Intimidated by tip-cup Question-of-the-Day

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 30, 2005

The other day my wife Mary Anna and I were meeting friends at Cochrane's Java Jamboree coffee shop. While standing in line at the counter, I became aware of a young boy ahead of me staring at my face. He looked and looked, and then turned to his dad and asked, "Is that Warren?"

Such moments can sometimes be quite flattering. You know, being recognized by folks around town because they've seen my photograph next to my column in the Eagle?

This was probably not one of those moments.

His dad turned toward me, said to his son, "Yes, that's Warren," then, a bit embarrassed, pointed to the sign on the counter and said to me, "He was referring to today's question."

Today's question? I immediately smelled something brewing – and it wasn't the rich aroma of dark roast.

On the counter by the cash register sat two metal cups for tips, one on each side of a small sign sporting the Question-of-the-Day. Customers place their tips in the cup that represents their answer. This particular day the cup to the left stood for "YES" and the cup to the right for "NO."

I looked at the question and groaned. "SHOULD WARREN SHAVE HIS BEARD?"

Here, it was barely midday, and both cups were filling up fast. But which would prevail at closing time?

The Question-of-the-Day became a feature of Java Jamboree's daily routine last fall when barista Jessica Johnston had way too much time on her hands.

Jessica's a sparkling-eyed young Australian gal whose parents swapped kangaroos, wallaroos and Ayers Rock a few years ago for moose, goose and the Canadian Rockies. Since settling in the Cochrane area, Jessica has served me and my companions more cups of coffee than there are rabbits in the entire outback.

Grateful that customers like to leave tips for the staff, Jessica figured they might as well have some fun in the process – and even stimulate discussion around the tables. So, she began posting a new question every morning.

Many of the questions are on current affairs. For example, when this year's professional hockey season failed to take to the ice because of the prolonged dispute between owners and players, Jessica wrote: "The hockey season is cancelled! Do you care?"

According to the tip cups, disgruntled folks around these parts voted overwhelmingly "NO!"

That's the same answer tippers gave to whether they'd want to be a juror in the Michael Jackson trial.

But asked whether they would support tax dollars going towards curbside recycling, most answered in the affirmative, as they also did to the question of whether they thought they'd have to pay more for airline tickets following Jetsgo's business demise – an answer that proved all too prophetic.

Some customers get so passionate in their responses on hot topics, according to Java co-owner Ottilia Jaworski, that they dump the tip cup for the answer they don't agree with into the cup for the answer they do agree with. "That sort of messes up the day's calculations," she says.

Most questions are less contentious.

"Do you believe in guardian angels?" "YES."

"Do you believe there is life on other planets?" Again, "YES."

On the romantic side, Jessica asked: "Do you believe in true love at first sight?" The "YES" side won the day. But far from positive was the response to whether men understand the importance of Valentine's Day.

Jessica once even asked customers what they'd be willing to do without at the start of the day: coffee or breakfast. No contest here. In Cochrane, people will pass up steak and eggs rather than forgo their morning mug.

By the way, how many beans do you think there are in a pound of coffee – 2,000 or 4,000? If you guessed the latter, Jessica says you're right. But she's got me wondering who bothered to count them – a hairy thought, indeed.

Which brings me back to the pressing question: "SHOULD WARREN SHAVE HIS BEARD?" (The question, I later learned, was suggested by Eagle publisher Jack Tennant.)

Well, the tip cups have spoken, my wife was relieved to learn, and the fate of my 35-year-old beard has been decided: The verdict was a resounding "NO!"

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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