Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Barista Am I

We had a work meeting Monday night and we were asked the question: “Do you truly believe in River Rock Coffee and in our goals?  Why?”

I am fairly certain that I am the only employee that answered: no. 

I wrote: I feel like we sometimes lack humility, like we are not humble.  Perhaps we take ourselves too seriously?  There is a reason that we cannot obtain perfection; it’s boring.  When our single aim is to be perfect at all times, we miss out on the experiences that get us closer to being excellent.

There is a moment every Monday and Wednesday morning when I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have the job that I do, to have a job that rewards me for being…well, me.  This morning was no different.

Admittedly, the moment came long after the three times I hit my snooze button, eventually deciding that 6:52 a.m. was a more reasonable time to throw some clothes on—bandana too necessary—and brush my teeth than the forty minutes previous.  The eight minute window I allotted myself turned out to be a poor decision when I discovered that MN had been blanketed in snow and ice for yet another time this March.  Mother Nature: you’re a silly bitch sometimes.  I had walked home in a torrent of rain the night before and met my morning with a window scraper and a pair of gloves. 

So I was late.  I don’t think that’s shocking or even unheard of as far as the History of Josh is concerned.  Chronically late—rarely fashionably so—and unenthused to be at a mandatory event like work: nothing new.  Luckily, being surrounded by caffeine has plenty of benefits. 

As my co-workers can attest, I have a pretty typical routine when I arrive at River Rock Coffee, and it goes a little something like this:  (p.s. did anyone else want to follow that last statement up with the opening of “Aaron’s Party”?  No?  Just me?)

Throw open the back door while whistling loudly and, more importantly, obnoxiously.  Stomp over to the coat rack in the back and disrobe—well, not entirely, just the coat and a shoe change if necessary.  The shoe change becomes more frequent when flip-flop weather is permanent and not completely destroyed by freak icestorms that happen in the MIDDLE OF MARCH.  Walk to the staff lounge and step inside. (Spoiler Alert!: The staff lounge is actually just a glorified closet where we keep cleaning supplies, staff boxes, and the shreds of dignity we discard when we play dress-up at work.) Grab my marker and grab my nametag, the one that looks like it was designed and developed by a four-year-old, and thrown on a red apron while stuffing my left pocket with an espresso rag. Outfitted for a day behind the counter, walk to the punch machine and clock in.  After washing my hands, there are few possibilities, depending on the co-worker:  Loudly comment on something Dani is wearing; smile at Ber and say how pretty she is; tell Ash how badly I want to feel her up; yell at Annie like she’s from Jersey; pleasantly greet Katie because she’s adorable; comment on Jess’s height and make her feel stellar; ask Montana how she’s doing; say hey to Alli in an awkward voice; shout Whitney’s name at her; or tell B-Town I haven’t seen her in far too long.  I could always run into Tamika first, too, in which case I actually have a conversation with her.  Weird how interacting with your boss warps your social skills, yea?

Following the routine greeting of my friends and co-workers, I just start being a barista.  It’s odd, trying to describe what it feels like to be doing my job at River Rock Coffee.  It’s impossible to explain, I think, because I don’t really know how to put what I do into words.  Most of the time I’m on autopilot.  I don’t want to imply that I’m responseless, some automaton that just pours drinks all day long and robotically greets customers with all the feigned delight of a phone-sex-operator, but there’s just something so innate, so automatic about what I do at River Rock.  It’s difficult to explain the way you do something when you feel like it’s been planted inside of you, growing for years, and manifesting itself in your actions, words, and habits day in and day out.

I’m far from being a perfect barista, but I do like to think I have something special, something like an x-factor.  You know how musicians or models or artists just have that something special that separates them from everyone in their respective field—or at least the tried and failed?  I feel like I have a little of that when it comes to being a barista.  I sort of just get it. 

Oh, hey ego.  Didn’t see you there!

Anyway: today one of my regular customers came in and started talking to me about the photography that’s currently hanging on our walls. 
He said to me: “This girl, she’s got something in her, she’s got that special eye for light and people and commentary.”
 I said: “Yes, she’s quite good when it comes to people, she captures emotion well, especially with parent and child.” 
He said: “Parent and child?  How could you know what it means to be have that relationship, to comment on what it means to be a father?”
 I said: “Well, I am only a child so far, but I imagine I will show some of that happiness when I am a dad.” 
He said: “Oh, you’re going to raise children?  With who?” 
I said: “My partner, or by myself, I guess.  I hope with someone else, but if not, I suppose that’s fine.

And then he leaned over the counter, and, for a moment, I remembered how old he was.  He was crooked, wrinkled, and frowning.  I thought maybe I had said something out of line.

He said: “You’re going to be so good at that.”
I said: “Ha, I don’t know.”
He said: “I do.  And you know how?”
I said: “How.”
He said: “Because you take care of me two mornings a week.  And you do it very well.” 

And he smiled and sat down and sipped at his coffee, looking out at the snow and ice whirling through the air.

Today was far worse than the day before.

But this morning? 

This morning I felt humbled.

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