Panic behind the counter

"Ang dami ninyo, ah," I told the barista at the Starbucks branch near our office.

"Ganito talaga kapag ganitong time," she answered, while adding squirts of syrup to a plastic cup when gooey brown liquid in it.

I was waiting for my drink. A gingerbread frappucino, because it's Christmas, which means every mainstream coffee shop in the city offer holiday-themed drinks. And, yes, the beginning of planner season.

I went there to try that gingerbread drink. My sister tried it a few days ago and we had this little tweet-versation on whether it's just Starbucks riding the wave of everybody having cookie butter variants of everything, without looking like they're riding the wave. Cookie butter, that expensive brown-orange-blah spread that smells really good and tastes, well, just all right, it always tasted like gingerbread anyway, only deeper, because it's not, well, baked.

In theory, it should work on everything, but it actually doesn't. I remember trying cookie butter donuts and it tastes like, well, dough slathered with dough. Chemical dough. So, yeah, perhaps it's good that Starbucks doesn't look like they're riding the wave.

I wasn't out to get a planner. I had one of their sticker sheets, but that's from a colleague, and when she sort of asked around looking for help, I saw an opportunity to try something new. Like I needed an opportunity. The store is, after all, just downstairs.

I have always been a CBTL person, but I often feel like I'm cheating on them. Sure, I still go there, and I still prefer the place because they always have cakes and better seats. And Rainy prefers the place because, well, they always have cakes and better seats. And I have their rewards card. I don't get discounts, but I get points, and if I have enough points I can buy drinks for free. And I have enough points. And I have never availed of them. Yet.

Anyway, I often feel like I'm cheating on my beloved CBTL. The nearest branch to my office opens at eight in the morning; the Starbucks below me opens an hour earlier. When Rainy and I meet for breakfast, and we feel more posh than usual - our only other options not involving long-ish walks being Jollibee and Mini Stop - we end up at Starbucks, and we end up there a fair bit, and we end up being familiar to the baristas there. Or at least one of us.

"Anong pangalan ulit ng girlfriend mo?" the barista asks me, before attempting to say Rainy and saying Renee instead.

"Rainy," I say.

"Ah," she goes. "Rainy. Can I have your order, sir Niko?"

"Umm..." I dither a bit, although by then I already know what we plan to have. "One dark mocha frap, grande. One iced chocolate, grande. Umm. One waffle, and one chocolate fudge bar whatever."

"Toppings for the waffle, sir?"

"Uhh, chocolate."

"And how do you spell Niko again, sir?"

I told them a few weeks prior. That's probably why they remember me. And yet they'd forget things. They'd forget how to spell my name. They'd forget how to spell Rainy's name. And they'd forget to put the chocolate on the waffle, giving me a warm, but bare, pastry on a plate.

Today the line was extraordinarily long. Unsurprisingly. It's been a couple of weeks since planner season started and, like in previous years, people feel like they're in a race to get these notebooks with logos on them. This year's Starbucks planner has magnets and a function-over-form layout, but nothing really special. And people will still go through 18 stickers in as little time as possible to get their hands on those babies.

"Isang gingerbread frap, grande," the girl in front of me goes. "Umm. Isang toffee nut frap, grande rin. Isang Java chip, grande. Umm. Saka isang coffee jelly, grande."

Her sticker sheet was two-thirds filled. She is in a race.

"Tinatapos n'yo talaga, ha, Ma'am Jen?" the barista tells her. She just smiles.

By the waiting area, there are four friends (or colleagues, more likely colleagues) chatting over the drinks they just had.

When I waited there, I saw one of the baristas prepare four drinks and put them in a paper bag.

"Ang dami ninyo, ah."

"Ganito talaga kapag ganitong time."

There are usually three baristas in this store. Today, there were six.

"Four drinks for Jen? Four drinks for Jen!"

The girl goes up the counter, a bit confused, but beaming, happy that she's four steps closer to a planner, or Holy Grail to urbanites with no sense of perspective. The death of thousands of people will not stop her from getting a Starbucks planner.

Like me, really. Kinda. Or not. I'm not getting a planner.

The gingerbread drink was all right, but I feel it tastes better if it was just a gingerbread-flavored drink, rather than a gingerbreak-flavored coffee drink. The two flavors fight and it does not feel like Christmas at all.

I have not seen CBTL's planner, but I have their stamp sheet. Twelve stamps gets you a planner. I have three stamps.

I don't know if I'll still pursue that, because two days ago, I bought my own planner. A Moleskine planner. A Peanuts-themed Moleskine planner. Sure, it's quite expensive, but it costs as much as ten drinks at either CBTL or Starbucks. It is, as I pointed out last year, cheaper.

But Rainy needs a planner for me to write sweet nothings to her. Maybe I should pursue it anyway.

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