“I can get the coffee,” I said, naive to the certain doom that awaited. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the assistant director’s face revealed an expression I had seen before. It was the look that we see from Gandalf when Frodo volunteers to take the ring to Mordor — admiring his courage, but grieving over what’s sure to be the death of him.
Wait …Wait. No — Oh crap. What did I just get myself into?
I was a production assistant on a weekend shoot and the crew and talent wanted Starbucks. I thought it’d be an easy way to earn my stripes. Jot down “tall coffee x10” and “grande macchiato x8” and I’m good to go. Oh, how blind I was.
Thirty-four unbelievably specific orders later, I was on the phone with the nearest Starbucks.
“We’re just not used to taking orders of this size,” the cashier informed me. I could hear the dread in his voice — just a man trying to make an honest living, caught in the wrong place at the worst possible time. But in a strange way we were in this together. We had no other choice. We had to get this right. “This could be the end for us both,” we seemed to collectively think.
So, I read that poor man order after order. Double raspberry pumps and extra dirty chai orders spewed from my lips. Despite the unwavering patience of that barista, I lost a little piece of my soul somewhere in that exchange. I mean, how could I live with myself after so recklessly dragging another human being into such misery?
Trying my best to remain measured, methodical and composed, I dictated names and orders for what seemed like decades.
“She wants a double shot of chocolate espresso on top of the whip cream … No, this one is for Megan L., Megan R. was the last one.”
I finally finished reading the list. He offered to go through and read it back to me. Well, we’ve come this far. Should I take him up on that?
But alas …“Hey, Frank, how are we doing on that coffee order?” came thundering into the ear-piece of my walky-talky.
There was no time to go back and check for safety. All I could do was hope the unnamed Starbucks man had gotten all the orders right, with the correct nametag on each. He held my fate in his pumpkin-spice-scented hands.
I scrambled to the car, the actors and producers’ patience melting away with each passing second. “Gah! This traffic!” I shouted to the heavens as my fist unfairly took out my stress on the steering wheel.
After squeaking along Olympic Boulevard, I could finally make out that green mermaid in the distance. She’d never looked so beautiful. But wading through traffic is only half the battle in Los Angeles. I still had to circle the block upwards of 70 or 80 times to find parking.
Finally inside the store, there was a lunch-hour line to traverse. My agony persisted. At the first light of the fifth day, I reached the counter.
There he was. I could tell right away it was him because of the bleak, lifeless expression on his face. He was a broken man, a shell of his past self.
“He once had passions and dreams and things he loved,” I thought. “That’s all gone now.”
He, too, knew right away it was me. We exchanged a brief look of understanding. Neither one of us could ever be the same after this. “Still working on it,” was all he said, trying his best to feign a smile.
In the meantime, another barista rang me up. Over a hundred dollars. I left a $10 dollar tip. It only seemed right. I wanted so badly to grab this cashier, and say, “Not a dollar of it goes to you! It’s all for that brave man … that hero back there who so nobly stared down my 34-coffee order with the courage of 50 men.”
But I knew that could never be. The tip would be split like always, and the actions of that saint of a barista would be forgotten by the end of his shift.
After five trips to my car and back at Starbucks, and another five and back at the set, the deed was nearly done. All that was left to do was give the litter their teat.
“Did this get a single pump, or a double?” the sound mixer asked, holding up her grande latte.
HOW THE HELL WOULD YOU EXPECT ME TO KNOW THAT? I collected myself.
“Double like you wanted,” I said, having no idea if that were true.
Frank Marasco is a first-year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com.