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A Rant in Four Parts

I’m standing in line at Starbucks (which I hate admitting to because as an Austinite I’m supposed to support the independent coffee houses, but they’re too far away and frankly kinda scary). So there’s a bit of a line in front and behind me and only one person taking orders. Finally the guy ahead of me gets to the counter and I hear the overly chirpy voice ask him what she can get him. And his reply? “Oh, I don’t know, what do you recommend?”

Now, I have suffered occasional bouts of indecision myself, usually in a restaurant when I find myself asking the server which of two entrees he recommends, knowing full well that his answer will be based on whichever the kitchen has more of. But in a Starbucks? I mean what the hell did he expect? Oh well sir, the latte is particularly fresh today, but if you’re looking for something extra special then I could slip you a peppermint shot and a quick blow job. So anyway, we all had to stand there and learn what this man’s usual drinking preference was — caramel machiatto — and wait for a suggested alternate beverage. Does he do this in other places? Does he go to the movie theater and ask for a recommendation? God help him if he does, the box office employee would probably implode at the prospect of having to interact with a customer with anything more than a mumbled “joy uh shah”.

What is it with movie theater employees anyway. I mean is it really such an utterly miserable job that only the most miserable, open-mouthed, dim-witted people need apply? I mean the whole pre-movie experience is so totally depressing that the first 15 minutes of any movie are spent lifting yourself out of the fug (and moving 3 times to escape the smelly/noisy/stupid/ people you invariably find yourself next to). To start with you line up outside for the pleasure of communicating with miss happy pants. You talk to her through a glass prison grille positioned so that it makes those of us of average height or below feel like munchkins. Avoiding all eye contact, physical contact and words of more than one syllable she pushes your tickets through, along with some ridiculous coupon offering you one extra watered-down coke if you buy 3 other cokes and the entire theater stock of 2-day old popcorn. And should you wish to take advantage of such an incredible offer, all you need do is stand in line so long that your movie is already half way through, only to discover that the coupon is not valid on weekday matinees, any show after 6pm, weekends or any other popular time for movie-going.

But back to Starbucks guy who’s still weighing up between a Caffe Americano and a White Chocolate Mocha. He comes from the same breed of idiots that frequent the supermarkets at peak hours. The ones who stand in front of you in long lines, unload their groceries, watch each item as it’s rung up, watch the packer start to fill bags, wait until they finally hear the total and THEN reach into their purse to pay. And naturally they’re always paying by check. So now we’re standing there while lady moron tries to find a pen and begins laboriously filling out her check. And if by some miracle she’s paying by cash, then she’ll hand the cash to her precocious 5 year old named Tyler who is then supposed to hand it to the cashier, but not without an explanation of ‘how money works’. This is followed by the ceremonial counting out of the change into the child’s hand and the delightful sound as it’s gleefully thrown to the floor (the change, sadly not the child). In a final coup she will suddenly remember that she’s got some coupons to hand in too, cue another search through the purse for the long-expired 25 cents off two cans of furniture polish, to add to the 2 she already has in the house.

This country is strangely obsessed with grocery coupons. The newspapers have supplements devoted to them and even if you avoid those you’ll get some cheaply produced flier called the Frugal Shopper or something equally hideous in your mail. Mention this obsession to people and you get that irritating ‘if you count the pennies the dollars take care of themselves’ response. Oh so that’s our plan for the national debt then. There’s just something inherently cheap to me about sitting down and deliberately cutting out coupons. Frankly it’s embarassing. In England, it’s only our hard-to-embarass old people who will happily fish around for coupons in their tartan covered shopping trolleys. And that’s only because we treat them so badly that saving 10 pence off a can of cat food could mean another 2 minutes of power for the electric heater, thus staving off hypothermia for another day.

Of course, the old people here just aren’t the same as in England. For a start they seem a hell of a lot younger, and it’s not just the Tommy Hilfiger outfits that they all strangely decide to start wearing once beyond 65. They seem to grow old more quietly and at a certain age appear to accept, perhaps even want, to live among themselves in Stepford-like retirement communities. Not so in England, where eccentric old ladies in particular are dotted around villages up and down the country, refusing to die and grumbling about how life used to be in agrarian times. I blame the Queen Mother, batty as a fruitcake and well beyond her sell-by at age 101. They’re very distinctive, our old ladies. They wear hats every day and talk about being evacuated during the war. They keep the local over-priced grocery in business and can happily wile away a few hours in the local post-office performing a multitude of tasks that would take a whole Government department over here. They tell you their age, more than once, and smell faintly of urine. They apply make-up without the aid of a mirror and offer to man the white elephant stall at the village hall ‘bring and buy’. They raise money for the church roof by making cups of tea and they own at least four handbags, each of which contains a lace hankie and a small tin of mints.

And when my time comes, I fully expect to create my own piece of batty Britain right here in Texas.