Make My Morning Rich
The guy in front of me is here for an apple nut scone. The woman ahead of him wants a cafe latte. The two teenagers at the counter are giggling as they order iced cappuccinos. But I have come, for the most part, to stand in this line.
That’s because, time and again, I’ve found it’s the best way to start my morning.
Not that I like to wait for anything, mind you. Which is why I find it all the more amusing that when the crowd snakes out the door of my favorite cafe, I don’t just keep right on walking. No, I step into line and wait. Willingly. Happily. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
Those of us who’ve been here before — “the regulars” — already know about Rich. And for those who walk in for the first time, let me just say, they’re in for a pleasant surprise.
A man orders a cinnamon roll. “Oh, the triple bypass, you mean,” Rich laughs as he selects the largest pastry from the case, and holds it high for all to observe its three rings of gooey delight. The man claims his treasure, and with a smile he’s on his way.
Two young girls ask for mocha quads. “That’ll get you going,” Rich advises. Without blinking an eye, he steams the milk. The more the girls laugh, the louder Rich counts the one, two, three, four shots of espresso he mixes into each chocolate concoction.
A rather stern woman in a business suit barely looks up from her newspaper to order a decaf with skim milk. Before Rich hands her the cup, he asks, “How are you?”
“I’m all set,” she replies, referring to the coffee.
“That’s with coffee, but what I really want to know, what I really am asking you this fine morning is HOW ARE YOU?”
Despite herself, a glimmer of curiosity flickers in her eyes. She tucks the newspaper into her briefcase. “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Great!” Believe me, no one doubts the sincerity of his response. “I’ve got some fresh air in my lungs from walking here.”
As she turns to leave with her coffee, I detect a bit of a grin curling up at the corners of her mouth.
The next customer leaves a pile of change on the counter. Before you know it, Rich is throwing coins into the air in the hope they’ll land in the tip jar. Whoops, a nickel is in the napkins. Now, there’s a quarter in with the straws. All eyes in line are riveted on his every move. We can’t help it. His exuberance is contagious. After all, deep down inside, we want to feel good.
That there’s something different about him is undeniable. But exactly what it is, I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Until one particularly bleak morning when I step up to order coffee.
“What a great day,” he says. I take a sideways glance out the window to check if I’m living in a parallel reality. But all I see are shades of gray.
“Huh?” is all I can muster at this painfully early hour.
“When you go outside, close your eyes,” Rich instructs me. “You won’t see the dark clouds. You won’t notice that it’s about to rain. Just feel the temperature. It’s a little warmer today.”
Make no mistake about it. This is not your ordinary weather update. This is not just an attempt at casual conversation. Whether he knows it or not, Rich is giving me, along with my coffee, what I’ve observed to be his philosophy of life.
While all too many of us seem to begrudge the work we do, moaning and groaning, wishing we were sunning in Barbados, Rich seizes the day. Finding the silver lining among the clouds, he infuses joy into even the mundane tasks of an ordinary day. He embraces the here and now. He lives for the moment. He takes what is given to him and gives it all he’s got.
A few weeks later, I’m back at the cafe, standing in line for coffee. But Rich is nowhere in sight. “He doesn’t work here anymore,” the girl behind the counter informs me in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. He was here. Now he’s gone. End of story.
As I head out the door and into my day, for the first morning in a long time, I realize I’m taking with me only what I paid for. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Just a cup of coffee. Just another day.
And a reminder of what more it can be if only I make it so.
Photo by Otto Norin