I know other people have blogged about this before (and been criticized for their seeming stinginess), but I don’t get drive-thru coffee anymore. Drive-thru windows kind of stress me out anyway. At below-average height, I have to risk tearing off a side mirror to get close enough to reach, and I struggle to understand the attendant through the tin-can-phone-sound-quality of the ordering speaker. I’d rather walk in and handle the whole transaction in person. But every once in while, I’d pluck up my courage and hazard it. Last summer, I was on my way home from a bike ride and had to stop at a red light. There was a Starbucks on the corner and, since I was waiting anyway and had two bucks in the console, I figured ‘what the hell.’ I was sweaty and dusty and wearing my pedal-cleated shoes, so I didn’t want to walk in. I got in the drive-thru line and ordered a black coffee.
When I went pay, two bucks in hand, the barista said the previous customer had paid for me, and would I like to pay for the person behind me? Now, I’m generally a pretty darned generous person. But I’m living a time-for-writing lifestyle by being awfully frugal (i.e. my checking account isn’t always brimming). With the chipper barista waiting for my reply, I looked in the review mirror, wondering if the car behind me held a carpool parent with an entire volleyball team. The car in question hadn’t yet cleared the corner of the building. No matter who it was though, whether they were after a single six-dollar mocha or mochas for their eight friends back at the office, my paltry two bucks wasn’t going to cover it. And the barista was still waiting. Hamstrung by not seeing a gracious way out, I agreed to the terms and then had to fumble about for my wallet, in the bottom of my gear bag behind the seat. (That’s another short-people problem. The floor behind the seat is almost impossible to reach without getting out of the vehicle.) I relinquished my debit card, hoping that the next customer hadn’t ordered extravagantly and that whatever I was paying for wouldn’t leave me overdrawn.
In the end, it was just a six-dollar mocha. I didn’t really mind paying three times what I’d planned for a small, black coffee, but the anxiety of potentially buying a baby-shower’s-worth of snacks hasn’t faded away. It’s not even so much getting stuck with someone else’s possibly-huge bill, it’s the unpredictability of it, the potential for awkwardness, the potential for having to explain myself and my finances to the stranger in the window. On the plus side, I haven’t since wasted even a minute sitting in line waiting for coffee I could make at home.