First Person: Compassion and Outrage at the Coffee Bar

By E. S. Hammer
Friday April 20, 2007

As a 50-ish fan of Susan Parker’s column, I am following with keen interest her colorful descriptions of loss and renewal at age 55. I wish her great good fortune in finding or creating the “next right career” for herself. However, I just had to share an anecdote of my own, in case Ms. Parker meant seriously that perhaps she’d apply at Peet’s. 

Several months ago, I went in to the Vine Street flagship Peet’s store and happily ordered the same tea drink I’ve been ordering for many years: large cup filled with hot water, three teabags of masala chai, room for soymilk. 

It was a Sunday afternoon around 5, the light was changing outside (a sweet, somewhat vulnerable time—the weekend’s festivities being largely over, signs of the work week to come still a bit at bay, a time that my sociologist-self would call “liminal”). I was on my way to meet a group of friends who provide each other mutual support. 

Also, I had fairly recently been dumped, by the live-in boyfriend who had—up until he told me from atop the closed toilet seat while I was in the bathtub (on Valentine’s Day, no less) that he was “no longer physically attracted to me”—mentioned many times that he expected us to stay together for the long haul. So you can understand, I was a wee bit vulnerable. 

Imagine how it felt to be yelled at, by a Peet-nik I’d never noticed before, saying, and I quote, unfortunately, exactly verbatim: “Just because you’re old and lonely and desperate doesn’t mean you get to come in here expecting free stuff.” 

Apparently, the third teabag was now considered “extra.” But what a way to deliver the news! 

The scenario got uglier and uglier, as a couple of co-workers got in on the act; meanwhile my fellow customers who’d missed the start of the show began to give me sidelong, suspicious glances. 

I must mention that I am a multi-culturalism/diversity consultant, listed in Who’s Who of American Women (2001 edition), let alone the international recognition. Plus, I am told almost on a daily basis that I look so much younger, to which I habitually quip, “This is what 50 looks like now.” 

One kind and mindful employee just concentrated on step-by-step making my drink, taking my cash, handing me my cup and change. She looked embarrassed for her aggressively acting-out colleagues on either side of her, and we exchanged a rueful smile. 

The management responded to my complaint with a box of free chai tea. Upon further follow-up complaint, I was given a loaded Peet’s card. Thus reinforcing the notion that it was in fact all about “free stuff.” One man in management responded in several conversations like a human being with emotional intelligence, so I decided to focus on that instead of the cluelessness of others in Peet’s corporate. 

Oh. yes, maybe a month later I caught a glimpse of the angry young man in the parking lot of what friends have mentioned is a venue for a “recovery” meeting known to be “wild.” So I surmised that to be his problem. For which I do not lack compassion. But I still would not wish for any 50-plus woman (for the derogation implied in the particular manner of insult is all about sexism as much as ageism—we all know that it is older women who are called “hags” and marginalized while many older men are regarded as being at their powerful prime) to apply for a job at Peet’s. Unless the job was “consciousness-raising crone!”