Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Free Coffee

I was sort of fixated on the coffee. The cafe in the building's basement sold Starbucks, but it was only marginally better than the office coffee and cost roughly triple. There were no places nearby close enough to walk to, and even if there had been I wouldn’t have been keen on the idea so early in the morning due to the building’s proximity to the county jail.

Once, when I was waiting to cross the street on my way in one morning (it was still dark out), a guy hanging out the passenger window of an El Camino yelled, “I JUST GOT OUT OF JAIL!” as he and his friends drove past howling and laughing. 

If I were writing that scene into a screenplay, I would be very tempted to have the lady on the corner (wearing grey work slacks and a pink blouse), raise a fist and yell, “FUCK YEAH!” back. That’s way more entertaining than having her scurry across the street and into the building, which is what I did. 

I was usually one of the first people in the office, definitely the first of the enthusiastic coffee drinkers, so I usually got to make the first pot (and thus guarantee its freshness). Fresh is important with bad coffee. It’s pretty much the only thing you have going for you.

After the great disappointment of the office supplies, I really wanted to salvage the coffee situation. I think that’s what was behind the “free coffee” idea.

Food was a very big deal. Every so often someone would bring in something like coffee cake or donuts to leave on the counter near the coffee. Whatever it was was usually gone by 8:30 AM, but it would creep into conversations for the next few hours. You'd hear exchanges like:

"Hey, did you get any of that coffee cake this morning?" 
"No, I got in late."
"That's too bad..."
"Yeah."
"It had blueberries."

I tried to think of something to bring in, but kept coming back to the coffee. Then it occurred to me to buy everyone’s coffee. Then people could get a cup of office coffee without scrounging for change first. It would be just like the private sector, where the world made sense.

Maybe it would go over so well, management would get wind of it and decide the office coffee should be free all the time. Maybe the union could pay for it out of the thirty dollars they took out of my paycheck every pay period. I imagined a happy uprising that marked the beginning of this strange place’s transformation into a normal workplace.

I went to the lady who ran the coffee club and asked her what it would cost to buy the whole floor coffee for the entire day. She said she usually collected about $10 in change a day. The following Friday, I gave her $10 and hung a sign on the coffee machine indicating the coffee was free for the day.

It did not go at all as I imagined. There was no happy uprising. People seemed a little confused, even a little suspicious. I heard a couple of mutterings about it not being fair to people who did not drink coffee, or had pre-paid via the coffee club. 

A few people made a point to find out who was behind the free coffee and came by my desk to say thanks. Some asked how much I had spent to do it. A couple seemed to think $10 was too much to spend. I ended up feeling a little self-conscious and decided not to do it again. 

Some people got VERY excited and drank WAY TOO MUCH COFFEE. I ran into a cluster of people getting coffee when I went by to get my afternoon cup. A few were frantically scooping grounds to brew a new pot. One was a guy I was used to seeing in the afternoon. He usually came by the coffee area shortly after I brewed a fresh pot. I think he sat nearby. His eyes were bloodshot and he was covered in a light sheen of sweat. “The coffee’s free today!” he whispered loudly at me when he saw me, his eyes bulging as he stirred sugar into his coffee.

“I know,” I answered. “I’m not sure why,” he continued, looking around wildly as he walked away, “but you should get it while you can because once they figure out how expensive this is gonna be they’ll never do it again.” 

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