On Starbucks, Part 2: Frappucin-EWWWW

To recap: I was at Heathrow. I’d bought a Starbucks mug. I was happy.

My post-acquisition emailing haze was shattered suddenly by someone behind me bellowing out the following:


I have a game I play at airport gates where I scope out my fellow travelers and give out a mental award to the person (or persons) I least want to sit next to when we board. The easiest way to win this award is to be loud at the gate, towards your family, an airline employee, or into the receiver of your portable phone. I was stricken by this voice because it had by nature won the award, but it was too early to give it out as I was still in the main terminal waiting hall. Not wanting to spoil my fun early, still high from mug acquisition, I willed myself not to turn around.  It continued:

OKAY. OKAY. So it’s because you want to move off of Windows. Okay. There was a lot of background noise and I couldn’t hear you. I APOLOGIZE. I LOVE YOU.

I recognized these as the well-tweezed words of someone who has spent a decent amount of time in couples therapy.  I had no choice but to turn around.  I had to lay eyes on the person who was taking the completely understandable desire to escape the lock jaw of Microsoft’s mediocrity and turning it into a public airport spectacle.   The best way of describing her – although my judgement is clouded by ensuing events- is that she was a human fireplug. Well dressed and surprisingly well-coiffed for an American woman traveling internationally on a Sunday, but still.  Fireplug in a pink cardigan.

I returned to my email for about 30 seconds when…there was not so much a sound behind me but somehow a received sense of reverberating shock on the back of my neck. I turned around again and saw the following things (in order)

A large puddle pile of reddish coffee colored vomit.
A sickly pale eight year old standing at the foot of that pile.
The Fireplug staring at the eight year old, frozen and agape.
A half-finished venti frappucino (with whipped cream) sitting on a waiting chair.
Ten other people, also frozen in time and space, staring at the same things I was.

Witnesses to a traumatic event experience a moment of paralyzed disbelief afterwards- as though we cannot quite grasp the hole that has rent itself in the universe.  I am not equating seeing a kid barf in public with witnessing a car accident. However, there is similar frozen moment, during which witnesses calculate their place in the x-y axis of personal responsibility for what happens next.  Normally the people who have the most responsibility – either the vomiter or their parents- take the longest to recover from the freeze.  The Fireplug recovered with precisely the reaction you’d expect from someone who let their eight year old drink a football-sized caffeinated drink at 11:00 in the morning.


No words of comfort.  No words of remorse at their collective dietary choices that morning.  Nothing else.  Her husband, who had just prior to this whole event been on the receiving end of a lecture, reacted more practically.  Having evidently unfrozen slightly earlier than his wife, he procured a roll of blue paper towels, which he deployed to corral the mess as best he could without actually doing the hard work of cleaning it off the floor. There was an older child who evaporated and returned without having accomplished much except making his parents wonder where he’d gone. The sick kid reanimated enough to walk over to the chair on which he had left his Frap with the intention of picking it up to finish it.   Not on my watch. Nope.  I engaged in a moment of inter-tribal parent glaring with his father, during which I offered the vomiter a bottle of water to wash out his mouth.   This bought his one functional parent enough time to confiscate the caffeine sugar supernova and throw it away.

Having insured that there was not going to be another episode, I returned to my computer.  I’d moved on from email and was hip deep in the news when something odd occurred to me.  There’d been no actual clean up of the pile of paper towels. It was still there.   What was no longer there? The family that had caused the mess. They jetted, leaving their kid’s bodily fluids strewn on the floor of the airport, narrowly enclosed in paper towel, the roll of which had been left on the same seat on which the venti had once stood.

The ecosystem of an airport is so completely regenerative in nature that even though there was still a fouled mess on the floor, new people arrived and sat down in the surrounding seats.  Keep in mind, we’re still within 15 feet of the starbucks line.  So people are leaving Starbucks with their coffees, turning a corner, and getting confronted with the worst kind of coffee afterburn you can imagine. I f I’d had a camera at that moment I could have launched a blog to rival Humans of New York. I would have called it  “Humans and their mess.”   Remember the blissful faces of the lidded coffee cup carriers? Not so much when faced with it in floor form.

To paraphrase the Simpsons: Starbucks, the cause of and solution to so many of life’s problems.

With respect to the family, I think half of why I’m writing this is because I was disgusted with their behavior.  The consensus I was able to build amongst other parents on my facebook feed is that the parents had a responsibility to at least facilitate the hand off to the people responsible for mopping the floor.  Especially in an international airport during this the time of Ebola sensitivity.  No one expected them to mop it themselves. As it happens there had been a previous vomiting child incident (like an outbreak of some kind) at the check in desk at Charles De Gaulle.  These people, being decent human beings, had their kid corralled over by a trashcan with a bag at the ready.  And there was no sign that she’d been given coffee beforehand.  The upshot of this is I think running like that was a chickenshit move, but then so is letting your kid drink a frappucino before he gets on an airplane.

In case anyone is wondering, Fireplug ended up winning the award.  No one at the gate got close.  This includes a woman who was traveling with three warring screaming little boys.  Never let anyone tell you that the age of glamorous air travel is over.