Monday, March 05, 2007


Someone asks you – you want a coffee?

Could this be offensive? Maybe.

I enter Starbucks this morning (still in D. C.). Large order: three drinks and two (so-called) bakery items. I wait.

Behind me, a woman (maybe a decade or so younger than me – good looking, cheerful) waits her turn. Behind her a homeless guy engages her in a conversation. There are maybe four homeless guys hanging around this Starbucks.

Hold on. Let me be clear: I do not know that they are homeless. That word has not been articulated before me. They just appear to me to be homeless.

The guy asks the woman – are you buying a coffee? She says, tentatively, yes… He asks: can I buy it for you? She answers (thinking, I am sure, as I did, that he is homeless) – I am buying an expensive one today: Venti latte with vanilla and cream... (she looks too skinny for that to be her morning drink but oh well, I want to believe her).

Then, her to him: do you want a coffee? He protests, no no, let me buy you yours. After a back and forth, with no immediate resolution (she is saying no no, he is saying yes yes), he hands over crumpled bills to the barista. A twenty and some ones. Over her head. Over my head for that matter. The barista reacts perfectly, I think. Leadership in the making. He takes one dollar out of the bunch, hands him back the bills, pours him the coffee and the matter is over and done with.

She, the customer, got pulled into this. She felt badly. She wanted to buy a coffee for the homeless guy. His pride would not permit it. All three players, the homeless man, the woman in line, the barista – all acted with honor and heart. They stayed within their roles, but they came out okay.

Nice story, isn’t it?