I have been working in a coffee shop for nine months now. Nine months! Which by coffee shop standards makes me a senior and something of an expert because the turnover is that crazy. Customers are always commenting to me about the revolving-door-turnover and I explain to them that it’s the nature of the business – people take this job on their way to somewhere else. Nearly all the baristas are in school. If not, we’re “in a weird spot in life” – meaning just out of school or deciding to go back to school or trying to make a real career out of a dream.
In the past nine months, I’ve noticed that there is a coffee shop distortion factor that makes you see the world not as it is, but as you think it is because you work in a coffee shop. We are not dealing in reality here, folks. We are working amongst beans and mostly young women when in reality, it’s a man’s world out there. So here are the five main ways I see the world differently, through these steam-wand-fogged lenses of mine:
1. Apron outfits
Every day, I wear an apron. Everyone should be allowed this luxury. Sure, Casual Fridays are a thing. Perhaps instead workplaces should Apron Tuesdays. Because wearing an apron over your outfit gives you a whole new freedom. Aprons hide everything that needs hiding. So all sorts of clothes that usually would be off limits are now fine. Too tight or short on the stomach? Oh well. Camel toe? It’s fine. No one sees it, because it’s covered by the blessed apron.
Muffin top is not an unusual embarrassment anymore, it’s a daily staple. Because pants that make your ass look good make your stomach look bad, and with the apron, the stomach is a non-issue.Now it’s all about the ass (the way it really should be anyway).
2. Indecisive people
In real life, they are slightly charming, how agreeable they are to anything. You can bulldoze them and get your way (if you’re into that kind of thing, and I certainly am). They’ll eat sushi even though they hate it, just because you recommended it. What’s not to love about a person like that? But when they are customers holding up your line in the drive-thru, they are absolutely infuriating.
“How many shots are in a large?”
“Four,” I reply, annoyed already at the conversation that will ensue next.
“Then how many in a medium?”
I roll my eyes and turn to the other barista who nods and rolls her eyes too.
“I’m just not sure, I haven’t been here before…” (the ellipsis is spoken).
You haven’t been to a coffee shop before? Really? It’s 2016, the world runs on caffeine. Caffeine and prescription pills, but caffeine you can get in a drive-thru.
Of course she meant she hasn’t been to this coffee shop before, but all coffee shops offer the same sort of stuff – drip coffee, espresso drinks, teas and blended drinks.
(I allow an awkward pause for the customer to get her shit together).
“What would you recommend?”
“What do you usually order at other coffee shops?” is my response here. Because what I like and what you like have nothing to do with each other, so how could I recommend what you might like?
This conversation usually goes on and on, you will lose interest reading it as quickly as the barista does having it. The other day, a seasoned barista and I had multiple cars like this, back-to-back and I can’t tell you how much headset-turning-off went on. “What’s up with these degenerate customers?” she moaned. I nodded in shared exasperation. Because in a coffee shop, the “large-vanilla-latte-extra-hot-skinny-no foam-with-whip,” spoken in a rush is not a bitch, but rather a person who knows what she wants. And in CoffeeShopLand, bitches are queens.
3. Forward men
In the past ten years, I haven’t been asked out once (OK, make that in the past nine years. There was an incident in a bar in East St. Louis once). I mean, I’m not looking to be asked out, because that means the awkward nice rejection that will have to come from me, but it is somewhat flattering to know you’re desirable at least to someone.
Now in the past nine months as a barista, I have been asked out more than the rest of my life combined. Keep in mind: I’m the oldest I’ve ever been, I’ve birthed multiple children, and I’ve got forehead wrinkles that will make a Real Housewife weep. There is no plausible reason that men would ask me out more now. The only reason is because I’m their barista, and that must make me attainable. I serve them their drinks every day and flirt with them slightly (just as much as is required for them to throw a dollar in the jar). They must think of me as some bimbo who likes just them, paying no mind to the possibility that I treat all the other men (and women) with the exact same kindness, with my exact same joie de vivre.
Did I mention the men who ask me out are old and I’m way out of their league? No, I didn’t; and for a good reason. Because you should think that I am sexy and desirable to all men, not just the weird pathetic ones. Damn me and my chronic oversharing.
4. Caffeine consumption
As an employee of any place other than a coffee shop, you probably have one, maybe two coffees a day (of course their are exceptions, but I speak in generalizations). I remember my past life, having a drip coffee each morning, a nice blended drink from a coffee shop a couple times a week as a treat. But once I became employed at a coffee shop, suddenly those $6 special drinks I could have every day, now for free. So I started drinking way more coffee than I needed, just because I was there and it was there, so why the hell not?
About a month after starting as a barista, I went to see my OB/Gyn for my standard appointment. When she asked me if I had any concerns, I replied in an ashamed whisper so the token nurse/witness wouldn’t hear, “I’m urinating frequently.”
She looked up from her laptop.
“Are we talking incontinence?”
“No, no,” I said ‘no’ twice to cover up my half-lie.
“But my body doesn’t give me much warning,” I added for additional convincing.
“Have you increased your caffeine consumption?” she asked, speaking like the professional she is rather than the street rat I sound like.
“Coffee? Oh yeah, I work at a coffee shop now. I drink caffeine all the time,” I said it in pride almost, before I knew to speak about my profession in shame.
“Then try cutting back,” she replied.
And that is the medical reason us baristas take potty (sorry, mom habit) breaks every twenty minutes. Because “cutting back” is not in our vocabulary. Say what you want about us, but at least we know how to go hard.
5. Standard work hours
Baristas are part-timers. Only managers work full-time and I swear coffee shops make people managers solely because of their availability to work full-time. There are no qualifications or exceptional customer service or management skills required, just open availability. But anyway, who cares about them? Back to us. A two- to four-hour shift isn’t unusual, it’s standard. So in the event that we do work an eight-hour day (like the rest of the world), we bitch and moan about how exhausted we are.
“Oh my god, how do you do it?” I ask my husband as I flop onto the couch dramatically after a “long” shift.
“How do you do this every day and not kill yourself?”
And he just smiles because he knows I couldn’t last a day in his world again just like he couldn’t last a day in ours. He wouldn’t be able to handle being asked out or finally wearing his college pants or overly-agreeable people. He’s just not cut out for it. Because it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s only for those of us who know how to go hard, even if it is only for a couple hours a day.