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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Drivers who must have that cup of coffee

Let’s talk about the purchase of a cup of coffee. Is it true that the drive-through window concept was designed for people who are just too lazy to park the car and walk into the store and order a cup of coffee to go, and then, well...go?
Of course it’s true. What other explanation could there be? These must be people who shun exercise, and who would be likely to define walking from the car to the coffee counter as being too much exertion. They far prefer sitting in their car for 10-12 minutes, patiently waiting in line in the parking lot---or in many cases the adjacent street---to buy a cup of coffee and, most likely, a doughnut.
That’s their choice, of course, but we need to analyze the options and compare the results.
The coffee purveyors have developed a huge following of such people, patient and compliant people, willing to wait what must often seem an interminable interval, as the cars crawl slowly toward the transaction point. I actually know people who engage in that practice on a regular basis, but I see nothing to be gained by naming names.
Look around. We all know individuals like this, people of seemingly normal behavioral patterns and average (or above) intelligence, who willingly join at the end of a long line. The coffee lines are everywhere. You notice them at any hour, but especially in the morning and at noon, fouling up traffic patterns in parking lots and spilling over onto the streets.
Coffee has tremendous cachet these days. It is approaching the status of wine. We all have experienced the wine snobs, those who deftly swirl the wine in the glass, inhale the bouquet, sip very precisely, and then either bless or damn the vintage in a very cool and professional manner. I enjoy listening to people like that, people who believe they have educated their palates to the highest level of pretentiousness.
That same attitude has seized control of the coffee urn. I know I shouldn’t say urn, because the urn is almost a vestige of forgotten times, times when the crew at the luncheonette would take turns rinsing the works, tossing in a new bag of coffee, and brewing a quantity of what was lovingly called “joe,” as in “A cup of joe.” Coffee was a major item in those places and presumably the proprietors regarded it as a profit maker, a product that attracted customers inside the store, where they might be tempted to make another purchase.
My own record with coffee is probably about average for the time, introduced to its regular use sometime in my late teens, but never one to become a true aficionado. I have nothing against coffee. I enjoy coffee, but it will never play an important role in my life. I have no argument with the price of coffee in the upscale coffee houses, either, as long as somebody else is buying.
This is not a coffee article. This is about people who will wait in line in their car, often on a daily basis, in order to get a cup of coffee, either for consumption in the car or at another destination. While some psychologists might praise them for developing a patient, unstressed approach which could contribute to their longevity, I don’t understand them being so willing to waste time waiting so long for just a cup of coffee.
I am not an efficiency freak or a time study expert. But I am willing to submit the following evidence for consideration, based upon an investigation conducted as part of a personal fact-finding mission. On a recent day, observing the typical line of drivers waiting for coffee at one of the usual locations, I decided to act. I drove into the lot, found a spot at the end of the parking area, a good distance from the shop, and walked across the lot, while noticing a beige Lexus, a maroon Ford SUV and a white Toyota Camry in the line, midway between the end and the beginning.
I didn’t even want any coffee, but I ordered a cup anyway, was served, paid the bill, and exited. I then peeked around the corner of the building and spotted the Lexus, Ford and Toyota, still waiting.
Patience was long ago elevated from the status of a characteristic to the rank of a virtue. For those who feel the need to practice their patient behavior, there must be no better way than sitting in a car, waiting in line to buy a cup of coffee.

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