I was on my way to work. Kind of shaky since I missed eight hours of
sleep and my morning coffee. But at least my deprivation was for a
great universal cause. The world was a mess and I spent the night
formulating solutions to an Iranian nuke, a North Korean Nuke, China’s
currency manipulation, Scotland’s proposed secession from the UK, and
Such puzzles don’t incline one to the Sandman’s charms. Consequently,
I tossed and turned and finally unbedded myself late in the morning.
No time for coffee. That’s why the new coffee shop I passed, intrigued
me. So, what if I was a few minutes late to work. Considering my
recent output, who would miss me?
In my newfound appreciation of the coffee shop, I marveled at the
effort exerted by a stranger - the owner of the new caffeine
dispensary - to satisfy my caffeine urge. He didn’t even know me. He
certainly didn’t love me. His motive was what Bernie Sanders or any of
his philosophic kin called “greed”. We call it “capitalism”. This
stranger had to cruise the city to spot a suitable and empty location.
Negotiate a lease, which meant dealing with lawyers; much more
demanding than arguing with your wife.
But that was only a small beginning. He had to hire coffee makers,
chefs, and waitresses. (He offered a sandwich with my coffee.) And
then there was the furniture – tables, chairs, counters. Not a small
task. And of course, he had to find suppliers of the food and drink he
was to sell to me, not to mention the load of paperwork which the
government imposed upon him, including the IRS, which seemed hell-bent
to put him out of business IF, by chance, he made a profit. And, of
course, also dictatorially directed his wage and benefit programs
without talking to him or his employees.
I’ve left out many of the stranger’s preparations leading to his
enterprise. Some are intangible, like the risk he assumed and the
sleepless nights wondering whether employees would show up. And
equally important, would coffee drinkers show up? The stranger hoped
that if the cost of all this activity was “X”, his return from us
coffee drinkers and sandwich eaters would be “X” plus some large
number. But there’s no assurance as to that latter number. To put it
in words that “Capitalism for Dummies” might use, the stranger might
lose his pants. And all so that I might have a cup of coffee on my way
The government, which so rudely intervenes in the stranger’s
strivings, also sells a product – mail services. We call it the USPS.
This year, so far they’ve lost 5 billion. The glaring difference
between their loss and the stranger’s is that his loss comes out of
his pocket- the USPS loss comes out of ours.
And maybe the stranger’s motive is not entirely economic. Maybe he
yearns for that feeling he got last year when he helped push his
neighbor’s car out of a muddy field. There is something human in all
of us that throbs pleasantly with altruism.
The humor of Ted, the Scribbler on the Roof, appears in newspapers around the U.S., on National Public Radio in Huntsville, Alabama and numerous web sites.