Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

Enough

Today my paycheck got stuck in New Jersey, labour was cut to bare bones, customers were uber thoughtless, and the shift ended with my barista being called a horrible name.

I’m ready for this day to end. Food Network, here I come.

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Three Years and Counting

Today is my three year anniversary of working for Starbucks.

It’s hard to believe that three years ago I was sitting in our cafe, filling out tons of paperwork, memorising new policies, and learning how to tidy the condiment bar and the layout of the back room. It was an overwhelming day, but a good day nonetheless.

The last few years certainly were a journey! I’ve had three and a half managers, some good, some bad, and some to be determined; multiple partners floated in and out of our little cafe; customers came and went; babies were born and other dear ones died. I’ve discovered awesome coffees and met great teas.

I’m not saying that things have always been, or will continue to be easy or pleasant. But I do love my job. I love the connecting with the customers, the rhythm and process of making drinks, the rush of creating a drink that makes a customer happy. It’s been a great three years, and I’m hoping to have many more before life sweeps me away from the little green siren.

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

 

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Bad and Good

As many of you know, I review books for people. Sometimes it is through a random online connection, but most of the time it is through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. This year was very profitable in the book department for me, so I was very excited today when my newest review book showed up in its padded envelope!  So excited, in fact, that I took it with me to work in case I had a few spare minutes.

I didn’t get a chance to start it yet, but already it is sparking some conversations among my coworkers. I should have expected that. After all, here’s what it is:

Oh, loaded title there. Instantly, my coworkers agreed. You see, we live in a very “Christian” community. Just last week someone posted a page out of the Bible on our community board (You’ve got me stumped. There was nothing particularly interesting or evangelical in the posted passage). It’s not uncommon to find tracts in our tip boxes. We know that many of our customers are pastors of local churches.

Unfortunately, some of the people most vocal about being Christians treat us the most poorly. In the interest of fairness, I freely admitted to my coworkers that I was not the best example of a Christian. Being nice, they pointed out that I also don’t try to shove religion down people’s throats while tearing them to shreds at the same time. Valid point, I’ll give them that.

All that to say, I’ve not yet read the book. But the title resonates with people, so I’m opening things up here! If you feel up to it, why not take over my comments box and tell a story of Christians behaving badly? Maybe it happened to you, maybe you were the one misbehaving, but I know we all have these stories and it’s good for us to take a serious look at our behaviour and see where we fall short.

Have at it! In the meantime, I’ll be reading this book. Who knows what it is really about, but so far it has served a good purpose: it got people talking about what is acceptable behaviour, and what is not. In *my* book, that’s a winning result.

Be back with a review soon!

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The Ebb and Flow

I remember last year like it was yesterday. The stress, the uncertainty. Finding out that my Starbucks manager was leaving the store, and wondering who was going to replace her. What would the new manager be like? How would she fit in? What would happen to our amazing, wonderful, top-of-the-district store?

I remember the next months that followed. I remember the stress, the frustration, and the tension that couldn’t hide underneath the surface. There was an adjustment period while she taught us how to work more efficiently, and we tried to teach her how to slow down. Unfortunately, things didn’t always go smoothly. I don’t know that we ever really learned how to talk to each other…I don’t know that we ever could. Too much was different. An uneasy peace finally settled on the store. We all worked hard, but the customers could tell the difference. Too many strangers behind the counter, new faces every week. Drink quality wasn’t as important as cleanliness, so standards slipped. Our customer satisfaction dropped over 30%. It was frustrating, to say the least.

Please don’t get me wrong. I loved the manager we got. She worked hard, and worked with our best interests in mind. But things just didn’t start out well, and there was no recovering.

A month ago, our manager stepped down.

Since then, we’ve been living in limbo. In a perverse way, things got a bit better. We work well as a team, and when there is no manager to mediate differences, then somehow we get along on our own. Tension disappears. We work hard to help each other.

Yet, things still aren’t completely well. We are still too fractured from the effects of the last year. The customer satisfaction keeps slipping. Every week brings a new borrowed partner from one store or another. Every time we think we have a grip on things, everything changes. Our interim manager has been good, but she knows her time is limited. She can’t make certain changes, though I know she’d like to.

Tomorrow, we find out for sure who are new manager will be. The store is holding its breath.

I know who it is…unless the rumours have all been wrong. I’m torn. In a way this will be good for our store: we will be well taken care of, well treated, and our adjustments will be minor. On the other hand, not everyone in the store likes this person. Things may be tense, will be tense. There will be drama.

