Saturday, January 17, 2009

Have They No Legs?

One of the benefits to teaching in a reasonably affluent community is the generosity of the families whose children I teach. I make no secret of my fondness for grande lattes, so largesse will often come in the form of a Starbucks gift card. This has the dual advantage of giving me enough energy to teach the little cherubs and underwriting my passion for writing where my feet don’t get in the way of the vacuum cleaner.

I can be found every other weekend or so, propped up at a corner table at one of various caf├ęs around town, typing up random thoughts into some semblance of cohesiveness. I magically swipe my plastic card and a perky co-ed or underemployed actor hands over a steaming paper cup of high-octane go-juice. It’s a wonderful system.

Every so often, I don’t have time to stop and smell the beans. I have to grab a joe to go and make my way to my next fun-filled function. I’m in a hurry. Starbucks has clearly recognized this pattern among their caffeine-addicted clientele and gone the way of the ubiquitous fast-food chains – the dreaded drive-thru. Call me old-fangled, but back when I was in school, ‘through’ was a seven letter word. No longer. It has gone the way of lite beer and e-z money - away from the Queen’s English and into misspelled main street purgatory.

Just this morning, I headed out to procure the daily jolt to my nervous system. I found myself at a new Starbucks store, one armed with the dreaded drive-thru. I also found something else, something truly incredible. There were nine, count them, nine cars in line to order at the faceless little box by the side of the coffeeshop. I could not believe what I was witnessing. And none of them had switched off their engines. All were spewing poisonous gases into the atmosphere. I could choose to get in behind a blue Ford Expedition or maneuver to one of several empty parking places. Hmm, tough choice. I selected the latter.

Did these people have no sense? I’ll give one, maybe two, of these drivers the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were somehow incapacitated and unable to perform the strenuous task of getting out of their car and walking the seven yards to the door. Perhaps they had no legs, though I saw no handicapped stickers. I’ll also assume that one or two had a kid strapped in one of those complicated carseats which take an advanced degree and a good few hours to release and re-capture. They may be forgiven. But the rest of them?

I decided to conduct an unscientific experiment. I had a little time this morning. I went inside, bought my latte and a newspaper, took a seat by the window, checked on the time, and waited. It had taken me exactly one minute and forty-two seconds to get from my car to the table, coffee in hand. In that time, the first car in line had moved on. There were still however nine in line, as now a silver Volkswagen had snuck in behind the Ford. This would have been my place in line.

The paper had some interesting stories. The coffee tasted wonderful. The VW soon went out of view as it slowly snaked its way around the building, only to emerge thirteen minutes later on the other side. It was now only three cars away from the all-powerful window. I was onto the business section, with only an inch of milk and espresso left in my cup. Wow, the stock market fell again. My retirement plan was suffering. I hoped the driver in the silver car was too.

Another six minutes went by before the barista finally passed him his beverage. That’s nineteen minutes with the car idling to get a twelve ounce cup of coffee. Apart from the sheer waste of time that each of these drivers had just experienced (nine drivers times nineteen minutes equals almost three hours of wasted time) I couldn’t even imagine the environmental impact.

So, later that day, when I had a few minutes of my own to waste, I conducted a little research online. Took me no time at all to discover (thanks to that every “two minutes of car idling consumes the same amount of gas required to drive approximately one mile. If a driver idles for one hour, one gallon of gasoline is wasted.” Not only that, I hear you ask, as you question the wisdom of not turning the engine off to save gas, the website went on: “contrary to automotive myth, restarting a car doesn't damage the engine and, in fact, ten seconds spent idling consumes more fuel than restarting the engine.”

So my friend in the German import had used approximately one third of a gallon, or roughly forty-two fluid ounces, in pursuit of his twelve ounce java. Not only that, I discovered that for every gallon of gasoline burned, whether driving and idling, a car releases twenty pounds of carbon dioxide into our air. Nineteen minutes of waiting at Starbucks translated into about six and a half pounds of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a third of a gallon of fossil fuels wasted. That’s some footprint.

And what about the driver’s other footprints, the literal kind? What would the cost be to get off his butt, out of the car, and walk? Next time I’m at the gas station, I’m going to reuse my grande latte cup. I’m going to fill it up with eighty-five-octane gasoline, the cheap stuff, walk back to the Starbucks and offer it to the ninth person in line. It’ll save the driver a whole lot of trouble.


LeAnne said...

Insightful as always, just don't get caught with that cup. You know a Starbucks cup is not an approved gasoline transporting container.

Love your wisdom, keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

For fun - at our nearby Starbucks I can park in a space next to the drive through pick up window, get my coffee, return to my car, and wave to the folks still waiting in line (Colfax & Franklin). So the Starbucks drive through consumed 42 oz of gasoline for every customer served, and with 10 people in line there are 200 lbs of carbon generated in the hour. Yikes! They’d need to plant about one tree for every for every 45 cars through the 20 min line to offset the carbon.