Last week was tops in sales for a St. Petersburg, Florida, Starbucks. It was also, you might say, a day when the nice guys won -- for awhile.
Last Wednesday, a pay-it-forward chain ended when the 379th customer of the day didn't understand the concept and simply wanted to buy her own regular coffee. According to the Tampa Bay Times, it appeared the woman didn't get the idea of buying a latte for the stranger behind her.
The next day, the chain started again. The Tampa Bay Times was alerted of the second day of giving when a reader posted the news on the paper's Facebook page. By noon, more than 160 Starbucks customers had participated in this game of do-gooding. Then, suddenly, the chain broke -- on purpose.
Peter Schorsch, editor of the Saint Petersblog, a local political and community news site, derailed the java train by ordering two Venti Mocha Frappuccinos and refusing to pay for the next customer's order when prompted by the barista.
Schorsch, who blogged about the incident, said that although the first day might have been organic, the second day was "faux" because Starbucks employees were asking customers to participate:
What is not an act of kindness is what is happening today at the same Starbucks, where customers are being told that they had had their drink paid for and then asked would they like to pay for the drink of the person next in line.
That's not generosity, that's guilt.
Schorsch tells Short Order he drove to the Starbucks in question for a simple reason. "It just pissed me off. There are people who do good things, and they deserve credit for it. But this was as if we made a line of 400 people who just passed the same $5 along the line. This was day two, and TV cameras were setting up and it's bizarro world. It's not charity."
Before he set out on his Grinch-like mission, Schorsch stopped at an ATM to withdraw $100 as a tip for the barista and then consulted his wife. "She's my barometer. She just told me to get her something sweet and chocolaty."
Schorsch maintains his ending the chain was not intended to draw attention to his blog. "People have turned 'blogger' into a pejorative word, but we've got real journalists out there. I'm not a blogger in my underwear. I've got a new-media company more than anything else." He has, however, received his fair share of press and comments on social media, not all of it flattering. "I'd say it's running 40/60 against me. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted about me. Some people have been very supportive, but the negatives have been kind of scary. I've been mean in the past online, but some of the stuff makes you wonder how many angry people are out there."
So what did Schorsch learn from this exercise? "How many different ways people can spell 'douchebag.' I've seen people spell it with three s's."
The blogger gets serious for a minute. "I think Americans take charity very seriously and they have very strong opinions. We, as a whole, have a good track record about donating to causes. This subject is so partisan it's almost political. People have strong opinions, and they have no hesitance about sharing those opinions. You look at the opinion section of an article like this and there are thousands of comments. It's interesting to see how we are so connected. I think post-9/11, people talk about politics and everything more."
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Schorsch says he's not a terrible being who's too cheap to buy a cup of joe for a neighbor; he just prefers to help others in private. "Anyone who calls me an asshole doesn't know the things I've done for X and Y. My dad was a waiter, so I know about tipping. My wife and I organized a blanket drive for the SPCA because the shelter dogs get cold in the winter. People all do these things, but not all of us want the recognition." Still, Schorsch is being careful not to anger the retribution gods. "I'm so worried I'll get a speeding ticket or something. I don't want the grim reaper of karma to come for me."
Asked about the pay-it-forward concept, made famous by the movie that starred Haley Joel Osment as an adorable boy who turns a school project into a selfless phenomenon, Schorsch replied, "There's been criticism that anyone who can afford a $5 cup of coffee doesn't need charity. In my instance, my bill total would have been $12 with a tip, and maybe you get screwed on this pay-it-forward and maybe you make out on the next. I don't think that's what little old Haley was thinking."