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August 29, 2014

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Ice Ice Billy

Coffee karma in 10 seconds or less

The speaker box into which morning commuters speak their orders of coffees backs precariously into a seldom used traffic lane behind a strip mall. And so, the second car in line would block the path of vehicles that use that lane—drivers of which have no desire to stop for a super power macchiato double shot with two sugars and soy milk.

We have a system, us regulars to this drive-thru coffee shop: As we approach from opposite directions we wait for the speaker to clear, politely recall who was next in line and give a morning wave of appreciation for propriety.

It's a non-verbal social network. There are no pictures to show, humble brags to concoct or rosters of who our "friends" are for exes to stalk and assume the worst. It's the perfect amount of interaction for the morning grumpy—can't we all muster a wave in the morning? Of course we can.

On Monday, some smarty pants do-gooder a few cars ahead of mine tossed a fly into the ointment, rocked the boat, moved my cheese and put Equal in my cup of joe.

"The woman in the car ahead of you paid for yours," said the kid at the window as I tried to make a payment.

"Oh my wife wouldn't like that," I vainly thought to myself, then realized my blank stare at the kid in the drive-thru clearly communicated I had no reasonable response.

The kid extended my coffee toward the car, but not close enough for me to actually reach it. He urged me with his eyes for further dialogue, and raised an eyebrow as if to ask, "Wellll . . . ?"

"Um," I said. "Why on Earth would she do that?"

"Someone started a pay-it-forward train," he said.

"Oh," I said, and cringed at my previous unspoken, grabby need of a compliment.

Now, nobody wants to be the person who holds up the drive-thru line in the morning commute. Shoot, we all have places to be. But I had a lot to process and a big decision to make, and had about 8 seconds to do so.

"Well," I started. "Here's the thing. The lady behind me doesn't get our little queuing system back there. Not only did she try to cut in front of me, she did cut in front of three others. And, she was giving angry hands the whole time."

The kid looked perplexed, and then his face faded into an expression of understanding. He knew that I knew that he would be the only one in the world that knew that I was the nameless stranger that would have broken the pay-it-forward train. But, he knew I was justified to seek instant justice for the line of victims behind a cheater.

He knew she had nothing coming.

I had my Robin. I had my Arthur. I had my Tonto. But deep down, we all want to better than that. And so I sighed.

"How much is her order?" I asked.

He looked. "$2.48," he said.

And the one after that?

He looked again. "More than that," he said. He broke into a wide grin. And I mean ear-to-ear, man. A good one.

I wanted to ask how much more, but resisted. But by his smile, maybe the person two cars back was on an office run. Oh, one could only hope. Then, I thought to pay for the three people that she cut off, but with seconds ticking away I thought that their time was of more value than a coffee.

"Okay I'll pay for hers," I said.

The kid gave an approving nod, as if to say, "The next order is over $15."

What a euphoric feeling. It was like trading it all in for what is behind Curtain Number 3 and winning badly needed luggage.

I will never know how it played out from there. But one thing is likely; much to the chagrin of most of us, she is probably allowed to continue to buy coffee—pending her appeal to Major League Baseball.

Billy Johnson is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Wranglers and author of the novel “If I Die Tell Steve Martin I Found His Journal.”

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