Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

The Extra Mile

on 27 June 2010

Every Starbucks has at least one person like her. She says she’s homeless, she tells us that she lives with her goddaughters. She comes in to the store while she waits for the bus. The situation is enough to touch your heartstrings.

Until you are around for a while. Then, you begin to see a few disturbing things. She begs customers for money (something that we must forbid on Starbucks property, and she has been told many times that soliciting customers for money is not allowed). Then, she comes up to the registers and asks us for free pastries and free coffee. Not just asks, but begs. Then, she takes the money she begged from the customers (for coffee) and takes it to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. I’m not in any position to judge her life, but it is off-putting and disturbing to people who don’t like seeing their niceness used for a different purpose than they intended.

We really, really want to help her. Deep down, we all want to be generous. Unfortunately, it’s one of those situations where if you do one nice thing, then she expects more and more and more and more.

We haven’t seen her in a while, but the other day she came back. Instantly, she started in on us. First, she targeted me (she is good at figuring out who is the newest and least experienced). I’ve no authority to give out free merchandise, so I passed it off to my shift.

I’m a coward, I know.

My shift is a wonderful, soft-hearted, giving person. However, she knows the history and trends even better than I. She offered to look in our donation bin for some nice pastries, but that was all she could really do. My shift returned with several slices of coffee cake from the night before, neatly wrapped up.

The woman thanked her profusely, and went to sit down in a comfy chair. Coincidently, this chair was next to the table of the only other person sitting in the cafe. He’s a regular, and we figured he was safe from her begging seeing as how he was deeply embroiled in a cellphone conversation.

Within 5 seconds, the woman called across the cafe to my shift, asking for a plate and fork. My dear shift grabbed the requested items, and took them across the cafe to her.

Less than 20 seconds later, the man at the table gets up and comes to the counter, still on his cellphone. He usually comes in with a woman, so we assume that he’s getting ready to order her drink. He stares at the board for a minute, obviously perusing his options. Then, he orders a grande latte.

As any good barista should do, my shift asked if he wanted any flavouring in it. He shrugged at us, gave a little smile, and quietly said that he was getting for the woman in the chair.

My shift and I weren’t quite sure how to react. On one hand, it was really sweet of this guy to buy her a drink. On the other hand, 20 seconds to get a guy on a cellphone to buy her a pricey drink had to be a new record. We look at each other for a moment, and then shrug. My shift gets the milk steaming. I go back to mopping the floors. The customer looks at me, and holds out a $5 bill.

Here’s where I make my decision: if the customer wants to be nice, I’ll let him be nice. However, I’m not going to charge him for the drink. I smile at him and shake my head; I’d take care of it later when I got my food for my 30. He smiles back, then frowns a little. He continues to stand there.

I go back to scrubbing mats. My shift finishes the drink, and hands it to him. He once again tries to pay, but she tells him “no” as well.

Sweet man, he honestly wouldn’t take our no as an answer. He stood there insisting on paying until we rung him up. Then, he patiently fixed her drink up with sugar according to her specifications. Specifications, I might add, that she yelled at him from across the cafe. He even came back up a minute later to get her a spoon because she wanted one to “drink” her latte.

She left a little while later, leaving her plate, spoon, fork, and empty cup littered around the cafe. I never did hear her thank him for his care and consideration.

However, it blew me away. It was a sweet gesture, done quietly and without show. Not only did he reach out to this woman, but he did more than the minimum required by the situation. He could have gotten a tall; he bought a grande. He could have gotten plain coffee; he bought her first latte ever. He could have accepted our refusal to let him pay; but he paid anyway. He totally amazed me that day.

Our customers are, hands down, the best in the world.

I wish I could be more like that at work. I wish that I didn’t have to filter situations through a more jaded screen. I have no problem doing “x”, but I know that should I do “x”, next time there will be a loud demand for “x+y”. The next time, “x+y+z”, and so it goes.

But this one man, he’s not there enough to risk seeing her again for a long time. He reached out and touched her life that day, and I can only hope and pray that it made a difference to her.

It certainly had an impact on me.

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2 responses to “The Extra Mile

  1. Fox says:

    First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people would react the same way you did.

    As someone that is familiar with people like your lady there, AND as someone familiar with running a restaurant, I have to say, I would have banned her. What I did was take the end of night leftovers to a certain place in the city and hand it out (out of uniform) and pretend I had no idea where it came from. You just cannot let them stay in the store. It is negative for business. I’m not cold, though. They still got food. Just not *in* the store. No where NEAR the store. Ever.

    Because you are right. They will ask for more and more and come to rely on you and the store as a source. If you let that happen, word will spread. Soon you will have a plethora of people begging in or around the store.

    On the other hand, dude was very nice. I don’t mean to ruin the happy feeling it left you with. I would love to say it made an impact on her. I’m not sure it would be accurate to say so. From you description of the event, she commonly begs and gets what she begs for. She might take it for granted that someone will take pity. She would often be correct. Sadly, once you have this outlook on it, you stop working on getting yourself out of the situation that put you there. You stop striving. (Not everyone. Not I. But often.) And it becomes a crutch.

    I cannot say this lady is one of those that has given up on ambition. I do not know her and have no right to judge her. I speak merely from personal experience. I hope and pray she has no given up. She will be in my thoughts this evening when I speak to god. I hope everyone that reads this blog of yours will do the same.

    • Thanks for the affirmation! I hate not being all “Hey, let me help you out!”, but this is a long running problem with her in my area of the community. We none of us like being hard-hearted, but it is a business necessity. People just don’t frequent places where instead of being able to relax, they are begged for food and money. I really like what you used to do though; that’s a wonderful balance between helping and protecting the business.

      Mostly, I’m just really proud of this customer’s heart attitude. Usually in this situation people are shooting us looks that say “would you get this person out of here” or doing the bare minimum they can to try and get her to leave them alone. For him to do what he did was nice, kind, and unexpected, yet met with…nothing. There’s also people like my mum who have offered to give her a ride in the 100 degree heat, only to be criticized basically for having a car (and for the record, my parents drive cars that are 17 & 14 years old). No matter what you do, you can’t win in this lady’s book. It’s tough to see, but at least my customer’s actions touched me, my shift, and my readers. We will be keeping her in prayer though; that’s about the only truly helpful thing we can do. :)

      Thanks for commenting! –MissW

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