Coffee and I are well-acquainted. We meet often, frequently in a motorway services. The setting is big, like a strange spaceship, but the point is the caffeine – especially in winter.
Winter in the UK is sock damp and everywhere, smudged beyond the windowpane into a world that hides in its own armpit – head down, surviving.
Motorway travel doesn’t help the mood. There are always miles to go, and the sitting sticks with drowsiness. Lights blur into splodges of yellow, streaked by wipers – swish, swish, swish…
Behind the wheel I count down the miles as I strain to see the signs that announce the next services. I yearn for the hot steam of fresh coffee.
I stop at some point on most long journeys, then build up the courage to push open the car door and rush the cold to the entrance.
Inside, with the coffee almost in reach, the frustration begins, especially at peak times, or if the motorways have been forced to a halt by some incident. Amongst the indoor crowd the edgiest rim of discontent seems always to simmer around the coffee outlets.
The queues are not easy to handle. Some customers are in urgent need of quick caffeine, with places to go and times to get there. Others are in no hurry, with all the minutes in Big Ben to choose the densest of drinks and accessories.
From the back of the queue I glimpse the head of a barista, sometimes just one and sometimes two or three, in a busy bob between the gleam of the coffee machine and the cake-filled 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, and I long to see the quick-stretched arm of the office dressed, as they reach for their espresso or latte and leave.
I try to remain calm – generous – as a queue inches forwards. Finally I reach the counter… and there the reason for the delay is obvious. It might just be too many people but sometimes there is a card machine not working, or three members of staff off sick… or sometimes both. Yet, still the weary coffee whirlwind steams on.
It is those who stay on their feet and serve that I want to cheer. They whirl around their posts for hours as they repeat drink, after drink, after drink.
All I have to do is burst in, stand numbly for a while, and then exit like a wide-awake champion with my trophy cup of coffee. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, or the caffeine-to-come that brings the life back to my limbs, but I do know that I feel better, that I can drive away…and that there will another brave barista further down the road.
So, whatever the tax issues at the top of the great coffee chains, I would like to say thanks to all those who serve on the coffee margins of the non-stop motorways.
Your efforts are much appreciated! I hope they look after you.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018