Free Water

Ted walks into a local coffee shop parched from his 5 mile-long jog.  He finds his wallet with only a dollar left, insufficient for an iced coffee he was anticipating.  Walking up to the counter he finds a young guy with messily spiked black hair, probably a senior in college.

“Hi, I’d like a water, please.”

“Sure thing,” the barista says, pointing toward the bottles on a white lit platform, “that’ll just be $1.50”

“Umm,” realizing the awkward situation of appearing too cheap to buy a bottled water, “I was hoping only for a cup of water with ice.”

“Okay…$0.50 then.”

“Wait, isn’t a cup of water free”

“Absolutely!  But, you wanted ice.”

Annoyed and, frankly, offended–“Excuse me!  Ice is only a solidified form of water and, therefore, comes with a free cup of water.”

“Well, sir, therein lies the problem.  A free cup of water is just that–a cup of water.  A free cup of ice is only ice.  However, you asked for a cup of water with ice.  You asked me to modify something that’s free.”

Playing now into this match of wits, Ted seeks to be more clever.  “Then, I would like a cup of water and a cup of ice.”

“Sure thing!  That’ll be $1.00.”

“Now, just you wait!  How is it that a ‘modified free order’, as you called it, is half that?  I’m sick of this!  I’m entitled to a free cup of water with ice.  Customer or not, iced water is free.”

“Ahh…that’s what this is about–entitlement.  The reason your second order is now a higher price is not due to what this shop asks of your request, it’s my own.  My wage is determined by your purchase.  Without a purchase my pay is only justified by my time clocked in their system to service their customers, you see, and not anything else.  Your request is not between you and the company, it’s between you and me.  If you bought a bottle of water, part of your purchase contributes to the wage set by my employer to pay me for servicing its customers.  As a courtesy, I can extend a hand of grace to give you a cup of water, a free item, and provide the service absolutely free.”

“Thanks for explaining all that.  I’m sure your college professors who, I’m sure, you’ve just copied all that rhetoric from Economics 101…”

Chiming in, “At least I’ve considered economics within our little attempt at an exchange,” the barista smirks.

“However, as you arrogantly forget a bigger picture in all this, I am a paying customer even though I may not be in this particular stay.  You see, my previous purchases have indirectly contributed to your wage since the money I’ve spent has helped accumulate the large piggy bank this little establishment pays you from, as all customers have since the day it opened.  Those purchases have thereby produced in me the title of ‘paying customer’, and I am because of that entitled to have made such a request as I have.  So, may I please have a cup of iced water?

“Correction–you were a paying customer whose business is much appreciated, so much that a cup of water as a token of appreciation may be plausible to be given.  Yet, not only did you modify a request that could have been fulfilled freely, you demanded it based on the pretentious presumption that you somehow were entitled to it.  Now, your continual return as a customer could be perpetuated by our service and keeping you content.  However, if your anticipated business is based on what you believe you are entitled, then this shop is actually at a loss.  If, rather, your understanding as a customer who enjoys our products and services is directly proportionate to the monetary exchange you can contribute in return, then both parties are truly happy–of course, as long as that exchange is fair.”  At this, the barista seemed pleased to possibly come to an agreement and, perhaps, even give the iced water after this guy has realized the error of his attitude.

“I would like to speak to the owner.”

“So, since you have failed at fulfilling your request by means of fair exchange you resort to the alternative, which you hope will force me to succumb to your demands?  I can easily exchange my services for payment and will happily pour your water in a cup of ice upon your agreement to do so for $1.00.”  

“No! Absolutely not!  I refuse to pay you for something I should be given absolutely free.  That’s it–I’m no longer returning to this place…”

“…Which you’re free to do.”

“This is precisely why I only frequent corporate chain establishments…”

“…Even though you totally love our coffee and you’re known to rave about us, but please continue.”

“My request was simple, and I cannot fathom how this discussion has gone this long or began even in the first place.  Here on, I will only go to places that treat me like I deserve.”

“So, you would rather take your business to a more familiar socialist environment where your entitlements are acknowledged.  I’m sure we’re not actually losing, then.”  Taking off his apron as a curly red-head shows up half past the hour, the barista concludes, “Oh yeah, by the way, I don’t actually work here.  I was just watching the place until my sister, the owner, got back from lunch.”

“Michael, was this yours?” his sister asks, handing him what he had prepared during the course of the dialogue.  With that he smiles at Ted, winks, and walks out the door drinking from a cup of iced water.


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