All we can do is ride out the storm. There has to be peace sometime, there has to be a chance for us to get back on our feet. We are a good store, we can do it! Go team….

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How One Pound of Coffee Made A Lot of People Happy

One little green bag. It sits on the shelf at my Starbucks, hardly ever touched.

The flashier bags get all the attention: Sumatra, Komodo Dragon, Cafe Verona, Espresso Roast, and Pike Place all come and go. It sits there…quietly, patiently.

Until the other day. Until a poor, frazzled man came in and asked me if we had any organic coffee. You could almost see that little green bag puff itself up. I lead the man over to the wall, and pull it off the shelf: Organic Shade Grown Mexico. The relief on the man’s face is evident. His sister-in-law is coming into town, and EVERYTHING must be organic. Coffee included.

So, I work on getting him a half pound (he didn’t need anymore than that…I got the feeling we weren’t trying to get the sis-in-law to move in!), ground it for him (yes, I do know that doing so means it is no longer Certified Organic, but the man needed help), bagged it up, and he was set to go. I was even able to give him the name of a local organic market in case the sis-in-law made any other odd organic demands. You can find *everything* organic at Trader Joe’s.

(I know two people who are dying with laughter right now. Shall we continue on?)

A few minutes later, E comes in. Now, I love seeing this guy come in for three reasons. One, he’s always pleasant. Two, he sometimes sits and hangs out with his eReader, which is always cool. But the third reason is the best: he loves good, bold coffee. It’s always exciting when you meet a customer who really cares about the coffee, who can appreciate the difference between an earthy Sumatra and a brightly acidic Gazebo. There’s one other customer who is the same, he actually always orders a French Press of something. The other night he and I had a discussion about the different coffees that come to the forefront in the various bags of Tribute Blend. With four different regions in there, sometimes you taste the Sumatra, sometimes the Papua New Guinea, etc.

But I digress.

E comes in, and says he wants to try something different: he wants a Chai Latte with no pumps and 1/3 milk. My shift stood there looking confused, until I pieced together that he wanted a Chai Tea misto. Phew!

Before I started on his drink, I looked at him and asked “Are you sure? I have some Organic Shade-Grown Mexico.”

His face lit up! “Why did you even let me order? You should have just said ‘E, don’t even bother, I know what you want!'” With that, E, and my shift, and I cracked up. So, I made E a venti coffee, and I made a short so that I could fill out my new coffee passport.

You know what? That’s really, really good coffee. And at least 7 people were made very happy…all because of one little green bag of beans.

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A Starbucks Story

It was the best of closes, it was the worst of closes…actually it was tonight’s close!

We were having a good night. My coworkers were wild and crazy, and there were lots of hugs, jokes, pranks, insults, and songs.

…Justin Bieber songs, but no night is *perfect*.

As much as we hated to do so, shift and I sent our dear singing precloser home a little early to save labour. We were good, we were ahead of the game. We were set to close at 9:30, and get out well before 10.

Then, 9:15 happened. A very, very nice man walked into the store and informed us that he was turning off the water.

Say WHAT?????

I’ve never seen that look of blank shock on my shift’s face before. She just stood there, the Daily Coverage Report about to slide out of her hands. It was…disturbing. So, I jumped in to the situation, chatted with the guy (who was WONDERFULLY understanding), and we negotiated a 10 pm water shut off.

Whew. Disaster averted.

The only problem is that Mr. Water Man wasn’t hopeful that we would have water for open tomorrow. Or for the morning rush. Or, like, until 10-11 am tomorrow morning.

Let’s make a list of why we need water:

Espresso shots

Coffee brewing

Rinsing pitchers

Washing dishes

Washing hands

Restrooms

…just to name a few things.

Oh, and my manager is the opening shift.

So I focus in on dishes. The sooner I could get done, the sooner he could get to work, the sooner we could have water back. Scrub, swish, stack, sanitize, shelve!

It’s now 9:28. Almost there…so close….

…and a guy comes in. Asks if we are open. We say “for a few more minutes” and he says “good, I have a couple of drinks.”

He then proceeds to order:

4 grande caramel frappuccinos

3 grande vanilla lattes

2 strawberries and cream frappuccinos

1 iced grande caramel macchiato

We are down to one espresso machine so I could ensure both got rinse cycles before the drought. We only have out one blender pitcher because we were cleaning the others (see re: coming drought). Oh, and because he is still there, fussing over his order, other orders came in behind him. Somehow, shift and I crank these drinks out in record time, only closing a few minutes after our “shut door” time.

