my lap. The two other guys in the comfy chair area reflexively went into their best “I’m not looking” looks. Any guy that has gone to the beach with his wife knows how to do that look when too much girl in too few clothes walks by. These guys must have seen lots of bikini-babes because neither of them flinched. I had no napkins and non-meat was everywhere. You’d think one of them might have offered to get me a napkin, a paper towel, or some mechanism to help gather up the never-been-killed mélange. That didn’t happen.
I had to scoop handfuls of the stuff up and put it into the box. I used the lid like a veggie-squeegie to gather the rest of the bits together. Still, neither Tweedledum nor Tweedledee so much as acknowledged my dilemma. They saw me alright, just like they saw all the Girls-Gone-Wild candidates at Ocean City a few weeks prior.
I took the freshly-tossed salad and dumped it in the garbage. My Starbucks Gold Card had plenty of cash on it so I went to get another. Stacee looked at me coming with a fresh box. She started to go into the standard spiel to ring me up and then she realized I had just purchased one. She told me to wait a minute. I could see her glance at her watch. It was 20 minutes until close and there was a boxed lunch in the case that would probably not get eaten in the next 20 minutes. She took out her inventory sheet and wrote mine up as spoilage. It was going to be thrown out anyway so she gave it to me which saved me seven bucks and continued to reinforce my brand loyalty.
As I sat down to make eating attempt number two, Tweedledum got up and headed to the Men’s room. He left behind his white iPhone 4G and a freshly made Venti-mocha-frappa-chino-esque thingy. Not worried about Tweedledee, I snatched up the white iPhone and cup. The Starbucks Card Mobile app was open and Tweedledum was logged in. I added $100 to the card. iTunes was also open. I bought a copy of Louis Armstrong’s Greatest Hits. As I hit the door, the album finished downloading. I started to play it and as I stepped onto North Charles, I went to the homeless guy sitting against the City-Paper machine. I handed him the boxed-lunch, the Venti-whatever, and the white iPhone 4. I showed him how to order lots of healthy food and drinks with the Starbucks app.
As I headed to the lot where my vintage orange VW Karmann Ghia was parked, I heard the unusual combination of wheeching and the words “I see skies of blue, and clouds of white/The bright blessed day, dark sacred night/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world.”