The Quest for the Birthday Coffee

Will and I spent most of last week at home unpacking or doing tedious things like swapping car insurance policies, but on Friday we decided to end the week with a little new-town-excursion to celebrate my birthday. After a delicious breakfast in bed prepared by Will and a generous helping of Beatrice cuddles, we set out for Starbucks to claim the much-anticipated birthday coffee.

When we arrived at our destination, I hopped out of the car, walked in alone, and nervously drifted towards the counter. The barista was brisk and asked what drink I’d like. I was prepared for this question: Venti Cinnamon Dulce Latte. Bring on that caffeine! But then… the dreaded part. How would I like to pay? “Um… well, it’s my birthday… and… I have a registered card, so… do I get a free coffee?”

The cashier’s face was impassive. Did I have an email? I should have received an email with a code to redeem for the free coffee. Oh no. I hadn’t received an email that I knew of. The barista was still staring at me with condescending impatience. I began to panic on the inside, while coughing nervously on the outside. I think I stumblingly repeated the question and said something brilliant like: “Sooo… to get the free coffee, I need to show you an email with a code?” He looked at me like who is this moron and does she think she can get just waltz in here and get a free coffee? SO SELF-IMPORTANT. SO CONCIETED. Don’t you know you need a code? Get your act together! All the coffee beans in this entire store are disappointed in you!

Actually, he probably was just looking at me matter-of-factly and thinking about what he should eat for lunch, but I was in full embarrassed panic mode, so, who knows.

A small footnote: claiming free things has always been embarrassing to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love sales and discounts and getting a good deal. I have mad coupon-clipping skills. I gloat over the “Today You Saved…” portion of my grocery receipt and have even been known to give a small cackle. But when it comes to getting something for free, I don’t even like taking those samples at Sam’s Club (feigning interest while I enjoy my little bite, nodding brightly and agreeing that maybe I WILL buy that box of 100 frozen burritos, and then quickly veering away with an intense, furrowed brow like I just remembered something else on my list that’s REALLY important). It’s not that I don’t want the free thing, but I hate the human interaction that goes with it. Do I stare at the cashier with an unnerving smile and say, “It’s my birthday. You WILL give me a free coffee.” *subtle Jedi mind trick motion*? Do I look imperious and in my most commanding tones say, “It’s my birthday, peasant! Bring me a goblet of something cool and refreshing… that Very Berry Hibiscus will do.” Do I mumble my request, avoid eye contact while they prepare it, and then pretend to be surprised when they give me the free thing? (Yes, usually yes).

Anyway, so there I was, still teetering indecisively in line, contemplating whether maybe I should just pay for the coffee and beat a hasty retreat. I mean, it’s just a birthday. Do I really deserve a reward for being born? Is my existence so important that I should expect strangers to give me free coffee? WHAT WAS I THINKING? I was feeling pretty small and humbled at this point, but then I remembered William in the car, and imagined the look of disbelief and how he would lovingly shake his head at my weirdness. B.W. (Before William) Erin would have just bought the coffee in a fit of flustered blushing and gone home to sip it guiltily and think about what she’d done. But A.W. (After William) Erin is a bolder breed. A.W. Erin would fight for this coffee!

I girded my proverbial loins and informed the barista I would be right back. I dashed out to the car and related my dilemma to Will as I checked my email. No code from Starbucks. Oh the humanity! However, now my course was set. That coffee would be mine. I returned to the counter and spoke to a second barista, a cheerful looking girl who had replaced my skeptical and disapproving nemesis. I told her I had not received an email, but my card was registered, and what did I need to do to get a birthday coffee? Oh, just order and we’ll swipe your card – if you’re registered you’ll automatically be given the coffee for free. WHAT. I silently cursed Former Barista with a stream of gibberish words (Foobily! Arghsnarg! Gwerkish!) and felt pleasantly vindicated. I ordered a Grande Cinnamon Dulce Latte (still feeling a bit cautious after my ordeal… let’s not get too greedy, A.W. Erin), and returned to the car triumphant with with my spoils in hand.

My success made me giddy. I felt so powerful, so alive! What else could I get for free? William and I shared my coffee and discovered a helpful list of birthday freebies on our way to get my TN driver’s license. We spent the rest of the day pleasantly, perusing Barnes & Nobles for a few hours, where William gave me a beautiful birthday gardening book and Beatrice gave me the pleasure of several remarkable blowouts (and some beautiful smiles, to be fair), and taking advantage of nearby birthday deals. At the end of the day, our final freebie tally was as follows:

– One Grande Cinnamon Dulce Latte, acquired with some difficulty.

– Two free glazed donuts and a coffee at Krispy Kreme, eaten in a quiet, sunny window booth with a sleepy baby.

– One 16oz Pomegranate Paradise Jamba Juice, as an enjoyable midday pick-me-up.

– One medium Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket from Firehouse Subs.

– One Steak ‘N Shake Double Steakburger w/ Cheese Fries. We split the sub and burger for dinner – no cooking for the win!

So there you have it. Here’s the list we used to find our birthday freebies – I was shocked by how many there are! If you have a birthday on the horizon and are feeling bold, you might want to check it out. :)

Do you all have any harrowing stories of freebie trauma, or a favorite birthday special you look forward to each year?

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