Oprah, Your Half-Caf Nonfat Latte is Ready

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Writer and actress Annabelle Gurwitch believes she may have found the last place in America where you can be whomever you want: Starbucks. She has been ordering her coffee under fake names for years.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Some of the biggest stories in the news right now - The Iraq Study Group, that memo about the Iraqi prime minister - they come from anonymous sources. Most of us will never get the option of becoming an unnamed source. Writer and actress Annabelle Gurwitch details the next-best thing.

(Soundbite of music)

ANNABELLE GURWITCH: Consider this. In a world where one is increasingly required to produce a driver's license, if not a retina scan, in order to merely enter a building, and where we may all soon be sporting a national identity card, if not a chip imbedded under our skin, there are few places left where one can truly do what Chet Baker memorialized in song.

(Soundbite of song "Let's Get Lost")

Mr. CHET BAKER (Singer): (Singing) Let's get lost...

GURWITCH: I have discovered perhaps the last bastion of anonymity. Yes, one of the last places in the world where you can easily assume another identity and not be penalized or arrested. And here's the best part. It's right down the street from you. It's Starbucks.

I started noticing this phenomenon a few years ago, the first time I entered the ubiquitous the green and white coffee chain and adopted a habit that I can only say has turned into a full-blown addiction, as by this point I am practically tithing a portion of my income to the Seattle-based corporation. And I was asked my name.

Uh, why do you need to know my name, I asked? So we can call your drink out, the barista cheerfully bleated. And a light bulb went off at that very moment. Wait a minute. I don't have to give my real name. And thus began an odyssey upon which I have once, or okay, twice a day enjoyed the thrill of being someone else, if even for a moment.

First I went through an old movie star phase. Yes, the long-deceased Jane Mansfield, Rosalind Russell and Barbara Stanwyck have all recently ordered soy lattes in my neighborhood. On the day of her retirement from the Supreme Court, I was Sandra Day O'Connor. The day after the recent elections, Nancy Pelosi enjoyed a celebratory reduced-fat blueberry coffee cake in Sherman Oaks, California. Now, the only time I even raised an eyebrow was when I was asked, and how is Condoleezza spelled? I am not alone.

What's your Starbucks name?

Unidentified Woman #1: Quentin.

Unidentified Man #1: I go by Satan a lot.

Unidentified Woman #2: Petunia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: Ann or Jill or...

Unidentified Woman #3: Vanessa.

Unidentified Man #3: Tina.

Unidentified Woman #4: Jewel.

GURWITCH: So what is the reaction that they give you when you say Satan?

Unidentified Man #1: None.

(Soundbite of song "Ashes to Ashes")

GURWITCH: I called Starbucks HQ to ask if there is a company policy surrounding this practice, and as it turns out, this phenomena has even been noticed at the highest levels. Then I spoke with Jessica Sabahan(ph), a barista in - where else - Seattle.

Ms. JESSICA SABAHAN (Starbucks Barista): There was one gentleman who insisted on being called Tinkerbelle, and we've actually had a guy who would always say his name was me, so when we called out his drink, it was, you know (unintelligible) for me.

(Soundbite of "Rhapsody in Blue")

GURWITCH: I take comfort in this ridiculous, and what some might consider to be a frivolous footnote to the Starbucks caffeine-fueled sprint across the globe, from Beijing to Bahrain to the Bahamas.

That there are three new Starbucks opening each day has been noted with suspicion as a sign of America's growing imperialism. And yet I postulate that Starbucks represents one of the most truly American experiences. It's a mixed message for sure. A Starbucks might be on every corner, but if you buy into it, you can be whoever you want to be.

PESCA: Actress and writer Annabelle Gurwitch, if that is her name, is the author of "Fired: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized and Dismissed."

GURWITCH: Uh, can you make it a half-caf triple-shot short no-foam not too hot, and can you put it in my own cup, please?

(Soundbite of "Rhapsody in Blue")

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