Local coffeeshops are one of several crowning jewels in this not-so-backwards Southern town. We have three in all, two of them situated on opposing corners of the town square. While the larger, glossier one is generally where you’ll find me (that seems to be the default setting for so many of these writers’ meetings I’m always having), today I broke with tradition and went to the smaller, quieter one across the square. It is owned by, and opens onto, the local bookstore next to it – a bookstore, moreover, that has been in business for over a hundred years and shows no signs of slowing down. The coffeeshop is smaller than its cousin across the way, but is cozier and more inviting in its smallness, with comfy chairs to snug into, and racks of recent magazines and newspapers to peruse (and buy!) as you indulge in a hot beverage. Or two or four. When you finish, or can be reasonably sure you won’t spill the dregs over the merchandise, there’s a little side door that leads straight into the bookstore, where a bibliophile can lose another hour or so very easily.

The cousin across the way is nice but very Starbucks-y, a nice hybrid if you want to get your bubble tea (when they’re not running out of the tapioca pearls, which they do frequently) or a fresh-baked scone, while knowing your hard-earned money has gone to the next well-deserving entrepreneur and not the franchise beast. But it is, as I said, very Starbucks-y. The Newsstand, on the other hand, has much the same thing but without the music or clatter or extra foot traffic, which is a good thing if you’re feeling particularly pensive and quiet.

This morning it was so quiet that one of the locals – man in a golf cap poring over the day’s newspaper in a corner chair – offered to step into the bookstore and find someone to wait on me. A short, pleasant woman with glasses quickly emerged through the open doorway and proceeded to help me with the daunting decision of whether to get a tiger spice chai or the more vanilla-ish elephant chai. She brought out the cannisters and allowed me to give each concoction a preliminary sniff, and I decided on the elephant chai in the end. It seemed much more mellow and thoughtful than the other, and that was the kind of morning I was having. The lady spoke cheerfully about this and that as she mixed my chai and waited for me to give it a sip or two and pronounce myself very pleased before ringing me up. I was exceptionally pleased, as it was a large cup of goodness, and was only going to cost me $2.50 plus tax. (Big Cousin across the way usually costs me in the way of $5 for their high end addictions.)

It wasn’t until I got to the cash register that I hit a bit of a snag. As I pulled out my debit card, the lady said: “Oh dear. We don’t accept card payments for less than $5.”

Whoops. My mind went through quick inventory of the change in my purse, and in my car. Without bothering to tot up exactly, I knew I didn’t have the $2.68. And I had already taken a sip of my drink. And I’m also not the sort of person who buys something she doesn’t need or want for the sake of making a minimum bargain. (This is why my family rarely goes clothes shopping with me – I frustrate the beflergins out of them like you wouldn’t believe.)

The lady studied my face intently for a moment – I know my facial expressions said it all, after so many years of sign language interpreting, I’m no good at holding a poker face – and then she said something that I honestly hadn’t had any sales rep say to me in years:

“It’s okay honey – you go ahead and enjoy the drink and the day, and bring in the $2.68 next time you’re in town.”

“I’ve got cash at home,” I explained. “I just don’t generally travel with it unless I have something specific to use it for. I can go home and…”

“No, no no. Don’t you waste gas like that. Just bring it in next time you’re ’round, y’hear?”

People ask me all the time if I like living here. Especially when I go back home to visit family, people always ask about my adopted hometown as though it were a black hole that I’ve somehow fallen into and haven’t found my way out of yet. I keep telling them that it’s a great town – half Atlanta, half Mayberry, and with the better part of both halves. The $2.68 on credit at the local coffeeshop is testament to that – I got my big city specialty drink with hometown grace, plus I think I made a friend to boot.

Oh, and the elephant chai? It was quite excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone having a mellow, gracious day. Or maybe the chai will bring the grace with it. Not if you’re a moocher, of course – but life has a funny way of paying things forward and never forgetting kindnesses. Just like an elephant. 🙂

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