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Posted by on Dec 4, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Travel | 4 comments

As Happy as We Want to Be


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Something seemingly insignificant happened today at Starbucks Coffee, which actually ended up leaving quite an impression on me.  And, I’d like to tell you about it.

At the airport in Fort Lauderdale, I waited inside the terminal and stopped to order my usual cafe latte.  Most Starbucks have lines, especially in the mornings, and this was no exception.

While about a dozen or so travelers stood in line, bored and indifferent to our surroundings, we couldn’t help but hear and observe what can only be described as a spirited employee bouncing around, working joyously behind the counter.  It seemed like the happiest day of his life.  While two cashiers rang up the orders, the young man — whose name I soon learned was “Evans” — made the coffee drinks.

A Marvin Gaye soundtrack was blasting in the background, and he was singing along with the tune like he was the soloist in a church choir.  He worked furiously to keep up the pace.  It was a remarkable site to watch, really.  Evans didn’t miss a beat.  In fact, the flow of the music seemed to create a certain rhythm within him that quickened the pace.  The line moved along rapidly.  Everyone got their coffee faster [See Footnote].

Unfortunately, not everyone saw the situation quite the same way.  An older man standing next to me mumbled some derogatory things under his breath, that could be heard by those of us who were unfortunate to be standing closest to him.  He didn’t like the kind of music that was playing, nor the employee having such a good time while on the clock.  There were some obvious racial overtones to his aversion, I believed.

Meanwhile, Evans just went ahead and did his thing.  Each time he made a beverage, he’d then present it to the customer proudly, by his or her first name.  Since the cashier always asks for a name, Evans used the occasion to make a new friend.  He’s announce something like, “Where’s my man, Robert?  Hey, Robert — I got you covered!  This is going to be the best coffee you ever tasted in your life!  Trust me, because I’m making it!  I do this for a living.  I’m a professional!”  Every customer in line got some kind of special treatment.  Most remarkable of all, his hands were constantly moving — no small task when there’s lots of gadgets and the liquids are burning hot.

The rude man in front of me wasn’t at all impressed with the scene.  When his turn came, he ignored Evans’ gracious overtures.  Despite this, Evans treated the man with the same joyous enthusiasm.  Unfazed, he bellowed out, “have a happy holiday, my man!” and went on to the next order showing not the least bit of disappointment.  Airline pilots, business people, weary travelers — just about everyone in the place was beaming a broad smile by the time they received their order.  You couldn’t help but love Evans’ and all his positive energy.

I was at that Starbucks all of about 8 to 10 minutes perhaps, but it seemed considerably less time than that.  Each person who received their coffee departed with a smile.  Oddly enough, as I write this up and recall the incident, a smile now comes to my face.  Evans didn’t just make a conscious decision to be happy.  He ended up making several other people happy, too.  What a wonderful way to start the day!

Evans was proud to pose for this photo (above), which I snapped as I was leaving the counter.  I told him how powerful his energy was and how much of an impression he was having on people’s lives — even if it seemed like a small thing.  Small things can turn into big things.

One presumes Evans isn’t paid particularly well.  His job is thankless most of the time.  Most of us barely notice that minimum-wage worker behind the counter serving us and making our lives easier.  Yet, every individual has the capacity to affect the lives of others and make a difference.  When you get right down to it, we’re really about as happy as we decide to be.  I really believe that.

Of course, many people have it much tougher than others.  Life can be really difficult sometimes, even impossible to deal with, it might seem.  It’s not easy to be joyous, or even crack a smile when you’re down.  All of us have bad days.  Then again, sometimes when we’re having a bad day, and someone like Evans comes along, the day becomes a little better.  I really believe that, too.

Inspiration comes from all angles and flows in many different directions.  Noble character isn’t top-down.  In fact, it’s frequently the inverse.  Life lessons and important reminders often do come from unusual sources — including the people who work for us, including those who make our coffee.

Thank you, Evans — for making my day.  Starbucks (corporate) will surely hear from me, along with a link to this story.  I’m a big believer that good deeds should be reaffirmed.  We desperately need more of you.


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Footnote:  I am a big believer in the power of music to energize and motivate people.  Workers who do tedious labor should almost always be permitted to have music playing, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their tasks.  This should even be a fundamental right of all workers.  I suspect that studies would show that music makes people more productive.  By the way, when I write, I always listen to music. 



  1. I found some new music to listen to while I work in a cubicle farm. I’ve noticed the most productive employees usually have an earbud in one ear, and their headphone earpiece on the other. It really is phenomenal how much better everything is with the right music.

    With that being said, It’s always great to hear about employees taking pride in their work, no matter how “low” or “menial”. Not only do I wish more people had that attitude, I wish more people were like you, and appreciated the happy people instead of giving into all the negativity in the world.

  2. I figured out a while ago that we generally choose whether or not to be happy. I believe that we do this largely by how we treat others and how we deal with the little things in our life. If we treat everyone with kindness, appreciate our good fortunes, and don’t let the little things drags us down then voila… happiness.

    As for music, employees should have an equal right *not* to listen to music. I can deal with music if I’m doing something physical like cleaning the house, but if I have to engage my brain for anything then music makes me worthless. When I worked in an office where people played their own music the only way I could get anything done was to wear heavy headphones to block it out completely.

  3. Good for you Nolan. This was very nice of you to pass on. I have always made it a point to flirt, joke, and comment to folks who have low paying or dull jobs, or anyone I come in contact with during my day. I always get such a kick out of anyone that smiles due to something I said. Waitress, counter worker, phone caller, anyone I think I can get to smile I try. Makes my day and I hope sometimes makes theirs. Bless you Nolan for making his day.

  4. Thanks for this Nolan. Guys like Evans are rare and should be cherished. At the Rio there’s a BK just at the door out to the parking garage. It’s at the farthest reach of the casino. There’s a gentleman behind the counter there who, being quite a bit older than Evans, is more subdued but just as effective in brightening the mornings of everyone.

    I’ve been getting my morning fix there for all the years of my WSOP pilgrimage. He’s always there being upbeat and that is remarkable in a world of rapid turnover in these minimum wage jobs.

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