“Is that your coffee back there? What’s it like?”
“What’s it like? I’m not sure I understand. It’s coffee.”
“Yeah, but aren’t there different kinds? See, the one pot says Italian Roast and the other says French Roast.”
“Oh, yeah. We have Italian and French roasts.”
“But what are they like? What’s the difference between them?”
There was, I was sure, a professional, world-class barista response to this question: one that would tickle the senses with lots of great coffee adjectives like earthy, robust, and lugubrious. (I didn’t know much about coffee either.) I was equally sure that this student employee working the 8am shift at a campus cafe would not provide said response.
Who was this fancy middle-aged lady to be waltzing in here with all her exotic demands on a Tuesday morning, anyway? How had she survived all those decades without knowing the roasts? After half a lifetime of ignorance, what made her choose this particular bleary-eyed 18-year-old work-study recipient as the person who should be responsible for inaugurating her into the coffee drinker’s arcane, mystical world?
“Um, well, most people seem to choose the Italian.”
“Oh, fine. I’ll take a small one of those. But if I don’t like it, I’m bringing it back.”
She slid three quarters across the counter. An awful lot to expect of a 75 cent purchase, I chuckled.
I stepped up to the counter myself now, trying to deliver my best understated-yet-impactful ‘Boy, that lady was really something, huh?’ look of commiseration.
“Hey. Let’s see, I’ll have the…”
“What is the difference between these two?!”
She was calling to the cashier from a napkin/utensil/creamer stand across the way.
“One is half-and-half and the other is just milk.”
“Half-and-half. Half cream, half milk.”
“What kind of milk?”
“I don’t know. Most people use the half-and-half.”
She huffed a little, then used the milk.
I started again. “Let’s see, I’ll have the french toast.”
“Oh, we can’t do french toast right now.”
These things always threw me off. Always one to plan ahead, I’d settled on the french toast well before getting washed up to walk to breakfast. Now I’d have to choose something else on the fly, with a line queuing up behind me.
“I’ll take the farmer’s omelet, I guess.”
There, that hadn’t been so bad. A farmer’s omelet even sounded like something a person might order on purpose. I imagined everyone in the cafe erupting into spontaneous applause at this impressive exhibit of improvisational skill.
“Okay. You want the fresh fruit or the home fries?”
Oh shoot. Not done yet. More choices.
“And what kind of toast?”
“What kind of toast did you want? We have white, wheat, sourdough…”
Being a relatively smart, world-savvy person, I knew that the only two things absolutely needed to make french toast were eggs and bread. Now, I knew that they had both of those ingredients in the kitchen but were evidently just being stubborn.
“I’ll take the sourdough toast, untoasted. And while making the omelet feel free to drop the untoasted toast in there and scoot it around a bit, flipping it over to coat both sides evenly. Then flop it down next to the omelet on the pan and let it cook separately, to a nice, golden brown. At that point you may discard the remainder of the omelet, as it is not strictly necessary. If this is too much trouble for your chef, perhaps I can just hop back in the kitchen and do it myself. What a racket. You have eggs. You have bread. You’re not fooling anyone with your ‘We can’t do french toast right now,’ buddy.”
I didn’t say any of this.
“Wheat, I guess.”
I paid up, stopped at the stand to grab some utensils and napkins, then headed toward an open table to wait for my food. On the way, I brushed past the table occupied by frowny-faced coffee lady and shot her a quick look of commiseration: ‘Boy, these college kids are really something, huh? No vision whatsoever.’