I look at coffee outlets from a different angle – normally the far side of a counter and often in a motorway services. Never a romantic venue and rarely relaxing but the point is the coffee – especially in winter.
Winter here means a chill that sticks. It is sock damp and everywhere. The world seems to hide in its own armpit – head down, surviving.
Motorway travel doesn’t help the mood. There are always miles to go and the sitting still just brings drowsiness. Lights blur into streaks of yellow zig-zagged by wipers – swish, return, smudge, swish …
I count down the miles. I strain for the signs announcing the next services. I yearn for the hot steam of fresh coffee.
I stop at some point most long journeys. I build up the courage to push open the car door and then rush through the cold to the services entrance.
I find the coffee sign with relief and then, so often, the frustration begins. If it is a peak time, or the motorways have been forced to a halt by some incident, there will be another simmering queue to join.
It’s not an easy queue. Some customers have places to go, times to get there. They are dazed – wanting caffeine. Others are in no hurry with all the minutes in Big Ben to choose the densest of drinks and accessories.
I can usually see from the back of the queue heads, sometimes just a head, bobbing to and fro between the gleam of the coffee machine and the cake-filled glass counter.
I imagine the frustrating, delicious undecidedness of the ‘ -aciato’ of each order. I groan as families queue for hot chocolates with flossings of marshmallows and syrup. I long for businessmen stretching for espressos.
I try to remain calm – generous. Queues always inch forwards. Finally I reach the counter where for the first time I usually find the reason for any delay. Normally it will be a card machine not working or three members of staff off sick or sometimes both. Yet, always there has been a weary whirlwind mixing coffee.
It is the weary whirlwinds I would like to cheer. Somehow they stay at their posts for hours while they repeat drink, after drink, after drink.
As I rush back through the cold with my trophy cup of coffee I feel wide awake. I’m never sure whether it’s the fresh air, the anticipated caffeine, or the guilt of having added to some frantic barista’s over-stretched day. All I do know is that the drowsiness has gone.
So, while parliamentary committees take Starbucks and others in for questioning over tax I would like to say thanks. Thanks to all those baristas serving the anonymous and decaffeinated on the motorway margins.
Much appreciated! I hope they’re looking after you.