Comedian Danny Palumbo's Hot Take on Gas Station Coffee
Lattes are not the way to this caffeine junkie's heart
I have been ignoring the pumpkin spice invasion news because when it comes to food, I live in a cognitive cabin in the woods. I'm traditional and stubborn. I'd rather skip modern interpretations, and I generally hate fusion. I prefer homemade pasta without an egg, and I think you should have a license to serve kimchi. If I pay five dollars for something, I should either feel nourished or buzzed. I am, however, willing to admit that I'm likely missing out on some good experiences. Maybe I should lighten up, try the thing. Live a little, Palumbo. So here I am, joining the fray, having a pumpkin spice latte – my first latte – at 9 o'clock at a Starbucks.
After one sip, and spending a few moments in the bathroom washing my face, trying to decide if I deserve love, I have my second sip. Turns out, the pumpkin spice latte is pretty tasty. Look, I still think it's unnatural. I'm sure some Baptists feel like the pumpkin spice latte is a sin, and that's one area where I get along with some Baptists. However, a pumpkin spice latte – or any latte for that matter – is just not my preferred type of caffeinated drink. I drink one kind of coffee: gas station coffee. Because it transcends.
It extends to bodegas, car shops, funeral homes, adoption centers – wherever there is a small stack of Styrofoam cups next to some afterthought coffee. It's always basic, but shouldn't it be? We're talking about a drug here, right? Gas station coffee is cheap, and I like it not for its taste, but for the instant dose of enthusiasm it gives me about my dumbest ideas. It makes me excited and manic, tricking me into feeling optimistic about my career. It makes me want to talk to people, turning my anxiety into a positive. A latte seems like something you drink while wearing a sweater and reminiscing about a ski trip. That's not for me. I'm poor and anxious, baby. Give me some gas station coffee.
A typical accoutrement is nondairy creamer, which might be my favorite of the paradoxical food products. Nondairy creamer is just so fun because what is it? To be honest, it does the job. It also probably causes cancer. A common alternative are the miniature drum packets of cream often found haphazardly placed in a bowl. We've been conditioned to keep milk cold, but I'm sure warm packets of cream are fine because Hertz Rent-a-Car wouldn't try to give you food poisoning, right? Flavored coffee creamer seems like it's made of perfume and milk. "But Danny, why does it taste like a candle?" I don't have all the answers, but really, is it worse than the mass-produced syrup Starbucks is serving?
I use the casino-style machines – the ones that churn out coffee with a noise that has nearly turned me asexual on a couple of occasions – during long road trips. It's what truck drivers drink. It's what you drink on a drive back home from trying to keep a failing long-distance relationship alive. It's for multitasking and staying awake behind the wheel. It's what you drink when you grew up in a town without a coffee shop. It's for people struggling and making moves.
Caffeine will always be about feeling inspired and crazy. Adding things like whipped cream and pumpkin takes away from the spirit of the drug. The pumpkin spice latte oozes relaxation. Drink it if you have healthy relationships and think the world is just fine. But if you're currently hooked on lattes, I encourage you to try feeling a little crazy. Open your eyes, man: Big Starbucks is lulling you to sleep. The pumpkin spice latte is what happens when somebody sneaks up behind your life, puts it in a choke hold, and whispers, "Shh. Shhhhh."
So, if you're a schemer like me, don't fall for the latte trap. Drink dank-ass gas station coffee. When the government comes for me, tell my family I was a good man. Tell them the truth: Tell them I drank regular coffee.
Danny Palumbo is a former Austin comedian now living in L.A.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to email@example.com