I didn’t realize how far outside mainstream America I was until last February. And I’m not talking about politics. Approximately half the voting public was for Kerry in 2004--maybe more than half if there had been a clean count with no voter suppression in places like Ohio and Florida. I’m a little more left of center than the average Democrat, but not really out of the mainstream. No, I’m talking about that bitter brown liquid most Americans can’t live without.
I was working the early shift that February day. My supervisor, who had not yet met me, came up from St. Louis to check out the station and its relatively new employee. He brought two huge cups of coffee--one for him and one for me. I was a bit nervous at having the boss there for the first time, and I knew that drinking coffee would make me sick. I declined politely. (Even if I had been able to drink it, it would have gotten cold--it was a Friday morning, and the first train--No. 300, the State House to Chicago, was busy.) I got everyone ticketed, and we went out to meet the train. The lounge car attendant had two cups of coffee for us.
There was a slow time between the two trains when I did the station sales report from the previous day. Then it was time for No. 303, the Ann Rutledge, to St. Louis and Kansas City. And the lounge car attendant gave us--you guessed it--two more cups of coffee. I didn’t normally work the early shift on Friday, so the attendants weren’t expecting the only non-coffee drinker in the district to be on duty. (Since then, one very nice attendant has brought me tea.)
I made a pretty good impression on my boss that day, in spite of turning down the coffee. But ever since then I’ve been aware of just how weird I am for not drinking the stuff. I drink a lot of tea--most of it iced, but some hot. And now Patry Francis, the writer and waitress whose blog, simply wait, is home to some of the most elegant prose on the web, has declared the tea drinker to be the bane of the waitress’s life. That blow was softened a little by the fact that many of simply wait’s regular readers, along with Patry herself, drink what Douglas Adams called “boiled leaves.”
While I drink a lot of tea, my favorite morning beverage is chocolate. For health and financial reasons I usually drink artificially-sweetened powdered cocoa, but if I could, I’d drink real hot chocolate. I still dream about the chocolate I had at the Bernini-Bristol Hotel in Rome, where the waiter brought a pitcher of thick, unsweetened chocolate and another of hot milk, which you mixed and sweetened to taste.
If I lived in Britain, or Sri Lanka, or China, where tea is the beverage of choice, I wouldn’t be such a misfit. But I live in America, where most people assume that all adults drink coffee. Maybe the American addiction to coffee dates back to the Boston Tea Party and the tea boycott. Or perhaps it was the Civil War, when Union troops received coffee as part of their rations. (The cigarettes in military rations certainly got a lot of Americans hooked on tobacco.)
I suppose we non-coffee drinkers could get together in support groups, declare ourselves an official minority, and demand the right to order tea without getting rolled eyes or dirty looks. We could picket outside Starbuck’s and spread stories about the dangers of coffee. Tea and chocolate drinkers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your (stomach) pains! But we won’t. We’re pretty mild-mannered. After all, we’re not jittery from too much coffee. We don’t want to ban coffee, or even make it unfashionable. But it would be nice if people who provide beverages--waitresses, well-meaning bosses, lounge car attendants, hotel managers, etc., realized that not all of us drink coffee.