This post was written by Claire Landsbaum.

Starbucks was packed. A congested line for orders backed up into an equally congested cluster of caffeine addicts waiting for their afternoon pick-me-ups. The 2 p.m. rush was in full effect.

The line pushed slowly forward, held up once or twice by indecisive customers who were eventually glared into a decision by the impatient crowd. I stood in resignation behind a group of five, my drink order already mentally calculated. Two p.m. is tough – it’s good to be prepared.

They inched toward the register, the five of them in a tight cluster formation. One girl, a blonde in a puffy purple vest, ushered them forward, a sheepdog to the herd. They reached the counter and began to order, a process in which sheepdog-girl was clearly emotionally invested. I turned away, impatient.

Seconds later a wail drew the attention of every person in the packed coffee shop: “But I need the last star!”

It was the girl. She clutched her iPhone in one hand and waved it in the face of a blue-jacketed boy, the last in the group. Its screen showed an open Starbucks app with a gold card loaded and ready to be scanned.

Those of us with Starbucks gold cards earn a star with each drink purchase. Earn 12 stars – roughly $42 worth of Starbucks coffee or food products – and you receive a free drink. The whole thing comes with an instant-reload option wired directly to your bank account. Last year the app had more than ten million active users. It’s irresistible.

But the boy wasn’t having it. His response? “It’s two in the afternoon. I don’t need coffee.”

We, the addicts, looked on in shock. Didn’t need coffee? Didn’t need coffee? And to deny this poor girl her last star? Shameful. She needed her credit. A free drink was calling. Her outrage, though more extreme than your average public outrage, made sense to us.

She needed Starbucks, and Starbucks needed her: A brainwashed, addicted, star-happy consumer. A coffee zombie.

(Photo on the homepage: Suet Lee)

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