“Dear Great Pumpkin, I am looking forward to your arrival…” —Linus, from ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’
The start of Fall is a special time, heralded in hundreds of different ways. For many of us, the season was ushered in by the first whistle of football season. For others, Fall began when we sent those crumb-dropping, wet-towel-hording children back to their hallowed halls of learning. Then there are some for whom Fall is still barely in sight. They’re looking for changing leaves and a stretch of days when they can wear boots and scarves without breaking into a full body sweat.
Let it be known to all the people that Fall officially began on September 22nd. You see, on that day, the Earth turned on its axis and faced the sun in a certain way so that Summer was no more and the season magically turned to Fall. Or something like that. I mean, I don’t really know. It’s science. Google it.
Or not. Because the truth of the matter is, it is neither football schedules nor school administrators or even the merchandising experts at Nordstrom that determine the real start of Fall. No, you silly leaf-peepers, the official start of Fall is determined by the marketing team at Starbucks. This year, the hyper-caffeinated, money-printing Starbucks squad decided that the beginning of Fall was September 5th, which is when they released their cult favorite Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL).
I’m not a coffee drinker and, as a rule, I try to limit sugar and caffeine, so this is one marketing scheme I’ve been able to sit out. To be more precise, I sit out the whole Starbucks thing completely. It seems costly, complicated and overly trendy. Which makes it weird that I don’t participate, because that combination could also describe most of my online shopping carts. But for now, I’m putting aside whatever my reasons are/were for sitting out the phenomenon for a social experiment. A brief little internet search tells me that Starbucks came out with this drink in 2003, and it seems to me that we’re at the fever pitch of a cultural obsession. Sitting this out means I’m missing a chance to be a part of pop culture. When my grandkids ask me one day, “Maman (apparently, I imagine myself to be an impossibly chic French grandmother), where were you when you had your first Pumpkin Spice Latte?” I don’t want to answer, “Darling, I just decided to sit that one out. Irresponsible snacking, you know.” Best get on this train before there’s a pumpkin shortage and prices go up. You know, because it’s such a bargain right now.
In the name of being part of the trend of the decade before it completely fizzles out, I decided I would take the plunge and see what all the fuss is about.
I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, but you’ve got to understand that coffee shops kind of stress me out. Like I said before, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I don’t know how I “take it,” and anytime there’s some sort of special ordering system, that raises my stress level even more. Add to that a line of people behind me who all know exactly how they take their coffee, who are in an immense rush, and subscribe to the belief that COFFEE IS LIFE, and I’ve just about landed in panic attack territory. It reminded me of when I was younger, and we used to go to The Beacon in Spartanburg. The ordering system was such that a blind man named J.C would yell, “Call it!” at you, and you had to tell him very clearly and quickly what you wanted. I would get so anxious, even though I had decided upon and rehearsed my order well in advance. My mouth would completely betray my brain, and I would inevitably end up with a hot dog covered in onions, even though I practiced saying “cheeseburger, all fries, no onions” a thousand times before I came face to face with J.C. This was more than a Starbucks trip. This was facing my fears, people.
Deep breaths. In my experience, the best thing to do when facing an anxiety-inducing situation is to make a plan. As such, I strategized the perfect Starbucks visit.
1. Dress the Part. I went on Pinterest and looked up “Best Fall Looks.” Skinny jeans, short boots, giant sunglasses (which is a little weird, because it’s pouring rain, but I AM IN CHARACTER) and dirty hair seem to be the order of the day. I had to skip the scarf because it’s 85 degrees out and I would have been a sweaty mess. My hair is too short for a “messy bun,” but it a quirky little ponytail is easy to manage, and a giant designer handbag keeps me from looking like a total panhandler. Easy Peasy.
2. Find a Starbucks. Also easy. I threw a rock and hit one. I missed the driveway for that one, and then saw another one on my way back to the first one.
3. Stand in line. I was actually very thankful for this because it gave me some time to look over the menu, practice saying “Grande,” and talk myself out of a pastry.
