CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - I've Never in My Life Visited a Barista!

By Jack Cawthon 2008
Oh, the humanity! Oh, say it ain't so! One of my favorite eating places is going high class, and for a low class like me that's a disaster.

McDonald's, Mickey Dee, land of the Golden Arches is planning to install "baristas" in its locations. When I first heard the news, I thought a barista was a place where men went to meet naughty women, or all things being equal today through decree, women went to meet naughty men, or men went to meet other…well, you get the drift.

I wondered if one had to order a Big Mac before being introduced, but as I learned more I discovered that a barista had something to do with coffee.

And that presents another problem in this country: why can't people learn English? Goodness knows, I've struggled with it. Coming out of a Gilmer County holler, I have retained my hill twang and ways even after several years spent in cultural centers such as Charleston and Morgantown. In Charleston I learned Statehouse speak and how to converse in government bewilderments.

I thought Morgantown would bring further improvements where I could firm up my education, but after spending numerous years sequestered in the state's largest mental institution immersed with its caretaker professors, little was absorbed. What went in one end came out the other, changed only by degree. I finally realized that I had immunity, much like that to an infectious disease, and no matter how hard I tried I could never be infected.

However, I could always feel comfortable going into my favorite fast food eateries and ordering because I didn't have to deal with fancy manners or decide which fork to use or whether to wash my hands in the drinking glass. I didn't need to worry about how much to tip a waitress. But, best of all, I didn't need to tip a waitress.

But now McDonald's wants to upscale, it seems, and in the process confuse a country hick such as I.

I never thought of coffee as a high class drink. I began drinking it as a little boy kid on Barbecue Run. It was heavily diluted with milk, but, nevertheless, I would sit with the grownups and sip right along. I suppose medical authorities today would frown on giving a kid coffee, but it didn't harm me, except, perhaps, a little mentally, as some people have detected in my writing.

Our coffee was perked on an open gas flame and it varied in consistency maybe with the weather and when someone remembered to remove it from the burner.

Hey, coffee was coffee. But not anymore. Along came the baby boomer crowd, spoiled and pampered, or more attuned to finer things in life than their stogy parents. And somewhere along the line they discovered coffee shouldn't be just coffee served from a pot on a stove. No, it should be, most of all, laced with milk. Shades of Barbecue Run of my youth!

The Starbucks chain was the leader in the trend. It attracted an elite group to begin with. You know, people who read books, listen to opera (versus Grand Ole Opry), read the editorial page of the newspaper, live in gated communities, and believe in zoning.

You just didn't go into a Starbucks and order plain old coffee. Words sprang up such as mocha, Frappe, lattes, cappuccinos. I still didn't need to worry about learning a foreign language as I could go into my favorite fast food outlet and order coffee, and often what I ordered tasted much like that left on the stove on Barbecue Run, but it was hot.

Then, I noticed that sometimes I didn't pay full price. This was the beginning of my decline into the humiliating "senior citizen" discount. I would never say I wanted a "senior" coffee, but being cheap as I am, I wanted the discount.

But when the teeny bopper behind the counter would ask what size coffee, I would say "small," knowing that when the kid looked at my gray hair and weary worn features, the coffee would be "senior" discounted, and to add to the shame I would be addressed as "sir," certain recognition of an old folk.

To give McDonald's credit, its coffee has been improved, along with the price. Still it came with a "sir" and a "senior" discount.

But as Mickey Dee moves demographically upward, I'm not sure I can learn, at my age, the speak. Do I pronounce it "frappie," "lattie," or "cappuc…," "cappa…," "cappi…," or that town in Italy where the swallows come back each year?

The trend seems that Starbucks is lowering itself to drive-throughs and serving sandwiches, while Mickey Dee is moving upward with baristas, until the twain shall meet where we achieve class harmony, a dream of Karl Marx, but achieved through capitalism.

But where do folks like me, who have never learned to cope with upward mobility, find a plain old cup of coffee without going through a linguistic course, requiring training in gourmet (gor-met?) selection of coffee beans by country of origin?

I may just drink my coffee at home, made with an electric perk, but tasting pretty much the same as that perked on the open flame of years of yore, using whatever brand is on sale, as I view coffee pretty much as gasoline, all coming out to the same barrel.

If I do find myself with caffeine jitters away from home, I might force myself to approach a barista, point to my gray hair, and ask for a plain cup of coffee and emphasize that I want something not gor-met and doesn't taste like burnt rubber. But if a nice looking woman asks to sit beside me and casually mentions that she offers "senior" discounts, I'm gonna get out of there in a hurry.