A line of cars wraps around the brick building with green awnings and spills into the street, clogging traffic. Each car follows the next like train cars joined by invisible links. Customers chuck out cash, swipe cards, jingle spare change. The first red leaf from a nearby maple falls quietly to settle in the parking lot.
Autumn has come. And with it stalks the Ghost of Autumn Present. It’s everywhere I go.
This ghost swirls on autumn breezes, sneaks into small talk, flavors every coffee shop chat. It invites itself to morning brunches and post-lunch munches. It loiters in the grocery store and lounges in the bakery.
It haunts my Instagram feed, but I pretend not to notice. It etches its name on signs and posters and window art. I walk by. It calls my name—low-voiced and sugary-sweet. I ignore it, but it’s everywhere I go. From every café on every street, it calls like the cheerful ghost in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol fame, “Come in and know me better, man!”
I’m an autumn girl with an autumn-y vibe. I love the breeze-ruffled trees, the chunky sweaters, the colored leaves, the zipper vests. I love the tug-of-war between winter and summer, the steam rising from ponds on frosty mornings, the sun warming your back while you break ice from the dog’s water dish. I love all things autumn—except the Ghost of Autumn Present. I avoid this autumn apparition. But it keeps finding me.
Ding! The bell chimes as I push against the door’s wooden weight. I smell the coffee dripping—ready for pouring, perfect for sipping. Pastries beckon from their glass houses, iced and gleaming and ready for eating.
“Try our PSL!” a chalkboard sign prompts in artsy print. I order coffee—plain, bold, black. Then I leave and don’t look back.
Tick, tick, clack! My fingers tap tuneless rhythms on the keyboard in time to come-and-go thought waves. My boss enters the cubicle.
“I brought cake!” she says.
I see the label. The ghost’s pumpkin-y prints are written all over the box. I say, “No thanks.”
Scrolling, scrolling on Instagram. Picture of cousin at Disney World. Like. Scroll. Picture of random library that I want to visit. Like (add to bucket list). Scroll. Picture of childhood friend with hubby and two-year-old in a field of flowers. Like (and feel old). Scroll. Ghost of Autumn Present. Hurry past. Scroll fast. Scroll.
Drip, patter, rumble . . . study ambiance of a rainstorm plays through my earbuds. I read with a book in hand, curled on a chair.
“Try this!” my friend says, offering me a steaming mug. I taste just a sip, brain elsewhere. Wait, what—? Too late! Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves—all the telltale spices of the PSL. The ghost-y combo of the pumpkin spice latte slides over my tongue, smooth and warm.
“Do you like it?”
Yes, but . . . it’s complicated.
Tick, tack, clack. PUMPKIN SPICE. A google search confirms my nagging fears. Pumpkin spice is the ghost that haunts autumnally and has autumn-lovers everywhere falling for it. This pumpkin-ish phenomenon elbows apple cider and hot chocolate out of its way, encouraged by marketers who want a piece of the pumpkin-y pie.
Seeking to realize its five-hundred-million-dollar market potential every year, pumpkin spice swirls through cafés and malls, grocery stores and pet stores. Pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkin spice cheesecake. Pumpkin spice hand soap. Pumpkin spice bodywash. Pumpkin spice mac n’ cheese. Pumpkin spice dog food. Pumpkin spice SPAM.
I take another sip of my friend’s pumpkin spice latte to mourn a good thing gone too far. As the warm notes of autumn roll over my tongue, I think of the line of cars wrapped around the brick building like a pumpkin spice train. Part of me understands the PSL obsession. Part of me revolts at the idea of pumpkin spice SPAM. Part of me wonders how long this autumn phenomenon will last.
I know one thing. Only time can put the Ghost of Autumn Present back to rest in its grave. In the meantime, I think of the first fall leaf falling to the ground, and I hope in all the froth of the PSL we don’t miss autumn.