No Exit: English Professor Arrested At Starbucks

Via Althouse, here's this week's mad-as-hell symbol of America's economic misery in the Summer of Recovery. An English Professor in an Upper West Side Starbucks was ejected from Starbucks after she refused to "play along" with the Starbucks' method of taking her order. High dudgeon has ensued:

Starbucks' strange vernacular finally drove a customer nuts.

Lynne Rosenthal, a college English professor from Manhattan, said three cops forcibly ejected her from an Upper West Side Starbucks yesterday morning after she got into a dispute with a counterperson -- make that barista -- for refusing to place her order by the coffee chain's rules.

Rosenthal, who is in her early 60s, asked for a toasted multigrain bagel -- and became enraged when the barista at the franchise, on Columbus Avenue at 86th Street, followed up by inquiring, "Do you want butter or cheese?"

Things escalated from there:

Yesterday's breakfast-bagel tussle heated up when the barista told the prickly prof that he wouldn't serve her unless she specified whether she wanted a schmear of butter or cheese -- or neither

"I yelled, 'I want my multigrain bagel!' " Rosenthal said.

"The barista said, 'You're not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese!' "

But Rosenthal, on principle, refused to back down.

"I didn't even want the bagel anymore," she said.

The bagel brouhaha escalated until the manager called cops, and responding officers ordered her to leave, threatening to arrest her if she went back inside, she said.

"It was very humiliating to be thrown out, and all I did was ask for a bagel," recalled Rosenthal, who said she holds a Ph.D. from Columbia.

"If you don't use their language, they refuse to serve you. They don't understand what a plain multigrain bagel is."

Sob! I will agree that the barista needlessly escalated the argument. I used to manage a cafe' and whenever a customer started acting like an a**, I told my employees to just get the jerk's money and get 'em out of the shop. Jerk customers aren't there to have a rational discussion about company policy RE: ordering off of the menu. They are there to act like jerks. It is the better part of valor to just take their money, rather than try to "keep it real." The barista didn't have to get cheeky, and his decision to do so gave The Professor all the rope she needed to climb up on her high horse.

(I used to have a bar tender buddy who said he dealt with jerk customers by answering their every statement with a hearty "Absolutely Sir/Ma'am!" In his head he would substitute "f*** you!" for "absolutely." This allows everyone to at least preserve their dignity.)

Of course, the fact that the barista's manager backed him up, rather than the customer, tells me everything I need to know, which is that The Professor was a known quantity at that Starbucks, and not a well-liked one at that. Managers are always biased on the side of the customer unless the customer is acting like a prima donna, as was the case here. The Professor is trying to play up this Howard (Howard-ette?) Beale role, standing up to corporate bullying with her grammatical integrity. But, who was the bully here?

On the one side, you have a 60 year old woman - a college professor, no less! - returning again and again to Starbucks to order her bagel, despite knowing that she doesn't like how Starbucks handles her order. Now it's been years since I've been in NYC, and maybe they do things differently there, as opposed to here in SF, but it is my understanding that there are a number of establishments in Manhattan that will sell you a bagel, and do so in a manner that has little reference to the methods employed at Starbucks. But, for some reason, this was not an option. You could almost say that The Professor was looking for a fight and would not rest until she was able to cause a stink, at which point she retreated into her "I'm a victim" crouch.

On the other side, you have this unnamed (maybe Steve Slator found a new gig?) barista. We don't know how old he is, although it's a cinch that he is much younger than The Professor. He probably makes a little above the minimum wage, plus tips. His shift probably started long before The Professor woke up (Starbucks' earliest shifts start at 4:30 AM). No one wakes up in the morning wanting to recite the Starbucks dialogue; it's pretty much imposed on you by that company's endless layers of managers. And here comes this lady, again and again, who wants to turn the simple act of ordering a bagel into a moment of High Urban Drama. I'd mouth off, too.

The Professor, and the sympathetic reporter who wrote the linked article, would love for this car crash to symbolize something, and it certainly does although not in the way she would like. What she would like is to be the brave heroine of tradition and old-fashioned values: of a time when everyone spoke proper English and a trip to a restaurant didn't include getting roped into a dopey dialogue scripted back in some corporate HQ. What we really have is a woman old enough to be this barista's mother, if not grandmother (meow!), bullying someone just trying to get through the day. She is acting no differently than a baroness sniffing over the the "help."

The Professor undoubtedly believes in equal rights and progressive values (can we all agree that a Manhattan college professor on the Upper West Side probably voted for Obama/Kerry/Schumer/etc?) ... in the abstract. But, in a face to face confrontation, she is as bitchy and snobby as all of those Republicans she imagines in her head (and can you imagine how Laura Bush would have reacted to the barista? She would have fixed him with a Look and made him feel lower than a worm). The fact is that our "betters" are often much worse than the rest of us.

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