When I asked Howard Schultz to wait in line: a tale of baseball as a Starbucks barista, ca. 2015

Since he’s running for a president – I recall the time I met Howard Schultz:

He was wearing a navy blue hat with a yellow M for Michigan, standing in line at a coffee shop. 

He was about 6 foot and wore a running shirt. Most people ran or bicycled to the local Starbucks on Saturday mornings. I lived at 31st Street and walked down the steps and roads for my 5 a.m. shift every day. It was only 15 minutes to the store on Lakeside. 

I’d seen this man a couple of times before.

The first time he visited he thanked me several times for his double-short latte, 2/3 full. After he said goodbye and the door clanged behind him, I turned to a barista.

“Can you believe how polite that guy was?” I asked.

“That’s Howard Schultz!” she cried.

A month or so later, on that Saturday, he ordered his usual latte and an egg sandwich. Bleary-eyed, I set pastries and coffee cake in the oven, then slid the food into paper bags. I called out the items as I walked to the end of the counter, then returned to my station. The faces changed but the line extended to the door on weekends.

Shortly after he ordered, I took out a sandwich and placed it in the bag.

“That’s mine,” he said and started walking toward the end of the counter to meet me.

“No, it’s Ken’s sandwich!” I said and met eyes with a gay doctor in his 50s who visited the shop daily. I dropped off the food. Ken smiled.

“Oh,” Howard said.

He returned to pastry counter and waited, standing just a bit back and out of line.

I turned to him.

“This is like when the Tigers’ pitchers made 5 errors in the 2006 World Series. Things don’t always go as we would like.”

He looked at me and laughed.

“You know, I was at that last World Series the Cardinals won,” he said.

“I was, too!” I shrieked. “But I was in standing room.”

I scribbled initials on croissants and spinach feta wraps and tossed them in the oven as we chatted. His sandwich. I heated his breakfast in the order in which it was received.

The oven dinged.

He didn’t ask for it.

“Hold on,” he said instead.

He took out his iPhone and began scrolling through photos. He waved at me to leave the oven and come over. He showed me some pictures:

There he was, standing with his wife on the baseball field. Busch Stadium.

There he was, standing with Tony LaRussa.

Standing with an old man in a red jacket.

“Do you know who that is?” he asked.

“That’s Stan Musial,” I stammered.

He smiled.

“I can’t believe you were on the field!” I said.

I told him how time had slowed down when Fernando Salas threw wildly to second base, and when Matt Holliday got picked off third, and when the ball fell to the field beyond the reach of Nelson Cruz. It was like when McGwire played. 

“We were both at the game!” we said.

Howard smiled at me.

“Now we have that in common!” he said. 

And then, he picked up his breakfast.


“I can’t believe you made him wait!” a barista said later.

“You made him wait?” my supervisor said. “You should’ve just heated his food first.”

I never even considered it.

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