Really, this should have been the heroine's first clue - if there are that many people queued up at 5:30 AM, that can only mean one of two things:
1. They're understaffed;
2. A trainee is on drive-through duty.
But because it is 5:30 in the morning, and the heroine just wants a warm caffeinated beverage (it is -5 Celsius with the windchill outside, and her vehicle's heating system is less awake than she is), she drives on in. One by one, the queued cars lurch along the path in their eternal quest for increased synaptic activity.
The heroine mutters angrily as the driver in front keeps rolling backwards as he waits his turn at the loudspeaker: "If you can't even keep your fucking vehicle stationary when it's supposed to be stopped, driving stick shift doesn't make you awesome, it makes you an incompetent piece of excrement, you bastard."
Well, actually. That's what she's thinking. Because it's fucking cold outside and caffeine has not yet been introduced into her bloodstream, what she actually mutters is something along the lines of "what the fuck are you doing, you asshole?"
Finally it is the heroine's turn at the shouty box. The car radio starts squawking out the up-to-date traffic report -- typical; just when she can't pay attention. She turns down the volume but continues listening with half an ear. It's a good thing she does, too, since there is no one on the speaker. After breathing a sigh of relief at the news that the Eastbound 401 is moving well, she waits, hoping that the people in the cars behind her don't think she's taking forever to place an order and start honking at her to hurry up. (This has never actually happened to her, but she's sometimes been very tempted to honk at other drivers before -- without knowing their situation -- she knows it ain't personal and commiserates in advance. In absentia? Whatever.) The traffic report -- all clear on the major routes unless you count overnight construction -- finishes just as the loudspeaker finally crackles into life.
"Please wait a moment," says a young woman on the other end.
The heroine does not bother pointing out that she has already been waiting at least two minutes; deprived of caffeine, she understands too well the meaning of futility. The weather lady informs the world of what the heroine knows already: it's fucking cold outside. What the heroine did not know before the weather report is that it's not gonna get any better throughout the day, so at least listening is not a total waste of time.
The loudspeaker crackles again, and the shop employee says, "Good morning, welcome to Tim Hortons, may I take your order?"
"Large coffee, three milk, one sugar; that's everything," the heroine says, enunciating carefully. She's never trusted these damn things; often it's like playing a game of broken telephone.
"Large, three sugar, one milk?" replies the shouty box.
"Large coffee, THREE MILK, ONE SUGAR." Although caffeine has not yet been attained, the heroine's heart rate is climbing. She would understand if she were trying to place one of those fussy "large half decaf extra shot one cream one whole milk one low-fat milk half sugar half Splenda hold the sprinkles double cup" orders, but she really does not think "three milk, one sugar" spoken loudly and clearly is that difficult to process, even at 5:30 AM, especially if it's your goddamn job.
"Sorry, sorry!" says the lady in the shouty box, laughing. "Three milk, one sugar, yeah?"
The heroine feels a stab of irritation at the laughter, for a person's morning coffee is no laughing matter, but she understands that the shop lady must be a bit embarrassed, so she doesn't let it get to her. "Yes, thanks!"
The heroine, who has already said she didn't want anything else and is forgoing her earlier charitable thoughts in favour of getting seriously annoyed, says, "No, that's everything."
"$1.60, please drive through."
"Thanks," mumbles the heroine and takes her foot off the brake, letting her car roll forward. She gets out her Tim card and hands it to the lady in the drive-through window with a slightly forced but habitual smile. Another moment, and the shop employee asks, gesturing with the coffee cup, "That was three sugar, one milk, right?"
The heroine sighs. It is difficult to resist rolling her eyes, but she manages, somehow. "No. THREE milk. ONE sugar."
"Okay, let me check to make sure," the employee says, handing back the Tim card, and the window slides shut again.
The heroine watches the employee remake her order with a sense of unreality. Did she not speak clearly? Are the employees forbidden from sampling the merchandise and thus are more sleep-deprived and sluggish than their customers? Where does undelivered junk mail go? What is the square root of five hundred and ninety-eight? Why can't the heroine have been born a watermelon?
The radio natters on about some hockey player who's returning to the game after a head injury. The queue behind the heroine is four deep, and she can already see another car's headlights edging in from the drive-through lane behind the shop.
"Okay, here you go, sorry about that," says the employee, holding out the coffee. "Have a great day!"
The heroine contemplates tasting it to make sure it's okay, but she feels bad for all the people waiting behind her, so she sticks the cup in her cupholder and drives off, shaking her head. She has to go around the coffee shop to make it back to the main road that will take her to her destination. As she passes the drive-through queue, she sees that it is now twelve long.
At the next red light, she opens the little flip-top on the brown cup lid and tries the beverage.
Three milk, three sugar.