I like our local coffee shop just fine. The coffee drinks are good. It’s cozy. They do amusing things like offer an “Obama blend” of Hawaiian and Kenyan beans.
They lack somewhat in efficiency.
This morning I was first up to the counter. This can be good and bad – no wait, but that means I drew the bossy, slow worker-gal. I ordered my nonfat, sugar-free caramel latte, set my cartons of eggs and bag of lemons on the counter next to the register, pulled out my billfold and a twenty, ready to pay. At this shop, however, you don’t pay until they’re done making your drink.
Another woman comes in, orders a soy latte. Because she gets the fast worker-gal, her latte is done first. Fast worker gal asks if I mind if I ring up the other lady first. What am I going to say? So I say sure, fine, go ahead. And the other lady gives me a look and gestures to the counter and says “Can I put my purse down?”
Now, where she’s standing, there’s counter room, but there’s also gum and other things, not the big open glass next to the register. I step out of the way, holding my billfold and twenty, and she plops her purse in the middle of the glass space, glaring at my eggs and lemons waiting to the side.
This is her territory now.
I’m always interested by checkout counter territorialism. People like to take over the entire space and give it up reluctantly. It seems like undesirably territory to me, but there it is.
So she pulls out her billfold – no, she isn’t ready – picks out some coffee cake, selects a credit card and gives it over. Meanwhile the slow worker-gal finishes my latte and sets it on the counter, too. She tries to slide it around the perimeter of this woman’s purse to get it within my reach and the woman looks offended. I say I’ll just wait for it until she’s done.
The card takes time to go through. Then the pen doesn’t work. The woman gets a bit flustered now and I wonder if she regrets taking over the big space. Finally she finishes, but takes her time packing up her things again. Clinging to the last vestiges of her moment. She leaves without looking at me and I know I’m probably oozing impatience, though I’m trying hard to look serene.
I’m out the door thirty seconds behind her.
As I head home, I wonder what story she’d tell her co-workers. Would it be the impatient woman in sweaty workout clothes who tried to hog the counter and wouldn’t let her pay? Will she change it in her mind, that we walked in at the same time, or even that she was truly first and I edged her out by piling my groceries on the counter?
Perhaps she doesn’t think of it at all. Perhaps she gets to work and lays out her things on her desk, at peace to have it to herself.