The Last Cup of Coffee

As a frequent traveler, I have learned to love commercial coffee makers. In the past, I would avoid the tiny coffee pot in lobbies, conference centers, and hotel rooms, keeping an eye out instead for big-brand neon signs. But now, long lines have made it harder to wait for a simple cup of hot coffee. The following story tells how commercial coffee makers reminded me of the meaning of hospitality.

On a recent trip, I found myself stranded in a regional airport. Unlike major hubs at which stores and cafés remain open after midnight, this airport’s chain restaurants and coffee bars had closed. I passed one grill-shuttered storefront after another with rising disbelief as I passed the flight gates where other travelers sprawled on chairs.

Finally, I stumbled on a sign that read “Hospitality Center.” Assuming this was a VIP lounge, as at other airports, I almost walked past. But through the glass doors, a silver gleam caught my eye.

Without knowing why I entered, across from me, a bank of commercial coffee makers with sleek black tops and silver surfaces radiated elegance. But surely, they’re empty, I thought, as I stepped forward and seized a cup from a neat stack nearby. Sure enough, as I moved down the line, none of the airpots, percolators, and decanters yielded a drop, and I realized sadly what my nose had sensed: it had probably been hours since the last batch.

“Can I help you?” came a voice from behind me. I turned and saw a uniformed old man standing behind a desk. If he’d been there when I entered, I had missed him in my single-minded pursuit of caffeine.

“No, it’s OK. I was just looking for a cup of coffee,” I replied, reaching for the door handle.

“Have a seat,” said the man, who I realized wore a nametag that matched the logos on the desk and sign, though I couldn’t make out the name.

“That’s OK,” I protested, but the man just smiled at me, and suddenly I felt overcome with the need to sit. Dropping my bag, I slumped into a chair across from the commercial coffee makers and watched as he carefully measured out coffee and water.

While we waited for the coffee to brew, he told me that it was his last night on the job. “I’m retiring,” he said with a smile.

“I can’t believe you’re still here at this time,” I said, feeling doubly guilty as the comforting aroma of fresh coffee filled the air.

“Well,” said the old man, “it’s only a few more hours. And, besides,” he said, handing me a cup with a wink. “There’s always someone who needs a cup of coffee.”