But now we are now *so* behind the power curve.

Ugh.

Scramble…scramble…scramble….

But there is no recovery. We clock out 10 minutes late, chewing up all the labour we saved earlier by sending Bieber Boy home.

*sigh*

So much promise…so much potential….

Chocolate ice cream? Don’t mind if I do!

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Thanks, Dr. Oz….

He is one of those customers. You all know the type- the ones who make you dread coming on shift. The ones who have complicated orders, make unreasonable demands, berate you as you do your job the best you can, put you through the wringer, and then never tip. We have several of those, but one really takes the cake.

He gets a pound of coffee- a specific blend of decaf Sumatra and regular Sumatra. Always. Okay, fine- half-caf, no problem.

In fact, the coffee is the least of the issue.

If you don’t start scooping it before he even walks in the door, he acts as though you are too dense to draw breath. It doesn’t matter if you stand there and recite the order with him- if it’s not ready when he gets to the register, he has to tell you the entire order. EM-PHA-TI-CAL-LY.

He then watches you like a hawk as you walk to the wall, pull the coffee bags (he never brings the coffee to the register himself), and go behind the counter, scoop, measure, weigh, grind, and bag. Then, he…well, wait a moment.

There’s something you all should understand. I’m a closer- I rarely work before 3 pm. When I deal with this customer, it’s at night- like, it’s dark out night. Now, every store has closers like me, and openers who don’t work past noon. Our store has a highly popular opener- he almost never works much past 11 or 12. NEVER at night. Hasn’t for many, many years. Comprende? Bien.

He (the customer) comes in at night. Every night, he asks if this one opener is working. Becomes very upset when he is told that they are not there. Despite our explaining that his favourite barista only works in the mornings, he still comes in late at night for his coffee. Go figure. Apparently, this opener is the “only person” who can get the half-caf right, is the “best employee ever,” and without them working at our location “we wouldn’t stand a chance of staying in business because no one else can do the job as well.”

The first time we dealt with this guy at night, it was me, a shift, and my manager. We all stood there, slightly in shock. The manager tried to laugh it off with the customer… “Yeah, that employee is pretty popular.”

“NO. You all would go under without him.” (EM-PHA-TI-CAL-LY, remember?)

*blink* O-kayyyyy then.

He left at last, his coffee in hand. We stood there, silently looking at each other. Wordlessly, the shift reached over and pulled off three pieces of receipt tape. Scribbling something on each of them, she quietly pinned them to the inside of our green aprons with paper clips. I glanced at what mine said.

Chopped Liver

The three of us burst out laughing. “That’s so we don’t forget what we are without the morning crew.” my shift declared.

This customer has made us feel the same way every visit since that night two years ago. We treat him nicely, but there is still a tenseness to the transaction.

And then, a miracle. They came in the other night, and I immediately started scrambling for the coffee wall to pull the pounds I needed, calling to him as I ran “half-caf, right?”

“No, just regular.”

I swear, I stopped dead in the middle of the café. The shift behind the counter halted too. No? NO? NO!?!?!??!?!

“No,” he continued on. “I was listening to Dr. Oz, and he said that the process used to decaffeinate coffee is worse for you than the extra bit of caffeine. So, it’s just a pound of regular coffee now.”

Do you know how much FASTER his order goes without the measuring and scooping? Without having to assure him that yes, it was the right amount of caf and decaf? Oh, bliss. This is a change we like.

Thank you, Dr. Oz.

 

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Beyond The Door There’s Peace, I’m Sure

It’s hard to write a blog post through a haze of tears.

But, this post had to be written. Needed to be written. Deserved to be written.

I’m hoping that my regular readers (and those who know me in real life) will recall all the times I’ve talked about this dear little customer of mine: a 15 year old girl who has spent the past few years fighting a rare cancer with determination and tenacity. For those of you who are new, please just take a minute to review this post about Ashley. If you have a little extra time, I’ve also mentioned Ashley and her family here and here.

Ashley is amazing. She fought to stay a normal kid through horrible circumstances. She stayed informed on her treatments, and made calls as to when to push through more pain, and when to take a break and just enjoy being with her family and friends. People rallied around her and her family with support, prayers, and wonderful memory-making gifts.

I can’t imagine how hard it is to watch your child waste away, to watch a disease slowly drain her of life, day by day, sometimes breath by breath. How hard it is to help her be a normal kid when nothing about her life is, or is ever going to be, normal. What it’s like to watch her siblings try to come to grips with the concept of death at a far too young age. For me, it’s been hardest to watch the effect of Ashley’s illness reflected in her father’s eyes. It was hard to hold him while he cried and told me the saddest news of all.

