Meeting L.A. at the Register

A lady came into Starbucks today for an encounter I wouldn’t forget. She asked for the cheapest tea that I could give her. I told her that our cheapest tea was priced at $1.75. It was more than she could afford.

She then smiled, and asked for just a cup of water, which sure enough, our Starbucks had recently started pricing at $0.25 cents.

She then handed me two dimes and a handful of pennies, after which she said something I didn’t expect.

“It’s because I need a boyfriend to support me, ya know,”

“I hear you,” I replied instinctively, meeting her smile with my own and then taking her change into the register. I was used to hearing customers’ side-remarks by then and steering the interaction to its close to serve the next person in line.

That’s when the woman said something that’d strike me, when she looked at me and asked:

“Will you be my boyfriend?”

I chuckled, and looked at her then. She was probably in her mid to late forties, and had an orangeish-red complexion. Her hair was thin and dyed, and she had freckles around a small, pointy nose. I guess she must have been of mixed heritage, perhaps somewhere in between white and Native American.

Reflecting about it now, I’m sure she had broken quite a few hearts before we met at Starbucks. She had a charm to her and was obviously aware of it. But we were from two different lifetimes, and being at work, I could only receive her question as a playful one. So I smiled again and said sarcastically:

“Maybe on the low-key!”

I felt a tinge of self-awareness as I said this, immediately wanting to see the next customer before I started blushing. But the woman remained in front of me at the register for another moment to linger on her playful question:

“Maybe then, right?”

Once again, I smiled, and replied that her water would be on the side.

The whole thing lasted just a minute or so, but I would think about it again later in the afternoon.

With just twenty-five cents to spare, the woman was obviously down on her luck at the time, yet her benign question brought something else to mind.

In this world, which is so dominated by the cha-ching noise in the background, we don’t actually need terribly much money to survive; what we need is each other. As sappy and cliche as it’s become, as human beings, all we really need to get by is…other human beings who get us!

At the end of the day, the register is just a machine. Money is the fuel the machine runs on. But when the running is done and all that’s left is our humanity, what counts is what we do for each other. In turn, I hope I made a good impression on that customer today, but to be sure, next time, her tea is on me.

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