Wednesday, June 27, 2012

You Are Not Jack Nicholson

Can we tell you how to order your coffee?

"Oh hell no," every single customer in the waking world says. "I want my drink the way I want it, and you'd better make it for me chop chop on the double because I am important."

"Oh god, I don't care," most baristas say. "Just put your change in the tip jar and I'll make whatever you want. I'll steam 16 oz of chocolate syrup and top it with apple juice, just please god pay and leave, I've been on shift ten hours already."

"Oh hell yes," a surprising amount of baristas say. "We have very specific guidelines in place for quality control, we take the flavor of our espresso very seriously, and if we see one more guy pay for 3 shots over ice in a grande cup and then use all our bar milk to make a cheap latte we will straight up go on a killing spree."

I'm somewhere between those two camps. On the one hand: yeah, it's a coffee shop that thrives on customization and customer input. You have your latte prepped just the way you like it and we're happy to do it for you. On the other hand: Starbucks cares about flavor and quality, but they care much more about you coming back to their location and associating fuzzynice memories with it, which is why I never kicked out a nonviolent customer and happily steamed skim milk to over one thousand degrees.

If you're in a Starbucks, go nuts on customization. Ask for sixteen shots over ice, we'll sell it to you. Get a venti cup full of espresso shots and use them in morning coffee over the course of a week, which to my horror happened multiple times at one of my stores. It's Starbucks. Our first and foremost concern is providing you with a pleasant experience that is wholly customized.

But if you walk into a local hipster coffee bar run by the guy who blends his own beans, and you take to the internets or bitch him out in public because that guy won't sell you shocked espresso, you're not Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces righteously ordering toast. You're just a jackass.

People forget they're paying for a gourmet experience in these places. You don't walk into Alinea, find out they won't fry your squab, then bitch on the internet in indignation. Because the chef prepared the meal and you respect the opinion of the chef. But thanks in part to Starbucks, fancy coffee is now mainstream coffee, and baristas aren't so much considered skilled people preparing a gourmet beverage as they are smiling automatons that press buttons.

"I just quit being a barista, actually," I recently said to a guy operating his own coffee shop. "I was at Starbucks for around 4 years."

"Oh." He eyed me across the counter. "So you weren't actually a barista."

I don't agree with him, but I can understand the sentiment. Because to him, I wasn't a master beverage artist prepping a great drink from great ingredients: I was a Mr. Coffee machine, throwing in whatever awful shit the customer wanted. I was the reason customers think they can get ketchup on a Chicago Dog.

(I put ketchup on my Chicago Dog.)

 The colors, duke, the colors!
Clearly your group should've worn matching hats.

I toured a cavern once. I think it was in Ireland. Pretty normal stuff--cool rock formations, etc--until our tour guide turned off all the lights and cheerfully explained that since no sunlight reached these caverns, your eyes would never, ever adjust to the all-encompassing darkness.

She waited an uncomfortably long time to turn the lights back on.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ramble On

This is looming on the horizon:

Why else would updates be slowing down? I go back into obscurity the moment I hit "submit" on that postcard! These little cardboard squares have traveled farther than I have! They're more interesting than I am! WITHOUT THEM I AM NOTHI--



Recently, I saw some friends I don't see very often. We went to the greatest restaurant ever. Afterwards there was chilling, talking, merriment all around. Except for one guy. He seemed like he wasn't enjoying himself. I shrugged it off at the time--he's a genuinely nice guy, and what business was it of mine if he didn't feel talkative?

Later, though, I asked another attendee what was up, and the response baffled me:

"Oh, it's nothing, he just thinks you're kind of a jock."


I mean, I was Most Improved Player for my soccer team. Twice. But given that through high school and college my hobbies included "IRC roleplaying games," "marathoning Japanese ninja cartoons," and "eating Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip out of a tall cup because tall cups can fit more than bowls," I wouldn't say I have the makings of a varsity athlete. Still, it got me wondering: how much have I changed as a person in the past few years?

Sure, I'm much better at hiding my powerlevel. But I'm still occasionally subject to a sort of panicky paranoia in new social situations, a worry that any moment I'll slip up and they'll know I remember a Simpsons quote from 1995 and I can't remember the names they told me four minutes ago. If I don't have a wingman, or alcohol, or a justification (show, work, cousin's wedding) to be there, I for reals worry that I'll put both feet in my mouth and roll around like some foot-choking mouth-footer to everyone's horrified amusement.

But now, I can rise above that magma of insecurity and walk across the caldera of social terror, albeit slowly, on a swaying tightrope of lies. I wonder how much of that is due to the constant enforced mellow of your average Starbucks shift? Doesn't matter if fat tea refill lady called you a nazi, you must be friendly. Don't know what to say to the group of hipsters waiting for lattes by the bar? Better think of something, you're supposed to engage customers! Smile, Jim! You're a monkey, Jim!

I suppose in the end, it all boils down to perceptions being weird. Enough of the self-analysis. I promise next time I won't link so many videos.

 Oh. That's step 2. There's a lot less empty space now!
I wish we took such a healthy attitude towards fireworks. One little toddler loses a hand and suddenly it's no fun for half the states in the union. Although I am proud to say my brother and his friends singlehandedly resurrected fireworks prohibition in Indiana by treating every Notre Dame game day like the fourth of July. Once we set off approximately 1,000 bottle rockets at once. Another time we detonated a mortar shell in a mailbox. The shockwave knocked all the beer bottles down!

Okay. One more video.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I Truly Miss Vivannos

You know, I just realized the other day--I haven't been inside a Starbucks since leaving good ol' MoonDollars. I did get a three pump two shot one hundred twenty degree skinny vanilla latte once, but it was in an airport, so it was a franchise, so it doesn't really count (my apologies to the truly nice staff, who are undoubtedly the most kicked around coffee servers in existence). I've been working my desk job since April 1st, so that's just over two months without revisiting my old stomping grounds.

Two months without crabby ladies demanding free refills on tea they drank at another store six hours ago. Sixty days without vacationers telling me I will pay for my insolence. Eight weeks without friendly regulars rolling their eyes at all the assholes while I discreetly discount their drinks. I thought it was just coincidence, but I walked past one of my old stores the other day, saw the rush, and could not. Go. In. Seriously needed coffee! But I just couldn't do it. I wonder if walking into the worst place in the world would induce flashbacks.

Now I down Pibb Zero by the crateload. And when I do drink coffee, it's, well...

From a Keurig. No human element whatsoever. A thousand barista ghosts are watching me with disgust, waiting for my demise that they might throw me upon God's espresso bar and blast me with their steam wands until Judgement Day and trumpets sound. "Sellout!" They'll howl. "Traitor!"

Looking at that last paragraph, I worry about my sleep schedule. Possibly damaging? Must investigate further.

But what's step two, Jessica? What's step two?!
You know, I'm thinking I shouldn't bitch about the Starbucks strategy meetings anymore. At least they weren't in public. And there was pizza. And no line dancing.

Don't give them any ideas.