I’m in line at the Starbucks drive-thru. Coffee is an indulgence I allow myself once a week. It’s raining and it’s cold outside so I am glad to be in my car. The gray vehicle in front of me dawdles for a full minute before getting to the order window or order panel or whatever you call that contraption. It’s obvious the person inside the car is distracted. I flash my lights once, just to let them know they’re holding up the line. Two years ago I might’ve honked. I have a long history of using the horn. In Bogota, where I lived for nine years, there was no other way to get around; it was a safety hazard if you didn't. Making loud sounds was also a necessity in Miami to wake people up, asleep at the wheel. In Los Angeles however, I’ve discovered people rarely use their horns. Drivers in California are different from Floridians: they tend to be more polite and ruder at the same time, if that’s possible.
So the driver finally realizes and inches up to order. Then it’s my turn. As I stop in front of the thingamajig, there's a sign tacked on: “we are short staffed please be kind.” It's a sad state of affairs when stores that are only there to sell you what you’re looking for have to ask customers not to start yelling and be abusive. I’m extra nice to the voice saying "can I help you?" and order a grande latte with a cookie dough cake pop. I hear whispering.
"I'm sorry", he says nervously. "The cookie dough has been discontinued."
"Oh no, that's horrible!" I joke and with a quick laugh (so he doesn't think I'm serious), ask for a chocolate one. I am a cookie dough enthusiast from way back so it is kind of devastating but we all have to grow up sometime. The car ahead is at the pay window. I’m reaching for my recently found Starbucks gold card that used to be for points before the era of apps. I'm guessing they were discontinued a while back but I will try to use it anyway. The car in front of me slowly pulls away. I reach the window.
"That'll be $13.85”, says the cashier through her mask.
"Excuse me?" I'm confused, all I ordered was a latte and a cake pop. I'm pretty sure I don't have $13.85 on the card but I have cash ready.
"Oh, sorry", she replies. The lady in front of you paid.”
"The lady ahead of you paid for your coffee."
The gray car in front of me is about to turn onto the wet road. I spill my drink as I wave my arms to acknowledge her. I manage to flash my lights before she disappears. I turn my windshield wipers on and make a right but it's blurry. I need another pair of wipers as the tears roll down my cheeks.
Thank you, stranger. Thank you for being kind. Thank you for doing something for another stranger. Thank you for making me feel that kindness. You made my day. I wish the best for you. And thank you for the lesson. Next time I am in the drive thru line for my weekly indulgence, I will smile as I drive away, having paid for the person behind me.