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Barista! The Perks

I realize that more often than not, I am ranting about the gloomy side of working for a corporate coffee chain. I may have mentioned before that the customers are not always the friendliest, nor even often bearable, for example. Perhaps I have referred to them as "assholes" once or twice. I even recall complaining about my district managers and some of the company's policies with which I may not entirely agree.

But despite my sanity-sucking hatred of corporatism, fast food, the general public, and, worse yet, the combination of the three in harmonious capitalism delight, I really do have a soft spot for my job. In sheer anticipation of the madness about to ensue now that the holiday season is officially underway, I want to reflect, even if only briefly, on the few enjoyable elements of my job.

Here, then, are the perks of being Barista!:

1. While my tales of customer service encounters usually focus on the nastiest of the nasty, there are a handful of customers who always make my day a little brighter.

Niles, the husband of my big-titted coworker, Leona, seems to be just as much of a cynical bastard as I am. During a group discussion at the store one day, the topic of the company's stock came up. Niles didn't even storm off when I mouthed "Fucking dork" to him for knowing the current stock price off the top of his head. In fact, this may have been the first time I saw a smile escape from his mouth.

Then there's Joe, who comes in the store a lot to escape visits from his mother-in-law. Joe hardly flinched when I first questioned his masculinity for always ordering a skim vanilla chocolatey drink. He did wonder, though: Isn't she supposed to be nice to the customers? I simply assured him that he'd be back three times the next day to throw away another $15 because he is an addict, and my shortage of niceness wouldn't change that. He agreed, and I've been rude to him ever since.

And finally, there are a couple of mothers who actually have control of their children and don't let them act like chocolate-stained chimps like most of the others do. Any time a mom denies a whining child or exercises some form of discipline, I thank her for taking the time.

2. Another enjoyable aspect of my job is my crew. Having just stood up at the wedding of one of my former co-baristas, there is no question that I always meet great people among my coffee workforce. Everyone who has ever held a job that emphasized teamwork knows how crucial it is to love thy co-worker.

Although it seems like I am paddling alone in my boat of cynicism, adrift a sea of corporate inanities, spinning metaphorically out of control, I work with some equally sadistic characters. Velma, for instance, can blind you with sunshine charm one second and call you a shithead the next. Such was the time she graciously accepted a windbreaker found on the floor by a concerned customer.

"Thank you so much, ma'am, we'll put this right into our lost and found!" She said with a sincere grin. It wasn't but a second later - after the concerned customer had turned around to walk away - that a straight-faced Velma, arm outstretched, opened her hand to let the windbreaker fall, stepped on it, and used it as a prop to glidingly dance across the floor on her way to the back room where she safely stored it.

The windbreaker reclamation scene the next day was almost as funny as Velma's moonwalk with it the day before. We all fought back laughter as the owner came in asking for it.

"I think Velma knows where that is, right Velma?" Offered June, another dark-humored barista, and coincidentally, Velma's best friend. I don't even have to tell you with what unbroken deliberate sweetness Velma returned the windbreaker to its owner.

3. Finally, in my heart of hearts, I am a coffee junkie. I highly value free and discounted access to anything java-related. I don't mess around with our nasty specialty sugar drinks, but boy do I cherish the whole beans. My genuine love for coffee eases the pressure of providing knowledgeable service to my inquiring customers. When I said the new holiday blend was delectable, I meant it with the utmost sincerity. I can't wait to crack open my first pound at home and sniff the sweet fragrance of fresh beans. As a matter of fact, any time a pound of coffee goes through my hands at work, I make sure to take a whiff from the aroma-leaking air valve on the package. It's an obsession, but a good one to have when coffee is your trade.

So there you have it - three things that keep me somewhat level-headed, among the dozens of things that work against my sanity. Like I said, I'm writing this now before I am completely mired in the holiday muck, knowing that this sort of peaceful reflection may get buried in the war zone to come. Also, my dad is worried about my mental health and my mom thinks I use the f-word too much, so I thought focusing on the upsides might ease both their minds for at least a week. Overall, no matter how vicious the customers get or how ridiculous Corporate can be, at the heart of it all I love coffee - and the people who scathingly serve it alongside me.

Maude Perkins is The Beachwood Reporter's pseudononymous service industry affairs editor currently serving time as a store supervisor for a large, publicly-held corporate coffee chain.

More Barista!:

* Barista! Tales From the Coffee Front

* Barista! Our Ennobling Mission

* Barista! Back in the Grind

* Barista! A Grand Skim Offensive Latte

* Barista! Holiday Spirits, On The Rocks

And catch up with the complete Life at Work archive, including the travails of our original Life at Work columnist, J. Bird.



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Posted on November 12, 2006


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
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POLITICS - Trailer: Swing District.
SPORTS - Ryan Pace's Narratives Are Killing Us.

BOOKS - Chicago For Dummies.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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