Author and SW resident magazine columnist Louise Candlish on the lure of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte and asks ‘what’s your Starbucks’ name?’
I have a soft spot for Starbucks. The Northcote Road branch was where my NCT group met to debate such questions as ‘Breast-feeding: do you pull your top up or down?’ and, more recently, in SW9 it is the welcome chain retreat from the smugly indie options of Brixton Village. And then, of course, there is at this time of year the seasonal giant that is the Pumpkin Spice Latte.
But I am not without my criticisms. First there was the tax avoidance and now there is the business of them taking your name when you order your drink.
‘I wish they wouldn’t do that,’ I say to my friend Pete as we queue. ‘It’s insincere. They’re not even making eye contact with the punter.’
‘I know,’ he says happily. ‘It’s so sordid. So what name do you use?’
‘My own, of course.’
‘You mean you don’t have a Starbucks’ name?’
‘Do you?’ How did this trend pass me by? ‘How do you work it out? Is it like your porn star name?’
‘No, that would be too many syllables. I find that one is best,’ he advises. ‘Otherwise you hold up the queue. I use Bob.’
‘Bob? But you’re already a single syllable, Pete.’
He shrugs. ‘Bob is more fun. It’s a persona.’
As Bob orders his espresso, I decide I will use my latest protagonist’s name, Emily. She may be tri-syllabled, but she is a persona if ever there was one.
My turn comes. ‘A flat white to go, please,’ I say.
The black Sharpie hovers over the takeout cup. ‘Can I take your name?’
‘Yes, Louise. Oh! No, I meant Emily!’ I lose my nerve. ‘I’ll just go with Louise, please.’
The pen scrawls.
Humiliated, I wait for my drink with the other personae. Bob pretends he doesn’t know me. Presently, the guy calls out, ‘Flat white for Lee!’
No one bites.
‘Flat white for Lee!’
I step forward and reach for the cup. ‘I think that must be for me. I’m Louise.’
The guy snatches it back. ‘No. That’s not for Louise. See here?’ He indicates the scribble. ‘It’s for Lee. Flat white for Lee!’ he yells, a second time.
Great. Here we go. Just when I thought I was going to manage a whole day without a Curb Your Enthusiasm moment. ‘Look,’ I say. ‘You’ve called Lee’s name twice now and no one has come forward to claim the drink. I am waiting for a flat white and my name is Louise. Do you think it’s possible that the person taking my order misheard my name and wrote down Lee instead of Louise? I know you favour a single syllable.’
He eyes me with extreme suspicion.
‘What if I hadn’t agreed to give you my name in the first place?’ I continue. ‘It would have been like the old days, when you just call out the drink and the person takes it and it’s all done on trust.’
He is not convinced. ‘But what if Lee just went to the bathroom?’
‘This is insane. If “Lee” comes back from the bathroom and wants to know where his flat white is, then just make him a new one.’
At last he releases the drink. But there is bad feeling between us and I fear I will not be welcome in this branch again, identity thief that I am.
Pete/Bob just sighs. ‘This would never have happened to Emily,’ he says.