The Time Traveler, Part 3

Wherein Brown tries to order coffee.

[Last time:Time traveler Brown updated his wardrobe from 1957 sci-fi silver jumpsuit to 2017 jeans, t-shirt, and “Make America Great Again” ball cap.]

Some news for Dr. Kershaw, the linguist on our team: The words small, medium, and large are no longer in common usage.

Fatigued from walking so many miles (and perhaps from traveling 60 years through time) and in need of somewhere to sit and observe this strange new world, I ducked into a corner coffee shop. At least I thought it was a coffee shop. The interior looked more like a store. Shelves were lined with brightly colored coffee mugs, coffee makers, coffee grinders, coffee presses, coffee candies, coffee undershirts, coffee spoons–every coffee gimcrack and coffee gewgaw imaginable except for a basic percolator.

There wasn’t a Formica table in sight. Customers sat in overstuffed chairs and at long communal tables, drinking out of paper cups rather than ceramic mugs. Each stared at a miniature battery powered television, some of which were attached to what looked like paperless typewriters.

Many wore earplugs attached to colorful wires, which was advisable given the cacophony inside the coffee shop. Humans of the future are clearly hard of hearing, as the owner of this establishment blared the jukebox at a painful volume. Even worse: He had hidden speakers in the ceiling throughout the establishment, so there was no way to escape the onslaught. For some reason a series of blenders located inside the dining room rather than the kitchen whirred loudly. A group of employees behind the counter shouted above the din, yelling at each other and the customers.

“Welcome to Starbucks! What can I get started for you?!” the counter gal shouted.

“Cup of joe and a cruller, please,” I said.

“That’s awesome! So retro!” she screamed.

“Excuse me?”

“I said that’s awesome!”

“What do I owe you?”

“What can I get you?”

“Coffee and a cruller.”

“What kind of coffee?”

“I don’t understand,” I said. The gentleman behind me in line looked up from his miniature television and sighed loudly.

“We have blonde roast, Caffe Misto, Pike Place, our featured dark roast…I can make you a mocha, an Americano, a latte, a cappucino, a Frappucino, a macchiato, an espresso….”

“Which is just coffee?”

“Probably the blonde roast,” the counter gal said.

“I’ll have that then,” I said.

“What size?”

“Small, please.”



“We don’t have small.”

“What’s tall?”

“It’s small. We have tall, grande, and venti.”

“Okay, a tall blonde roast then, and a cruller.”

“We don’t have those. I can get you a Chonga bagel, an 8-grain roll, a chocolate hazelnut croissant–“

“Just the tall blonde, please,” and then I laughed at my own accidental joke. Neither the counter girl nor the sighing gentleman even smiled.

“That will be $4.18, please. Just scan your card,” the gal said.

“My what?”

“Your card. Just scan it right there.”

“So credits do exist! I knew that big Negro was lying to me !”

“Excuse me?” the counter gal said.

“I met a pawnbroker earlier. He told me that cash was still in vogue.”

“Come on, dude. Pay for your coffee and go back to your Klan rally,” the sighing man said. I realized then that I must have said something inappropriate.

“Do you accept cash?” I asked.

“Yes,” the counter gal said. I handed her a five-spot. “Can I get your name, please?”


“Come. On!” the gentleman behind me yelled.

“For your order,” she said, and she waved a paper coffee cup in the air.

“Brown,” I said, and she wrote on the cup with a magic marker.

“Just move down there. It will be ready soon,” the gal said.

I stood near the end of the counter in a semicircle of customers awaiting their coffee. We looked as if we were stranded in an elevator lobby but for the fact that they all stared at their miniature televisions. The young lady beside me tapped on her tiny screen with her thumbs so frequently that I finally asked her what she was doing.

“Texting, as if it’s any of your business,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. I’ve just never seen these little televisions before,” I said.

“Seriously? You’ve never seen a cellphone before? Have you been in prison or something?”

“Something like that. What did you call it?”

“A cellphone. Like a telephone, but it’s a cellphone.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It means cellphone,” she said.

“So that device is a telephone? Amazing! There’s no wires or dial!”

“Is this a YouTube prank?”

“And what is ‘texting’?”

“That’s, like, it’s texting. You write a message and send it to somebody.”

“If that is a telephone why don’t you just to talk to them?”

“Nobody uses their cellphones as phones,” she said. “Facetime, maybe.”

“What is that?”

“It’s, like, a video phone call, I guess.”

“You can actually see the person you’re talking to, as if they are on television?”


“Why don’t you do that?”

“I just text,” she said. Remarkable! In the future, each person carries a portable television phone, but they use it as a telegraph.

“Brian, your order’s ready,” the counter boy shouted.

“What else do these cellphones do?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Streaming, social media, Google. That kind of stuff.”

“Tall blonde coffee for Brian.”

“Now what do those things mean?”

“Trumpelstiltskin, wake up. Your coffee is ready.” It was the sighing man.

“What was that name you called me?” I asked.

“Like you don’t know, with your little red hat. Make America Great Again. Why don’t you just wear one that says, ‘I’m a racist asshole’?”

Trumpelstiltskin. It was if he knew I’d been “asleep” for 60 years, even if he didn’t know how to pronounce Rumpelstiltskin.


Categories: fiction

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