Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Coffee Vending Machines

These guys have it in for me. Period. There is no other conclusion I can draw, no other explanation i can offer for their randomly customized behavior when I stand before them. Whenever i place my mug before them, something must always go wrong. Either the powder won't mix, or the coffee dries up, or the machine quite simply loses its mind and dribbles milk gently down the sides of my cup, and i have to drink tepid coffee without any sugar or milk.

There are some people who like coffee without anything else but water, but I am not one of those, and somewhere down inside its machinery, the dispensing machine knows, and watches and waits patiently until I stand before it, quaking with the fear of the latest prank it's going to play on me. I can cultivate a few tastes, so I live down the coffee-with-water experience, but the milk powder floating on a cupful of water with no coffee in it somehow doesn't work for me. And, as I said above, the vending machine knows.

It all came to a head lately. I've joined this new company that has enough people on its rolls to populate a small country. For obvious reasons, therefore, they do not offer paper cups. You need to go get your mug from the company office. I kinda like coffee, so one of the first things I did once I joined the organization was get in the coffee-mug line, waiting like a parched blade of grass for life-giving rain.

"No mugs left," quoth the lord. "Come next week." And he swiveled his swivel chair on some more pressing task, for which he clearly had supplies.

"A w-what?" I managed to get out in spluttering grief. And then, "Can't something be done?" in more sanitary tones. "You can always get your own mug, you know," the mug-lord said, and resumed puttering on his comp.

That evening I got myself a nice big mug; one that holds two gallons when half full, you know? But I forgot to take the damn thing to work. This last for about a fortnight.

And then one tremendous day I did manage to remember, and I swaggered into the cafeteria. Lemme in, lemme in ... I have a cup.

The vending machine stood smach in the middle of the room, blinking its myriad lights capably. Invitingly? OK, inVItingly. I tried placing the cup below the ummm ... err ... orifice from which it secreted its stuff, but the damn thing wouldn't fit. Compatibility hassles. The mug was too large, or the slot for the mug was too small. But i found that, if I tilted the mug a bit, I coud align it right below the ummm ... source, ok?

Capuccino -- or something like it -- Cafe Frappe, Choco-Coffee, and so on. I gazed, finger in mouth. What do I feel like? Cappu... sounded most delectable. So OK. I pressed the button.

Something clicked deep within the impermeable depths of the little monster, and all sorts of grunting and churning noises began to emanate. Stunned, I looked up at the little monster, expecting it to be heaving and thudding around, emitting balls of fire. But it stood its ground stoically amidst all that sound, like a dedicated research scholar in a library full of fourth-grade students let off because the teacher is absent. I held my mug irresolutely, unsure of whether this was expected behavior. Apprarently it was. Nobody even looked up. At times, you know, there is nothing quite like being ignored.

Some powdery substance fell into my mug, and I heaved a sigh of relief. We were getting somewhere, finally! And then there began a trickle of something brown, and it was turning rapidly white, and it was dropping forth from another aperture, one I had not noticed, falling unerringly into its cute little personal drain. I shifted the mug just in time to capture the last fifteen drops of the coffeee / milk that the machined rationed out while at work.

I withdrew the cup and looked in like a foolish boy who sniffs his slippers to find out what he has stepped into. It looked, and smelt, like coffee, and I could see a few powdery sugar crystals there. I slowly moved away from the machine, wondering what to do with the stuff. I could add some cold water and have something cold that tastes like coffee, but isn't. Or I could simply wash the stuff down in the drain and try again.

And then the machine rumbled again, and clear milk dropped smoothly from it. Fifteen seconds after the coffee? I ran to collect the nectar, and I was kinda successful. I got five full drops.

I stood there, uncertain of the machine's next move. Was it done finally? Or was there more? Milk, in the meanwhile, meandered off the sides of the machine, creating a small puddle of sorts around the table. Damn. Now people were definitely looking at me. Some were smiling; some others stared for a while, gave an imperceptible sad shake of the head, and went back to whatever they were guzzling ... may their coffee turn into soup.

I was genuinely abashed. I daren't place that mug on the table, for, if someone were to amble past and look at that semi-solid mixture in my cup, wonder what he -- or worse, she -- would think. I held that mug in my hand and ran to get some napkins to clean up. I had deposited three napkins in the mess, and the milk showed no signs of drying up. Instead, it soaked up the napkins that now lay gleaming with milk, soaked to their respective gills.

Luckily for me, a maintenance person passed by, and scurried forth with a sponge and bucket. He gave me one filthy look that questioned in a split second my credibility within the office, my gall to use the vending machine, and the weird species from which I sprang forth. I gave him a curt thank you, and sauntered off to the sink. Without thinking, I quaffed off the stuff in my cup, and almost spat it out. It tasted horrid!! I washed my face, the mug, and the sink, in that order, and stalked out of the cafeteria, daring anyone to say a word.

No one did, but as I turned round the corner, i could have sworn I heard someone titter.

Jerks. Those machines, I tell you!