In July I began working at Starbucks. In part it was to see what I could do after my strokes, in part to keep me from using the term “Amyloidosis” too often after having heard it several times each day on House, MD reruns, and in large part, it was to let me get medical insurance.
I was lucky enough to get a position at a high volume neighborhood store in Chevy Chase, just inside the District line. The manager is a great guy. Annette, a neighbor of mine, who helped me get the job, is a long-time employee, and our clientele are some of the DC power elite along with some just very nice people.
I’ve never shied away from manual labor. Given my druthers, I’d opt to watch a football game rather than dig post holes, but even though I’ve made an excellent living for the past quarter century using my brain, since some of the key chunks of that handy organ that allows one to process numbers rapidly and concentrate for extended periods were zapped during a weekend in early June of 2010 marked by a delightful outing to a friend’s very exclusive golf club and a less nice outing to a wonderful stroke center at the emergency ward at a hospital about a driver and lob wedge from our house, that option, returning to the world of using my noggin to mess with numbers was closed. I needed something else to do. Starbucks always received excellent marks as a place to work, and I thought it would be a good option for me.
Working at Starbucks is tough. You’re on your feet moving along a narrow corridor for 4-8 hours while taking orders, making drinks and trying not to spill things. It became clear fairly soon after I started that making drinks more complicated than coffee was something that may take considerably longer than the two weeks many baristas take to learn how to make most of the drinks in the Starbucks coffee universe. It is also fun. The customers are generally pleasant, even in stores such as ours, which is a haven for many of the Washington famous and near famous. A member of the Court (yes, THE court), PBS types, and nannies from many countries with lovely children from lovely parents in tow are daily visitors, each standing in the long line to order their cappuccino or latte, or the occasional cup of coffee. No one tries to pull rank, no one uses the “don’t you know who I am?!” line, most smile and make small talk, many drop their change in the tips jar, many leave much more. To those of us who are providing the caffeine that gets them going, we are generally afforded at least a bemused respect. I think many are genuinely dazzled by the level of competence that can be brought to the act of ordering and delivering the thousands of permutations of drinks available.
The people I work with are an interesting and generally affable mix. Young, old (not old like me, but middle-aged), students, searchers, time-biders, parents, just plain folks working and then going off to life. Much like those who provide the endless stream that pay and pay for coffee based drinks. Most of our customers are friendly and frequently somewhat flattered when we know what they are going to order. I am only beginning to recognize some regulars. Michael, who opens regularly (that’s getting there around 4:30 AM), knows about 80% of everyone who shows up before 8 AM’s drinks and is a delight for a newbie to work with.
The only things I do well are work pretty hard, and tend the cash register. Starbucks likes to put a premium on the customer’s entire experience, so even though I am not making your Grande Peppermint Latte, I will take your money and send you on your way, hopefully with the correct drink and certainly with less money than you came in with. And, as a bonus, I’ve lost at least 10 pounds in the months I’ve been working. I think I’ve been drinking coffee too long to be any type of aficionado or can appreciate the subtle differences promised by each. But I do appreciate well run machines, and while only a cog, I find it interesting to watch.