Editorial: Jamie Beckett on Celebrating a Glorious Gesture

Apropos of Nothing: Celebrating a Glorious Gesture
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett

It was a Friday night. And not just any Friday night. This was the busiest Friday night of the year. Christmas was coming, the shopping rush was on, and the crew at Richard’s Fine Coffees were ready for anything. Well, almost anything.

Richard’s is located on the corner of Winter Haven’s Central Park, which put them directly in the line of fire of thousands of celebratory revelers. The event was Snow Central, an annual extravaganza of winter merriment that draws people from far and wide. Heck, I met a woman and her two daughters who had come all the way from Ohio, via Orlando. They were smiling. It seems the daughters were entertained, but had a hard time understanding why a thousand kids would line up in the street for a chance to walk through a pile of snow.

It’s easy to understand their confusion. Being from Ohio, they’d just traveled a thousand miles to get away from snow, and here the locals were jubilantly embracing a big whopping pile of ice crystals right in the middle of the street. Not just a little snow, either. There were tons of the white stuff right there on Avenue A Northwest, and families were lined up down the block and around the corner just to take a turn sledding down a manmade hill, or playing in the big pile of snow. They leapt in the bounce house and made tiny tool boxes at the kids’ workshop set up by Home Depot. They were smiling and laughing and as the night wore on, more than a few of them became a bit peckish.

That’s where Richard’s Fine Coffees shop comes into the picture. With sandwiches, and cookies, and brownies, and juices, and coffees, and teas, and muffins, and pastries, it was the perfect place to stop for a bite.

Richard’s was an oasis of calm for weary adults, and it was just across the street from where all the snowy fun was happening. Richards represented the modern equivalent of a 1940s candy store. The lure of sugary sweet treats pulled in the customers from all over Central Park. They came in by ones and twos, they came in groups of four. They straggled through the door filled with hope and dreams of holiday goodness.

There was only one thing Richard’s could not do that night, and it was a problem that would bring a lesser establishment to its knees. The manager might have hastily shut the doors, doused the lights, and hid his employees in the back room. There, huddled in darkness they would have been safe. They would have avoided trouble entirely. But the big man didn’t do that. He and his team faced the onslaught with their heads held high, their confidence reenforced by a camaraderie unique to overwhelmed baristas and belligerent IRS agents. They vowed to persevere no matter what.

They took orders, mixed beverages, fashioned sandwiches of delectable tastiness, and retrieved cookies and muffins and treats of all kinds from their resting places behind the counter. There was only one task they could not perform, and it was a biggie. They could not accept payments in the form of plastic. Not a debit, not a charge. Technology failed them, as Murphy’s Law so accurately predicted it would, at the worst possible time.

Like an Innkeeper of the middle ages this plucky team of food service workers was plunged into the dark abyss of cash only transactions – yet they inhabited a world where people no longer carry cash. And it was in the face of this seemingly insurmountable challenge that true greatness occurred. This is the exact moment when awesomeness enveloped Richard’s Fine Coffees and transformed it from a simple sandwich and coffee shop into a legendary establishment that will be spoken of in hushed tones for many years to come.

You see, they made the drinks, they made the sandwiches, they warmed the pastries and presented these delicious treats to their customers. And when those customers offered small plastic cards filled with the promise of monetary compensation, the manager and his crew said these magic words with a smile, “It’s on the house. Merry Christmas.”

Imagine, nobody was turned away with an empty stomach and empty hands. Not a single order was refused. If the customers had cash, payment was appreciated. If they did not, their order was complimentary.

Joy was rampant on the customer side of the counter. Cheerful service was offered throughout the evening from the service side.

This is astounding. It is the stuff of legend. That dark night of technological challenge will go down in 863 history as the night when Christmas spirit, exceptional generosity, human compassion, and southern hospitality combined to raise the level of cheer in the entire downtown area. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. And so I am now charged with the responsibility of telling the story so you will know it to be true, not a mere fable. Yes, Virginia, there were freebies for Christmas. Tell the tale and share the news. Life is good!