I have been preparing to be an undercover investigative journalist ever since I started writing this column. Most of the times when I’m photographed for the newspaper, I wear a green corduroy hat. For this assignment, I wore a brown hat. Hey, all that the reporter for the Daily Planet had to do was take off his glasses, and he disappeared into super-obscurity. I already wear glasses. If I take mine off, I bump into walls.
Chris Vanocur from ABC 4 News could not have done this story. If you got Bill Gephardt from KUTV 2 News, he would not have gotten to the bottom of this investigation.
The problem with Chris and Bill is they are too wildly famous to go undercover. Take Chris, for instance. Not only is he on TV!—but he also has a blog. Most people who have blogs update them daily or weekly, but Chris is so famous he knows we’ll wait a year in between his posts. Come on, Chris, when are you going to get out of the backroom and write something new? The refresh button on my browser is wearing thin.
Can you imagine Vanocur or Gephardt undercover? They’d ask a question like, “What is the secret ingredient in your fry sauce?” and the kid behind the counter at Arctic Circle would say, “May I have your autograph?” However, if you’re a page 13 journalist at an independent newspaper, the easiest way to go undercover is to step outside. As long as I don’t run into my parents, I’m pretty unrecognizable. Then again, there have been times that even they haven’t laid claim to me.
The item in question is the “thief” or the “ghetto latte.” According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s a “cheap-ass way to buy an iced latte—order a double shot of espresso over ice, then use the free milk or half & half at the condiment bar” to turn your espresso into a latte. On average, this will save you about $2.
Completely in disguise, I went to the Coffee Garden (878 E. 900 South, 355-3425) to begin the super-secret-operation code named, “Why should I buy the cow when I can get the milk for free?”
I stepped up to the counter and Shantel said, “What would you like, Phil?”
“How did you recognize me? I have on a brown hat.” I’d stood in line perfectly incognito and, just like that, I was Chris Vanocur’d. Recognized. This is probably what happens to Vanocur every time he does a story. And now Shantel will probably want my autograph, too.
“You come in here all the time,” she reminded me.
OK, this isn’t the undercover investigative piece I had intended it to become. I was unmasked. But I still wanted iced espresso—in a big cup—at least I could get to the bottom of a cheap, iced latte. Maybe I should have got Gephardt for this one? Or if Vanocur had researched ghetto lattes, he finally could have updated his blog. All hopped up on caffeine, maybe he would have written a post called “Why I don’t wear pants when I’m on TV.”
At least this opened up the door for me to come out of deep cover and ask Shantel if the ghetto latte was going to put the Coffee Garden out of business.
“No,” she said. “It can be a problem, but we watch what our customers order. And if they take advantage of us, I’d say something, especially if they’re jerks. And I’ll be watching you.”
“Would you mind saying, ‘Customers who milk us are jerks?’” I asked. “Since this is no longer an investigative story, I need to make stuff up.”
“There’s no need to fictionalize real people in your story,” Shantel said. “But before you leave, may I have your autograph?”