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Murky Coffee, Arlington: Hold That Espresso Between Your Knees

July 13th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon

**UPDATE** It’s 2013 now, and it’s been a long time since this all happened. I’ve since gotten to where I’m talking about this post and the ensuing media hemorrhage onstage, and after refining the story for a few years I’ve finally got a version I’m happy with sharing. You can see it here if you like, performed at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC in March. **/UPDATE**

Maybe condescending service from a patronizing millenial at a DC coffee shop isn’t news to anyone else. But the only way I’m ever coming back to Murky Coffee in Arlington is if I’m carrying matches and a can of kerosene.

I just ordered my usual summertime pick-me-up: a triple shot of espresso dumped over ice. And the guy at the counter looked me in the eye with a straight face and said “I’m sorry, we can’t serve iced espresso here. It’s against our policy.”

The whole world turned brown and chunky for a second. Flecks of corn floated past my pupils, and it took me a second to blink it all away.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll have a triple espresso and a cup of ice, please.”

He rolled his eyes and rang it up, took my money, gave me change. I stood there and waited. Then the barista called me over to the bar. I reached for it, and he leaned over and locked his eyes with mine, saying “Hey man. What you’re about to do … that’s really, really Not Okay.”

I could hear the capital letters in his voice, could see the gravity of the situation in his eyes.

He continued: “This is our store policy, to preserve the integrity of the coffee. It’s about the quality of the drink, and diluting the espresso is really not cool with us. So I mean, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and I can’t stop you, but”

I interrupted. “You’re goddamned right you can’t stop me,” I said. “I happen to have a personal policy that prohibits me from indulging stupid bullshit like this — and another personal policy of doing what I want with the products I pay for.” Then I looked him right in his big wide eyes and poured the espresso onto the ice.

The whole thing was so Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces:

Touching a waitress’s chest is Not Okay. Pouring the coffee onto the floor instead of the cup is Not Okay. Drinking something I paid for the way I want to drink it — that’s more than Not Okay, it’s perfectly fucking fine.

Let me put this incident in perspective: I ‘ve got a good job, a gorgeous, loving girlfriend and I haven’t been to very many funerals. This is probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to me this weekend. So in the big picture, I’m doing okay.

But mankind hasn’t evolved, physically, in thousands and thousands of years. Biologically, we are the same barefoot creatures that hunted woolly mammoths with spears and competed with cheetahs for meat on the African savannah. That’s the source of most customer rage right there: a creature with a fight-or-fight reflex that’s 250,000 years old confronted with some ridiculous, arbitrary bullshit.

Here’s how arbitrary: I was stuck there fuming for an hour or so while my girlfriend had a dance rehearsal. And then, dammit, I needed more coffee. I didn’t want to spend any more money there, but I didn’t know where the nearest Starbucks was. I’m usually a fan of local, independent businesses — but at least Starbucks doesn’t tell me how to like my coffee. So I went back up to the register.

“I would like the strongest iced beverage your policy will allow,” I said.

“How about an Americano with four shots and light on the water” asked the barista.

I’d never had one before — so I said, “sure.”

Then he turned around and filled up a plastic cup with ice, filled it 3/4 of the way with water and carefully added four shots of espresso. He stirred it gravely and handed it to me, saying “enjoy.” And you know what? I really did. You’ve got to admire someone’s dedication to craft, and rigid adherence to a strict quality control policy. I was really, really impressed. So impressed that I swallowed my rage like so much cold coffee, opened up my wallet, and left a tip in the tip jar.

Money Talks


This whole thing’s blown up pretty big over the few hours — linked on Metafilter and BoingBoing — and it’s a little embarrassing. I mean, I can freely admit that I acted like a total dick here. But it’s not like I didn’t have probable cause. This is a tiny little thing that happened and made for a funny story, but I mean, c’mon, there are wars and genocides happening. I’m making a big deal out of it on this blog, but overall, not such a bad thing.

It reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s comment about her behavior on the set of I Heart Huckabees

…Now it’s all over, and so what, and I don’t have to keep up some great pretention I’m the most dignified, eloquent, elegant, perfect, smart-thinking, kind, generous person. I’m just a plain old human with a whole bunch of flaws.

**Followup, Part 2**

You know, I was pretty much over this. For real. Then somebody emailed me a link to the owner of Murky Coffee’s public response. All I’m saying is, if you were wondering where this barista’s attitude came from, wonder no longer. It looks like it’s learned behavior from the top down.

**FINAL Followup, I SWEAR**

Look, this thing has officially gotten overexposed. Way overexposed. I’ve been writing this thing for years, and this thing is just a tiny drop in a bigger bucket of other stuff that has nothing to do with overexercised outrage. The comments are closed here because really, what can ANYONE say that’s going to add a fresh perspective? Now that the Washington Post has done a story about this, it’s officially DONE. Take a look at some of the other stuff D.Billy and I have done instead:

‘Roo Shooter
So It Goes
D.Billy: Street Interventions
Drunken Pit Bull, Healing Heart
Snake Man of Venice
We Make Memories Together, Pretty Or Not
Fight Club in Union Square
Captain America Brushes his Teeth With Whiskey

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