In our May column we wrote about the experience we had going through the Starbucks drive-thru, when the folks in the car in front of us surprised us by paying for our order. We ended the column by saying that we would, to the best of our ability, pay the kindness forward.
Last week we had an opportunity to do just that. Ironically, it happened in the Starbucks drive-thru. And again, because of the driver of the car in front of us.
But it was different this time.
When we pulled up to the drive-thru window, one of our favorite young baristas was turning around to hand us our coffee. “Sarah” knows us by name and always has a smile for us. She goes out of her way to put a smile on our faces, too. On one occasion when the drive-thru was closed she brought our drinks out to us as we waited in the parking lot so that we wouldn’t have to go into the store. We definitely have a soft spot for her.
“How are you?” we asked Sarah as she started to lean out the window to give us our coffees. That was when we saw the tears. “Not so good,” she said. And the tears started streaming.
There are signs posted at most Starbucks drive-thru lanes requesting that you wear a mask at the window. It turned out that the woman driving the car in front of us had refused Sarah’s request that she wear a face mask at the window. The woman then proceeded to berate Sarah and threaten to report her to corporate. Sarah hadn’t had time to recover from this exchange before we pulled up to the window.
Through her tears she told us what had just happened. Our hearts broke for her as she said “I just want to feel protected, and to protect you guys.”
We offered as much support as we could in the few minutes we had to speak with her at the drive-thru window. Then we headed out for our afternoon drive around town.
As we drove around, we couldn’t stop thinking and talking about what had just happened. With increasing frequency we’re all reading about these types of ugly incidents. We read the stories in disbelief. But It’s different when you find yourself walking — or driving — right into a real time situation. And it involves someone you care about. It hits hard.
We talked about all the front-line workers who have to greet and engage in transactions with the public for hours on end. How scary it must be for them, and how unfair when they are harassed and attacked while doing what their employers require them to do. Even through her mask we could see the vulnerability on Sarah’s face as she described her experience and tried to get her bearings.
As we continued to drive and talk, our sadness turned into anger and frustration. Anger at that driver and the unfairness of what had happened to Sarah – and happens to many other front-line workers who just want to feel protected. And frustration, because we felt helpless and unable to right the wrong for Sarah.
Then it occurred to us that maybe there was a small something we could do. So, we drove to Trader Joe’s and called the store from their parking lot. And that’s where the bitterness of the day started to give way to sweetness and kindness. Because Trader Joe’s will meet seniors in the parking lot, do their shopping, and bring their groceries to the car. But it didn’t stop there.
When the TJ’s employee came out to our car we asked if they had some fresh flowers in the store. We briefly explained what had just happened and that we wanted to bring some flowers to our barista.
We handed the employee our debit card and she went back into the store. She returned a few minutes later with a bunch of mixed flowers, and as she gave them to us she handed back our debit card saying “We don’t want to charge you for this, we just think it’s such a nice thing to do.”
Wait — we were supposed to be the ones performing the act of kindness. Instead we found ourselves on the receiving end – again.
When we got back to Starbucks we handed Sarah the flowers and gave her an air hug. “This is from us and Trader Joe’s,” we told her. And tears flowed again. Bittersweet tears. Not just Sarah’s this time.
For us, the flowers were really a small gesture. And truth be told, done in part to make us feel better. When Trader Joe’s got involved, the kindness factor skyrocketed.
Kindness, it turns out, is contagious. In fact, it’s all around us much of the time. And when it seems to be missing, you can make compassion and kindness palpable with what you say and what you do.
Thank you, Sarah, for always being warm and kind to us, and thank you Trader Joe’s for your acts of kindness — toward us and toward a sweet Starbucks barista who needed some comfort that day.