So I walked into Starbucks like I normally do and ordered my usual tall, extra-hot latte. “Do you want syrup in that?” asked the starista helpfully. I had not had my coffee yet (duh) so my mind was grabbing at words like maple, blueberry, or high-fructose corn. Before I had a chance to respond, she was pointing behind me to a Do-It-Yourself Syrup Bar. “We moved all the syrups over to that side, so you can help yourself now,” she explained, “Check it out. There are also a few new ones you may not have tried.”
I had never seen anything so fancy, not even on the transatlantic cruise my grandmother took me on that one time. There were a dozen tall bottles of exotic syrups standing at attention, like syrup soldiers ready for battle.
I picked up my latte off the counter and walked over to see the syrups. Imagine my surprise when I read the name on the first one: Tall. That’s my older son’s name! Why would a syrup be labeled “Tall”? Out of loyalty to my son, I put a drip of the flavor in my coffee and sipped it cautiously. Nothing. It tasted like nothing. I turned back toward the direction of the starista to tell her something was wrong with this syrup when I hit my head on the light fixture. I didn’t remember it being that low. Or the starista being that short.
“Excuse me, miss? Is this one, Tall, supposed to taste like anything? Because it doesn’t.” I made a face, the type of grimace when the mailman hands you your mail and it’s all bills and junk mail.
“Oh, it doesn’t really taste like anything. But it did work.” She smiled up at me. “Go ahead and try ‘Really Smart.’ That’s my favorite.”
I went back over to look for Really Smart, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe some other customer had taken it to their table. I scanned the names of the other ones. Rich. Why not?
I poured a bit into the coffee and took another swig. I felt like Alice in Coffeeland, anxious for what would happen next.
“I think you dropped this,” said a man as he handed me a crisp $100 bill.
“No, that’s not mine,” I said.
The starista appeared behind me. “Yes it is,” she said firmly as she handed me a $50 bill as well. “So is this one.”
Rich was good. I liked Rich. It was my favorite so far.
“I’ve tried two syrups already,” I told the starista conspiratorially, “but is there a limit? Can I try more?”
The starista wiped down the front side of the baked goods case with a wet cloth. “You can try them all, there’s no limit.”
I noticed one of the syrups was called Frantic. I picked it up and examined the bright orange label on the bottle. Who would want to drink that? Frantic was like the lima beans of the syrup world, completely unnecessary and destined to be thrown away in a napkin under the table or fed to the dog when no one was looking. A woman pushed past me as I was setting Frantic back down.
“Do they have any more Model?” she asked in a tone that made me think she had tried the syrup I just put back. “My sister recommended that one.” She pointed to her sister across the leather chairs and small wooden café tables up near the front window. I didn’t see her sister, but I did see Heidi Klum.
The woman found the bottle, but then clumsily knocked it on the floor. The bottle broke and an iridescent blue liquid went everywhere. “Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no,” said the woman, clearly upset, “I really wanted to try it.”
A different starista appeared, mop in hand. “I kept telling corporate that the syrups shouldn’t be out here, that only the staristas should pour them, but no,” he mumbled under his breath.
I hovered nearby waiting for him to finish mopping. I wanted to inspect the other choices. He finished quickly and I picked up various bottles and set them down again. I liked Tall, I liked Rich, and Model seemed to work fairly well. Frantic was a waste of a bottle. Famous beckoned, as did Gainfully Employed. Remember Everything made me shudder. Travel sounded appealing, as did Real Love. I considered Luck, but it didn't specify if it was Bad or Good. What else did I want to try?
Before I could think about it too much longer, the woman who had spilled Model pushed past me, grabbed the sole bottle of Happiness, and stormed off. “If they won’t give me Model, I’ll just take Happiness away so no one else can have it,” I heard her say.
It didn’t bother me because at that precise moment I located the one special bottle everyone seeks when they walk into Starbucks in the first place: Inner Peace.