Published: 4 years ago

Sundays with Oprah

I have a story that I need to share with you, and no one else. (Let’s keep it right here, shall we?)

I’m a Starbucks Gold Card member. That means that I spend way too much time at the local caffeine bar, juicing up my capillaries and preparing for the day ahead.

It also means that my inner cheapskate is kept extremely happy, because I get a free drink with every dozen that I buy on the gift cards that my family loads me up with on birthdays and Christmas. The way that works is, I go with the cheap(er), tall, plain coffee for drinks 1-12, and then go nuts with drink #13. (Again, let’s keep that here. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who does that, and I don’t want The-Mermaid-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named to find out my strategy.)

So for the freebie, I generally tend to go a little more – ahem – whimsical. I don’t want to waste a perfectly good free drink on a plain black coffee, so I doll it up. Maybe a Caramelly Caramel Frappuccino (with an extra shot of caramel) in the summer, or an Iced Caramel Macchiato in the spring (clearly I have a problem with caramel).

In other words, I trade in my Gold Card for my Man Card.

I’m not proud of that. But it’s true.

So Sunday morning I was on my way to our Downtown Durham Campus and remembered I had a free drink loaded on my card. (Game on, people.) I swung through the drive through and ordered my wintertime favorite: a Venti Skinny Peppermint Mocha. The order-taker crackled back over the speaker, “Um, sir, I’m very sorry, but we’re currently out of the sugar-free peppermint.”


(I have to pause here to point out what I believe is a serious flaw in the Starbucks global supply chain: all of my favorite frou-frou drinks are typically missing a key ingredient. I’ve ordered exactly two Salted Caramel Mochas in my lifetime that actually included the salt. The rest of the time, the ‘bucks is out. They are out. Of salt. SALT. And it’s not like “salted” isn’t a third of the name, and the first descriptor in the title. That’s like reading War and Peace only to find out they left out the War. It’s not supposed to happen.)

(Confession: I’ve never actually read War and Peace, so maybe it is supposed to happen. I honestly have no idea.)

So I switched to my backup drink: a Venti Nonfat Vanilla Rooibos Tea Latte. “Not a problem, sir,” she said, “pull right up to the window and we’ll get that for you.”

But of course, there was a problem. “Um, sir,” she said when I got to the window, “we just realized we can’t find the little tea bags that make the latte, so I’m really sorry, but is there something else we can get you?”

By this point, my tolerance for substitutions was wearing thin. My up-t0-that-moment, genuinely “no problem” personality was beginning to have a problem. I was about to be late for my Downtown Durham hangout fest. So I just fake-smiled and said, “Tell you what, I’m great with whatever. Just surprise me with anything you have back there.”

And then, the barista spoke some of the hardest words I’ve ever had to hear. Keep in mind that I was still somewhat ashamed that I’d cashed in my man card. Keep in mind that I already believed that, at any moment, my first grade bully Billy Sneed was going to materialize out of nowhere and pelt me with rocks for ordering not one, but two girly drinks. Keep in mind that I couldn’t break down a carburetor or field dress a buck if my life depended on it. Keep in mind that the most popular post I’ve ever written flew forward on the wings of stay-at-home moms everywhere. Keep those things in mind as you relive the moment with me:

“Oh, sir, I’m going to fix you up with our new Oprah Chai Tea Latte. You’re going to love it. It’s one of my favorites.”

An Oprah. Chai. Tea. Latte. And because I said “surprise me with anything,” I was bound by my barista to the Queen herself. Couldn’t say no. Had to accept it. I could hear Billy Sneed cracking his knuckles as I gulped and said, “Uh, sure.” I half expected Ms. Winfrey herself to pop her head out of the window and yell, “YOU get an Oprah Latte! And YOU get an Oprah Latte! EVERYONE GETS AN OPRAH LATTE!”

The good news? The barista graciously comped my drink because of all the trouble, so I still have that freebie on my card for my Venti Low-Sodium Caramel Mocha in the future.

Oh, and if there’s a postscript to this story, it’s that there is no good way to tell a Starbucks barista that you’d like her to make your Oprah “skinny.” It sounds every bit as awkward as you’d think.

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