01 Sep The Best Cup of Coffee I Never Had
It was a blustery early spring day and I still had a few minutes to kill before my haircut. Sitting on a stool in a tiny corner at Starbucks on 57th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City, I nursed my cappuccino and idly wondered what I was going to write about for next month’s Premium Excellence Club article. Waiting for inspiration to strike, I felt blank. It occurred to me that thinking was not the best way to feel inspired about anything so I looked up and out and engaged with the world around me.
I became aware of the person next to me alternately taking bites of her salad and working on her phone. The salad looked pretty tasty. I looked at the street sign out the window and began to watch the people going by.
When I’m walking down the street, I don’t always look at faces. Sometimes I can see a person’s whole story and I’m flooded with emotion and information. In general, I find it easier and less confronting to look at store windows and items on display. But since I was now sitting in the window, technically I was on display. So I began to watch the passersby and gave myself permission to look at the faces.
Within moments, I saw an elderly woman walking in my direction. She was wearing a light gray woolen watch cap pulled down over her ears, her short grey hair peeking out, and a camel colored coat belted at the waist. She had a walking cane in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. As she came up to the window near where I perched on my stool, she placed a hand lightly on the glass. Apparently oblivious to me, she looked, longingly I thought, at the young woman’s salad. Then she turned and walked away.
There was something about this lady that caught my attention. I wondered if perhaps she was a street person her but her clothes, shoes and even the plastic bag seemed in good condition.
As I was watching her retreat, she stopped, turned around and came back to the Starbucks entrance, her movements a bit infirm. As the lady wrestled with the heavy door my first impulse was to jump up and help her but I hesitated. She actually seemed to be doing just fine. The lady reminded me a bit of my mother, who is also elderly. My mom has pride and although she, too, is someone in physical decline, I’m always aware that she has lived a full life. I never want to treat her as less. It is, for me, always a dance of being helpful yet allowing her the dignity of doing the things she capable of doing.
The woman stepped into the warmth and stood for a moment gazing at the menu board behind the counter. Then she turned and went to the bar that houses the stir-sticks, napkins, sweeteners and milk. Reaching out she gathered a handful of turbinado sugar packets and put them in her pocket. Then she moved on to take some napkins. The baristas looked on in disapproval but I imagine they’ve been trained not to interfere. As the elderly lady prepared to leave I had an inspiration. I gathered my bags and hopped off my stool.
“Excuse me ma’am, may I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Lost in her own world, she didn’t hear me. A gentleman outside opened the door and held it for the woman. As she prepared to step through I said again, “Excuse me ma’am, may I get you a cup of coffee?”
The man holding the door waited patiently. Turning, she looked at me.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” I repeated. “May I get you one?”
“Why yes. I would like that.” she said. “That’s nice of you.”
“I’m enjoying my coffee. Why shouldn’t you have one, too?” I replied as I ushered her to the counter.
“What would you like? I am having a cappuccino. You can get anything.”
“I would like a cup of coffee with milk.” she said, as she placed her hand lightly on the glass of the pastry display.
“A tall coffee, please,” I said to the barista. Turning back to the woman I said, “Can I get you something to eat?”
Quietly she replied. “No, thank you.”
“Are you sure? Those little treats in front of you are like mini quiches. I often have them.”
“No, that’s fine.” She said, her hand still resting lightly on the glass fronted display.
“Are you sure? Something sweet perhaps?”
“No thank you.”
The barista set the cup of coffee on the counter.
“Oh, that’s yours.” the old woman said.
“No,” I replied. “That’s for you. Let’s go over and put some milk in it.”
She trailed me as I headed over to the milk and sugar station.
“You can have half and half, skim milk or whole milk. What would you prefer?” I said, as I removed the lid from the cup.
“Whole milk, please.”
I added milk to the coffee and then asked, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Bella.” A smile bloomed on her face as she looked up at me.
Ahh, beautiful, I thought. Just like your name.
“Nice to meet you Bella. I’m Ariel. I hope you enjoy your coffee.” I said as I picked up the lid, preparing to secure it on top of her cup.
“Oh no! Don’t put the lid on. I’ll add some sugar,” she said, reaching for some.
I smiled to myself as she took another packet.
Glancing at my watch, I realized it was time to go for my haircut.
“Well Bella, it was lovely meeting you. Enjoy your day,” I said with a smile.
“Thank you,” she said distractedly as she concentrated on fixing up her drink.
I pushed open the door and headed out into the day. It was somewhat chilly outside but warm in my heart. For me, spring had just arrived. My eyes were misty and I was filled with emotion as I rounded the corner. I guess looking at the faces isn’t so confronting after all. With a smile I thought, That was the best cup of coffee I never had.