If you are reading this post, it means that Ashley is now out of pain. Her suffering is over…her fight is finished.

…and we are mourning her.

I called her dad earlier, and he said something that is so, so true. Her life had a purpose, and she did not leave us until that purpose was filled. She has touched hundreds and thousands of lives; she’s inspired countless people. Her purpose here is over…it is now time for us to learn from her life, and live the lessons she embodied.

Make the most of each day. Fight to be normal. Treasure memories. Make time for those you love. Never miss a chance to hug someone or brighten their day. Live. Laugh. Love. Like I challeged you all earlier this month:

Live with intention.

We love you, Ashley. <3

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong
And carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

I’ll find my way
Through night and day,
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.

Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please, begging please.

Beyond the door,
There’s peace I’m sure,
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong
And carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.

 

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Amanda

Sometimes, something so weird happens at work that I just have to shake my head and move on. And then start thinking about it again. And shake my head.

Take the other night, for instance. I’m out in the cafe, restocking the RTD&E (cold case) with sandwiches and juices from our delivery. BIG crates of food. Anyway, I’m sitting on the floor arranging the food so that it 1) looks pretty and 2) doesn’t restrict air flow. Not as easy as it might sound.

While I’m doing this, a young couple walks in and goes to straight to the comfy chairs to stake them out. I look up to say hi, but they are deep in chit-chat and I don’t want to interrupt them. I continue to stock the case. A few minutes pass, and they come up to the counter to order. As they walk by, the guy looks down at me and says “Hi, Amanda!”

Um, what?

I suppose that must be what the look on my face said, because the guy stopped and did a double take.

“You are Amanda, right?”

“Um, no. I’m not. Sorry.”

“Oh my gosh! You look just like her.” He turns to the girl with him. “Doesn’t she look like Amanda?”

At this point, the girl now starts examining me closely (remember, I’m still sitting on the floor. Can anyone say awk-ward?) “She totally does!”

So, I laugh it off. Weird. I have doppleganger. Cool. I knew that I had one named Lauren a few years back, and when I first started working for Starbucks there was a super popular girl at a local highschool who looked like me too. I think her name was Brittney or something like that. Anyway, for a few months I rehearsed saying “No, I didn’t go to _____ High School, sorry.”

But, that’s not the end of this story. I continue with my restocking and cleaning, but at this point I’m behind the bar. Guy and girl continue to stand in between the register and the handoff plane, staring at me and whispering and waiting for their drinks.

It’s just your imagination. I tell myself. There’s no way that they are still talking about me looking like this Amanda chick.

Boy, was I wrong. Another girl walks into Starbucks, and heads right towards the future hosts of Look-A-Like. As soon as the effusive, requisite Hollywood hugs and air kisses were complete, they start whispering. All of a sudden, I hear across the bar “Oh my gosh, she does totally look like Amanda! Are you guys SURE that it isn’t her?”

Apparently, new girl agreed with her friends’ discovery, and I swear never have customer drinks been made so slowly. The last thing I heard as they finally meandered away was “That is just so crazy! They look so much alike!”

So, Amanda, though we’ve never met, I feel like I already know you.

Although, I sort of hope we don’t ever meet.

That would be too weird.

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Why We Do What We Do

I am sitting in a Starbucks not my own, watching the dynamics of those around me. This is a young Starbucks…I don’t see or know of a barista working here who is over 30. They get along well with each other, and seem to have a solid customer base.

One if these regular customers is a mentally challenged young man, sitting in the cafe. He knows the baristas and a good many of the customers, and they know him. He wanders for a while, restless. Quiet, unobtrusive, but restless.

Soon, one of the young male baristas comes into the cafe. He takes off his green apron and black hat, and arranges two chairs at a big table. He sits in one, the mentally challenged young man in another. A deck of UNO cards appear, and they play.

For over an hour, they play the game, soft exclamations of UNO punctuating the alternative mix on the radio. This is not the first time I’ve watched this scene play out, and it won’t be the last. It touches my heart- the patience, love, and dedication of time that this barista is willingly making. I leave to run an errand, and come back half an hour later to take drinks to my friends. They are both still there, still playing, still chatting, still smiling.

I would go up and tell this barista how proud I am to have a fellow partner like him, but I wouldn’t interrupt this UNO game for the world.

<3

 

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