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HOST INTRO: What’s it like to be a faceless employee working at one of the world’s biggest chains? Commentator Alexandra Hall remembers the time she tried to add some color to your morning coffee.
My Starbucks work station was a little cubby- sized counter right inside the entrance to Target- a welcoming gesture to customers who need a java chip frappacino while they browse toothpaste and packets of shirts.
Starbucks is highly efficient. Every drink is made as if on a GM assembly line. But instead of mufflers, fenders, and airbags we used pre-measured packets of milk and espresso. One ingredient that Starbucks does make is whipped cream. Throughout the day, baristas fill stainless steel canisters with heavy whipping cream and vanilla syrup. A little metal bullet filled with carbon dioxide on the lid, plus a good shake, makes it ready for topping a beverage. Unlike transparent vanilla, Starbucks’ raspberry syrup is a deep red. Swapping one for the other, I started making pink whipped cream instead of white. Customers loved it. I expected my manager to be impressed. Instead, she said, “That’s not what Starbucks wants.”
I was leaving to college anyway, so on my last night on the job, I decided to do something about Starbucks’ no color, no creativity policy. My plan was to drop food coloring into each canister of the next day’s batch of whipped cream. I would leave the first three or four white so that when they discovered my rainbow garnish, they would be too busy not to use it.
That night I added 5 drops of blue to one canister. 6 drops of green to another right beside it. I was giddy with excitement. I imagined the look on my boss’s face when she served a thrilled customer their grande iced mocha with extra purple whipped cream. She would probably have to call in the CEO of Starbucks so they could strategize about adding multi-colored whipped cream to the menu.
Unfortunately that’s not the way it worked out. Just before leaving, a coworker who was in on my plan ran in. He told me that the manager of Target had discovered my plan and that I should get out of the store quick. I completely panicked. I grabbed my stuff and booked it to the parking lot. A security guard started chasing me- probably just because he saw a person running. He yelled for me to stop, but I didn’t. I jumped in my car and took off.
For weeks, Target called my house and left messages. This message was for Alexandra Hall. They needed me to come in. There was something about “tampering with food.” I held the cordless phone at arms length, whisper screaming to my mom.
“What if they call the cops?” I asked.
“For whipped cream? No” she said.
Every day I thought the FBI was seconds away from banging down the door. I even considered covering my license plate with a plastic bag. At 18, the wrath of Target was the end of my world.
That summer after high school, I wanted pink whipped cream to be my enduring legacy to Starbucks. But I ended up feeling too scared to leave the house. It turns out Starbucks was too big for my small plans. Still, I’m glad that I tried. And even happier that I didn’t end up in jail.