4. Talk myself out of a pastry. The hardest task so far. That is until I pulled up the nutritional information on what I was about to do to myself with the PSL. The PSL I was about to ingest was going to pack a gut expanding punch of 420 cal, 18g fat and 52g carbs, 50g of those being sugar. I think the exchange rate here is somewhere between 10-12 Oreos. And you can chew Oreos. But, no worries, I assured myself, this is an experiment, and besides, I don’t have to drink the whole thing. Who needs dinner anyway? Note: you probably all know this already, but you can totally “skinny” this drink and take all those counts down, but remember, I was stressed about the ordering. I thought it was best to say as a little as possible. Plus, I needed to get the full effect to make an informed decision on whether this thing is worth all the hype.
5. Order. What I thought was going to be the most stressful thing was not that bad. Maybe because I pointed at the giant sign that said Pumpkin Spice Latte. Maybe because I dressed the part and had an airtight plan in place. Maybe because I’m neurotic and ordering a drink in a coffee shop is actually not that big of a deal and I should just calm down a little bit. Whatever. On a different note, I think I pronounced Grande correctly, although it took all I had in me to not say “Medium.” Annoying. I was hoping that they would write my name on the cup so that I could post a clever picture on social media about how they misspelled it, but they didn’t even ask me for it! They did however give me one of the oh-so-cute seasonal cups, so I let it go.
6. Receive Coffee and Look Annoyed, Relieved and Busy. In my eyes, almost everyone at a coffee shop is annoyed. I guess because they’ve got the caffeine shakes, and apparently, no one can do anything before they’ve had an adequate amount of coffee. After they’ve been properly caffeinated, they get a few things done, but then its afternoon and they need more coffee so they can get more things done. So then they’re back to being annoyed that they can’t get anything done until this person gives them the coffee, at which point they’re relieved to have the coffee but also they’re kind of twitchy because they realize how busy they still are. And just maybe a bit perturbed that they spent $6 and half an hour waiting to get the stuff. Since part of my plan was dressing the part, I decide I should also act the part. While I waited on my order, I looked around and sighed quietly while looking at my watch and checking my phone. I reviewed some very important emails regarding 40% off at the Gap FOR TODAY ONLY, but I didn’t do anything about the emails because I knew that I needed coffee before I could actually do things. Eventually, they called me up, not by my misspelled and mispronounced name like I had hoped, but rather as “Pumpkin Spice,” like the Spice Girl that didn’t make it into the group. I smiled a relieved smile to the long-suffering, but peppy person behind the counter. A smile that I hoped said something along the lines of, “I feel you, girl. You and me. We both need coffee to do all the things. Thank you for giving me life.” I now had a decision to make about the PSL. I had not taken a drink yet, because I felt sure it would still be too hot, and if I rushed into it, I’d have scorched tastebuds for days. Which would actually come in handy since I was having to skip dinner, but I digress… Should I sit and drink the PSL leisurely in the shop? Seems like you need a friend for that, or at least a MacBook so you could run your online business. But I was alone and without costly built-for-creatives electronics. Could I continue emulating the fashion bloggers on Pinterest and go outside to walk down to Barney’s to do some shopping? Hmmm, well, I’m a plan ride away from NYC and the closest shopping is Bi-Lo. Not quite the same. Or should I just hop back in my SUV and wait for the kids at the bus stop, confident that this caffeine boost would get me through the arduous afternoon? Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner.
7. Taste PSL and React. Well, folks, 3 billion people on the Internet cannot be wrong. The PSL is absolutely delicious. And that caffeine jolt/sugar high is no joke. I laugh long and loud at myself for thinking I would not finish it. That I would pour it down the drain and throw out that sweet little Fall-themed cup. That I would take a sip and say “Meh” and move on with my day. Now I really just wish I could go back to the day before yesterday so that I would not have spent so much of today thinking about if I could have another one tomorrow.
The experiment is complete.
PSL-lovers, I GET IT. Continue posting pictures of your precious coffee cups, rub your bodies with the essentials oils of pumpkins, drape yourselves in soft scarves and go on hayrides. Outwardly I may still roll my eyes, but you better believe I’ll be in line when word gets out that PSL season is almost over.