Red Cups At Morning

bradleebartlett

I often find myself working out of coffee shops during the week as my wife (who's job is far more stressful and phone-call centric than mine) uses our home office.

Most days at coffee shops are quiet and productive, with few distractions from the public. There are ebbs and flows of “busy” - people coming and going from work meetings. First wave business people, the second stay-at-home-moms, and college students looking for a change of scenery.

Today was quite different.


I arrived at Starbucks after dropping my kids off at school. The first sign that something was out of place was the number of people standing in the entryway.

A woman stood in front of the door - unresponsive to my knock. I pushed the door open slightly and I snuck in (she didn’t move) to find a seat among the crowd.

The first man, (referred to herewith as Pacer), stands in the back of the cafe. His eyes, just in view above his mask, are darting back and forth with the look of a bank robber who just got away.

In front of him is a woman with her sunglasses on (inside) and a frown on her face. That kind of frown that is reckoning with a world that isn’t bending to her predetermined schedule.

Beyond her are six or seven other people, each looking down at their phones. They are scrolling furiously in hopes that they can forcibly will reality to shift in their favor.


I step forward and order my usual - hot Americano, extra shot. #basic

Next to me, a woman leans two feet over the counter interrogating the barista over the lack of a Carmel Brulee Latte on the ready counter. The barista just looks at her nodding - that ok, ma’am, sure, ma’am look.

I take my seat near the back where my computer is plugged in. As I settle in, a woman loudly shouts “CAN WE JUST GET A REFUND, THIS IS REDICULOUS.”

A barista responds “Of course! You can request on your app or call Starbucks.”

Walking toward the door, the woman hollers back, “I WILL BE CONTACTING STARBUCKS.”

She won’t. You can’t. People can’t actually call Starbucks? Right?


Meanwhile, Pacer is back at the counter, nervously looking over the counter toward the baristas. He’s definitely not a guy you want to take a plane ride with.

A man walks in, his sweater emblazoned with the words “FINAL VARIANT: COMMUNISM. STOP THE JAB.” As he stands at the back of the line, he actively rolls his eyes at the wait ahead of him.

I can think of a place where there’s no wait - the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at CVS. I know, because I was there two days ago. They actually give it to you right there at the register if you want. #effeciency


A barista who drew the short straw comes out to announce “We are out of our stock of the Starbucks Red Cups.”

An audible groan, a few **“What?!”**s, and half the group starts to leave. A few braver souls decide to wait it out.

On the to-go table, I can count nine unclaimed drinks, the likely victims of customer “refunds.”

Wiser heads would walk up and play Starbucks Russian Roulette and try their hand at a new drink.

Is that legal? If not, at least you might find something you enjoy more than a Fat-Free Extra Hot Peppermint Mocha with Creme. I’d at least take that ice water that’s been there for 20 minutes.


Eventually, the crowd dwindles and the cafe returns to its steady, near-empty equilibrium. Pacer has disappeared at some point, likely sneaking out the back door. Or he’s hiding in the bathroom.

I consider leading the cafe in a rousing standing ovation, akin to those given to first responders back when people cared about COVID-19 still. I decide against it, figuring that they’ve dealt with enough today and the quiet itself is a gift.

Those who were lucky enough to get their drinks successfully are now onto their next scheduled meetings - behind computer screens, in grocery aisles, at home with the kids.

Simply trying to live their lives - much like the baristas who barely survived the Red Cup Event of 2021.


I used to think that climate change was the greatest threat we face as a human species.

Perhaps we won’t make it to the day when glacier melt raises sea levels to the height of the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

Perhaps we will have beaten one another to death with Red Starbucks Cups out of a warped sense of fulfillment that we can’t find while scrolling our phones.

Maybe that’s why Pacer is hiding in the bathroom.

Either way, my Americano is empty. Where’s my red cup?

Like what you read?