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Multi-tasking and the death of manners

I sit in a darkened theater watching previews for the coming attractions. Once those are over, a familiar reel appears on the big screen, this time its star is The Lorax rather than Kung Fu Panda. But the message is the same: Please silence your cell phones and don’t send text messages during the movie.

I let out an involuntary sigh as several audience members reach for their phones to silence them. I sigh because of the necessity of the Public Service Announcement, I sigh because people should know better than to walk into a theater without first silencing their phones and I sigh because I know, based upon past experience, there will be at least one member of the audience who will disregard this request. I’d like to say I was pleasantly surprised that no one within my line of vision texted during the movie, but I can’t.

Two days later…

I wait in a long line at Starbucks. I check email while I wait but quickly put my phone away when I approach the head of the line. I give the barista my order–Venti, regular coffee–pay for it and move aside for the next customer to place their order. Since plain coffee is a simple order, the barista hands me my cup almost immediately. The morning rush is still in high gear. I find a place at the bar and wait for the traffic to die down at the sugar/cream station. My position gives me a view of the line of customers as they approach the register. The vantage point is behind the baristas and slightly to the right. I settle in and resume checking my email until…

A woman walks in and makes her way to the end of the line. She is one of several customers, and I wouldn’t have noticed her had she not been carrying on a rather loud phone conversation about potential candidates for a job opening at her company. Seemingly unaware of the 40 or so other human beings in this rather small Starbucks, she was completely engrossed in her own world. As she moved up in line, she removed her debit card from her purse with not so much as a pause in the conversation.

Now she’s at the front of the line, and she did what I fully expected her to do but hoped she wouldn’t. She said into the phone, “Just one second, Sue”, then proceeded to dictate a Chai Tea order so complicated I couldn’t repeat it if I tried. The barista repeated the order back to her, but midway through, the woman was back to her conversation with Sue, nodding impatiently to the barista. A few minutes later, Chai Tea in hand, she was walking out the door without so much as a thank you. Still with that damn phone in her ear.

The gentlemen seated next to me with the laptop and I exchange glances of silent and mutual disapproval. Multi-tasking run amok.

Another involuntary sigh from me as I sip my coffee and recount a quote from Charles M. Schultz which I find myself repeating all too often lately:

“I love humanity. It’s people I hate.”

Or possibly my abbreviated version:

“People suck.”

Probably the latter.

But just as my faith in humanity resumes its downward trajectory before 9:00 in the morning, I spot a new customer.

Among the crowd of business people and stay at home moms, he’s hard to miss, even though he doesn’t give the impression he wants to draw attention to himself: tan slacks, starched white shirt, red tie, boots and cowboy hat. If that’s not enough to draw your attention, the silver star of the Texas Rangers on his chest and the holstered service revolver on his right hip surely does. From the back of the line, he greets the baristas by name, shaking off their suggestions that he needn’t wait in line. Once through the line with coffee in hand, he makes his way over the end of the bar where I’m sitting and stands there. Every now and then he’ll engage in conversation with one of the baristas, but he’s cognizant of the morning rush, and only talks to the staff between customers.

I hadn’t intended to stay at Starbucks for as long as I did, but I was curious why this Ranger was still there. He hadn’t taken a seat. He just stood there waiting. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me.

“Are you waiting on an order for the whole department?” I asked.

He smiles and shakes his head.

“No. I’ve known these folks for 10 years. My job keeps me busy and far away. I just wanted to come in and catch up with everyone.”

In the span of 45 minutes,

I’ve witnessed a woman so self-absorbed in her own world that she couldn’t put her phone down long enough to acknowledge another living, breathing human being talking to her or to say thank you to said human being for not screwing up her ridiculously complicated fancy tea order…

And I’ve seen a man worthy of attention shy away from it. A man who could get all the free coffee he wanted but instead insisted on paying for it.

As I walked by the ranger, I wished him a wonderful day and I thanked him.

I was out the door before he could ask why I was thanking him.

“Why, for restoring my faith in humanity, sir.”