I recently read a very funny piece by Jennifer at Kvetch Mom about the panic she feels when placing an order at Starbucks. In fact, it was so hilariously spot-on that it won the popular vote in Yeah Write’s weekly writing contest for the way it so perfectly captured the neuroses many people apparently feel when standing before the Almighty Barista. And as I giggled my way through it, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Tom Hanks:
The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So, people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self! Tall. Decaf. CAPPUCCHINO!
That quote is, of course, from the movie You’ve Got Mail, in which Hanks starred with Meg Ryan.
For me, that “absolutely defining sense of self” lies in Starbucks’ chai latte. I like it grande. Non-fat. No water. Extra hot. FIVE PUMPS!
I said as much when I shared Jennifer’s post on Facebook. Which in turn prompted my friend, Heather, to respond that while she also enjoyed the occasional grande non-fat chai at Starbucks, she couldn’t help but wonder how, exactly, I had determined that I liked mine extra hot with no water and five pumps of syrup.
Good question, Heather.
My signature Starbucks order was inherited – as many of my more defining traits are – by my mother, who first introduced me to the chai latte. I don’t remember when or where this momentous occasion occurred; only that I, too, had always found Starbucks and its entire menu – most of which appeared to be written in a foreign language – thoroughly and pretentiously intimidating.
Nevertheless, at some point I found myself at Starbucks with my far-more-hipster-than-me mom, staring over the counter into the expectant eyes of something called a barista. Not knowing what else to do, I followed Mom’s lead and asked for a grande chai latte with no water.
I had no idea what I had just ordered, although Mom assured me it was a tea-based concoction. This was good; tea is good. Tea is healthy, I thought. Tea has antioxidants.
Coffee, on the other hand, tastes like soapy dishwater. I would not have been happy had I paid nearly $4.00 to drink the contents of my kitchen sink following dinner on the average weeknight.
As it is, the chai tasted good.
And so once Starbucks got me hooked on their liquid crack, I found myself honing and perfecting my order. And I like my chai latte:
• Grande (medium) because Venti (large) is too much, while Tall (small) feels like a tease. And don’t even get me started on Trenta, the Starbucks version of “Super-size me!”
• Non-fat because everyone knows skim milk makes any Starbucks drink healthy. DUH. Antioxidants!
• With no water because, well, this was the way my mother ordered hers during my maiden voyage to Starbucks, and thus the way I ordered mine. And then it just sort of stuck. I’m assuming this keeps the drink from being watered down, but I really have no idea. Sometimes I omit this part of my order, just to see what will happen. I’m crazy like that.
• Extra hot because, otherwise, it cools off too fast. I mean, this isn’t rocket science, people.
• And with five pumps of syrup because, over time, I found that certain baristas got a bit lazy and only gave me three pumps, which caused my favorite treat to taste like hot milk with a hint of chai. And that’s just gross. So to ensure the maximum chai spiciness for which I’m paying $3.87, I now request five pumps.
As I meticulously explained all of this to Heather, I was reminded of yet another movie quote:
I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top; I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla, if you have it. If not, then no ice cream just whipped cream, but only if it’s real; if it’s out of the can, then nothing.
And that’s when it dawned on me.
I’m Sally Albright. From When Harry Met Sally. Also starring Meg Ryan.
Sally’s counterpart in the film, Harry Burns, would say this makes me high-maintenance. And perhaps he would be right.
I really don’t care. In the enduring effort to strike a functional (if not perfect) balance between motherhood, marriage, and work, all while leading a healthy lifestyle, I occasionally like to take a moment to indulge in something just for me. And when I do, I very much hope to enjoy it. Even if “it” is a mere $3.87 Starbucks chai latte - grande, non-fat, no water, extra hot, five pumps.
Or, as Meg Ryan’s Sally would say, “I just want it the way I want it.”
And as I grow older and more comfortable in my own skin, I find that I am ever more accepting of this absolutely defining sense of self.
What gives you a defining sense of self?