As I step out of the train station in Manhattan’s Union Square, I’m surprised by how much warmer it’s become since my commute from Brooklyn. Would this unexpected heat in any way mar my experience of autumn’s most famous coffee beverage? Would this endeavor have to wait another day? I notice that someone near me is wearing a scarf and gloves—in 60-degree weather!—and decide that if it’s cold enough for her to bundle up with such concern, it’s cold enough for me to enjoy a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) from Starbucks.
I step into the Starbucks on Union Square West (it’s nicer and newer than the one across the park on Union Square East) and make my way through the line. I don’t catch most orders, but am close enough to the man directly in front of me to hear him order a “medium coffee.” This bothers me, as everyone in 2016 should know that mediums at Starbucks are grandes. So I scowl in his general direction, hoping it is seen and properly translated by the customer (who should know better), the cashier (who should—out of respect for his company—correct people when they use the wrong words), and the security cameras (whose records should be analyzed by software designed to pick up on irritated customers as a way of improving the Starbucks experience worldwide). It is seen by no one.
Just as the cashier returns with the grande coffee, a breathless woman appears from out of nowhere to speak to the disrespectful man. “Don’t forget to get a receipt,” she pleads while putting on a pullover. “Don’t forget the receipt. He needs a receipt.” Because I don’t know who “he” is, I imagine Ed Harris, and watch the disrespectful man ask for a receipt. She notices me notice her putting on the pullover, and gives me a look that seems to say, “Do you have a problem with my pullover?”
I give her one back that says, “I don’t.”
It’s now my turn, so I approach the cashier and notice a the disrespectful man has left his grande coffee at the counter. The cashier notices at the same time, and screams for him to return. “Sir? Your coffee?” The disrespectful man turns back and does one of those playful palm-to-forehead bonks meant to symbolize absentmindedness, and I’m once again irritated by the cashier’s refusal to correct him. Why didn’t he say, “Sir? Your grande coffee?” I’ll never know, and I’ll never not be annoyed.
“What would you like, sir,” the cashier asks me.
Though I’d considered saying “PSL,” I chicken out and say, “I’ll have a grande pumpkin spice latte.” My emphasis on grande is either unnoticed or ignored, as the cashier quickly moves on to the next question.
“Can I have a name?”
“Bobby?” (Why, when asked for our names, do we tend to respond with upward inflection, as though we’re unconvinced that they belong to us?)
Upon noticing the debit card already in my had, the cashier asks me to “insert it.” I take a mental note of how helpful that direction is, as many places still ask you to swipe instead of insert. “You’re all set,” he tells me. “Have a good day.”
I walk to the table closest to the barista station and hop on one of its surrounding stools. I wonder where the disrespectful man has gone. I wonder why I only drink one or two pumpkin spice lattes a year. I wonder why I don’t own any pullovers. I wonder how much those Starbucks-exclusive espresso machines—the Mastrenas—cost. (While writing this blog, I googled that question and learned they cost somewhere in the ballpark of $17,000.) I wonder if the barista will call my name or both my name and my order.
“I have a pumpkin spice latte for Bobby?” Again with the upward inflection.
I thank the barista, put a sleeve on my beverage, and head for the door. After walking half a block, I decide it’s time to have my first sip of the season, so I bring the PSL to my lips and let the java pour in.
Reader, I enjoyed it.
In the past decade or so of its existence, the PSL has transitioned from beloved seasonal treat to Internet meme to subject of performed divisiveness to what it is now: a fact of life as boring as a store selling Christmas decorations in July. Ordering one in the crowded, tourist-filled Starbucks elicits no gasps from disgusted customers or compliments from paesans of pumpkin. It is neither scrumptious nor slop. It is just a drink. And it is good.