Thursday, May 18, 2006


The kindness of strangers

Some days, just getting to work is more than half the battle.

My first mistake was stopping to kiss the kids goodbye. I had already given them air kisses as I ran through the room on my way out the door, but they chased me to the door yelling "Kiss! Hug! Kiss! Hug!" and I don't know what kind of mother could put up any meaningful resistance to that kind of pressure.

So everybody got a good snuggle and a sloppy kiss (with no worries about Bob Lipstick) but as I stepped on to the driveway I could see the bus at the bus stop, a good seven or eight houses down the road. I took off at a dead run, fairly confident that I'd make it because of the largish crowd of people still waiting to board.

(I don't know why this bus driver doesn't like me, but he doesn't. Every morning he glares at me as I get on the bus, more often than not breathless and relieved at having arrived at the last possible moment. Maybe he thinks I'm not respecting him by spending hours waiting for the bus, or maybe he just doesn't like my deodorant. But no matter how perky I am as I flash my pass at him (and that says a lot, that I'm willing to be friendly enough to make a stab at perky before my first morning coffee), he never so much as smiles back at me.)

So I got to the corner across from the bus stop just as he was closing the door, and started to wave my arms and holler. The driver looked studiously ahead of him and completely ignored me as he drove right past me, close enough that I could have whacked the side of the bus with my bag had I been so inclined. Which I almost was. I could see the smug hint of a grin as he drove past. There is no way he could have missed me, 5'8" of excited waving limbs wrapped in a bright coral coat, the only thing moving on an otherwise sleeping suburban street at 6:30 in the morning.

Eventually, I catch another bus and ride downtown steaming from not only the encounter with the mean bus driver and my 75m sprint, but the stuffy humidity on the bus. I make it downtown and renew my vow to shake off a bad start to the day.

The line-up at Tim’s is particularly long, but I wait with patience, scouring my brain to come up with something, anything, to blog about this morning. (Sorry about the dry posts lately. I’ve scrapped through the bottom of the barrel into the dust below. Muse, where are you?) I get to the front of the line and realize I’ve forgotten my purse at home. No cash = no coffee. I want to fall to the floor in a weepy puddle, but instead trudge with a heavy heart to my office, mourning the loss of my morning joe.

I’m already 10 or so minutes behind schedule from missing my usual bus and the fruitless wait for coffee, but when I get to my cube and manage to scrape together enough for a large (not extra-large, but close enough) coffee from between the paper clips and post-it notes rattling around in the bottom of my drawer, and even find a forgotten roll-up-the-rim-to-win free doughnut, my mood improves significantly. I make the long trek back to Tim’s and wait in another queue, and I am salivating at the smell of the coffee.

I place my order and trade my sweaty handful of nickels and dimes for a hot cup of steaming relief. I am about to turn away from the cash when the miniscule oriental woman operating the cash tells me I am short 10 cents. I look at her disbelievingly and tell her that I counted that money very carefully, and I know for a fact there is enough for one large coffee, three milks, thank you very much.

She shows me the palm full of coins and as I count them I realize she is right. I beam her a panicked attempt at a “Oh well, what can you do, I guess I owe you a dime next time, right, oh please, don’t take my coffee away!” smile, and she actually reaches for the coffee I am now clutching with something approaching desperation.

While the queue grows restless behind me, I want calmly engage this woman, this surprisingly powerful peon of minimum wage, in a rational discussion of the value of things; to convey to her in reasonable terms that my entire emotional well-being may well hinge a ten cent piece, but intead I stammer “I can’t – can you – I really need – oh please…” tucking the coffee close to me and getting ready to bolt. There is a very small voice in the back of my head that tells me that absconding with a coffee from the mall food court in front of 50 people is perhaps not a wise career move, but the warmth radiating through the paper cup infuses me with a sense of entitlement and I know that no matter what happens, I will not – NOT – relinquish this coffee.

And then fate intervenes, embodied in the shape of a lovely young woman waiting for her toasted bagel and cream cheese. I suddenly realize that our custodial battle over the underfunded coffee has become a public spectacle as she says, “Excuse me, but I have a dime. Here you go,” and hands the dime to the thwarted cashier. “It’s on me,” she says, turning to me. “Have a great day.”

I consider dropping to the floor to kiss her feet, but instead decide to simply grovel profusely for a moment while the cashier rolls her eyes. I babble something profoundly lame about “karma” and the kindness of strangers and retreat hastily before someone changes their mind and takes my hard-won coffee away.

All this before 7:30 in the morning. It's going to be an interesting day!