Deborah Young

Deborah Young
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Small Coal-Mining Mountain Town, Colorado, U.S.A.
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July 30
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Sole Proprietor
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Western Colorado
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JANUARY 9, 2009 11:47AM

My stint as a Starbucks barista, baby-boomer style

Rate: 32 Flag

The first clue that we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto, is that all of my co-workers are 20-somethings. I'm a baby boomer. I took this job as Assistant Manager for Starbucks when my Corporate gig got unendurable, see: [http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=74808] I took this gig because:

1. I need a job

2. I like coffee

3. How hard could it be?

I'm a big believer in these 3 words: "Get A Job." Usually I use them when watching ancient rock stars perform, or yell them at the T.V. at a particularly grotesque politician, or think it to myself when an ice-head bums money from me at McDonalds. And always one to take my own advice, signed up at Starbucks. I was immediately surrounded by energetic, peppy, caffeine-driven 20 somethings, otherwise known as Generation Y's or Millenials. To say I was a bit intimidated is an understatement.

"Would you like an iced coffee?" Fact: these have the most caffeine of any of the drinks served at Starbucks.

The Millenials that I worked with were, as they are want to say, "awesome!" They were smart, in committed relationships, highly educated, high-tech savvy and the girls don't take shit from anybody. While they were smart in the "I'm studying to be a doctor" smart, they were politically imbecilic , leading me to conjecture that in 20 years we'd have gulags in the midwest or New York filled with super smart doctors on chain gangs going through caffeine-withdrawal. I"m just saying.

"Would you like whipped cream on your Frappuccino?" We always ask if you want whipped cream because it's homemade and expensive. I used to make the whipped cream. Happy Face.

Point #2. I like coffee. And there is plenty of free coffee when you work for Starbucks. Skinny vanilla latte's, brewed coffee, cappuccino's, espresso shots straight. One of my favorite things to do was to taste test the espresso shots once an hour to make sure the quality was good. As Robin Williams once said, coffee is the poor man's cocaine. They should have a wing for it at Betty Ford.

Point #3. How hard could it be? Oh dear, dear self. Are you really so self-deluded as you approach fifty that you couldn't figure out that bagging trash (coffee grounds!) and bringing it out, mopping floors, bringing boxes down from storage, sweeping and scrubbing endlessly was easy? Ah no, working at Starbucks is less about making coffee and more about keeping the store CLEAN. I don't even like cleaning my own house. The day I'm proudest of is when I channeled my inner Gandhi & volunteered to clean the employee toilet. It was less an act of sacrifice and more a chance to rest my right knee which was swollen from the endless standing, walking and schlepping, causing me to limp for a week while the millenials scampered around me like the 101 dalmations. And you cannot wear Bengay while working at Starbucks. Suck it up!

I was waking up at 2:15 a.m. some mornings to be part of the opening shift. I had 2 10 minute breaks a day and a 1/2 hr. lunch, usually eaten in slumped relief at a table outside, trying to sleep with my eyes open, wishing to appear relaxed instead of easing into a coma. I'd come home saying things like, "Dude!" "Awesome!" My husband would cock his head at me, like a puzzled cockerspaniel and my son would cringe, secretly convinced my lifes purpose was to embarrass him. [Of course, it is.] Even the dog took pity on my social flaws and nosed her bone to me as if to say, "Eat, eat, you'll feel better." Just what I need, a blue-heeler jewish mother.

I had a lovely manager who was training me. Except for the eensy, tiny, little life-changing event happening in her life in that she was currently married to the boy of her dreams and was about to come out of the closet, which would most likely rock his world and the church they attended weekly. Uh-oh. One night she stayed out all night drinking (she hadn't really drunk much in years) and came to work at 4:30 for the opening shift, dead-on drunk and giggling like Judy Garland. Try to imagine a straight-laced young woman about to announce to the world she was gay, drunk at 6am and making cappuccino's and flirting endlessly with the male lawyers (??) coming through the line. There was something just so wrong about that.

After eating one too many turkey pesto sandwiches and smiling perkily at one too many paranoid customers "WHY do you want to know my name?!", another corporation tracked me down to offer me a job in my actual career path.

Thank you, Jesus! I mean, I'll have to think it over.

 

 

 

 

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Hey, thanks for an interesting read. I've been wondering what it'd be like to work at a Starbucks (if for no other reason than to cut down the cost of my mocha-addiction). Sounds like you kept up with your co-workers pretty well.
(insert pleased expletives)

You are a good writer!!

("Awesome" as the kids say.)
Corporations...yikes. Did they ask you to say, "may I help the next guest?" That always drives me nuts when i hear that.

The son of a friend of mine is a manager at a Starbucks here in NYC. he is always telling of how early he must arise to make it to work. He's a smart young guy but I kind of cringe the way I can see the corporate 'film' slide over his life and how it rules the day. But that's me. I think he does like his job. They have advanced him to manager from barista in three years. Great experience, huh?!
1. I need a job

2. I like coffee

3. How hard could it be?

I have had these same thoughts. A lot. And recently!
I was one of those perky twenty-somethings ten years ago. Reading your essay brought back so many memories. I too was horrified to learn how much more cleaning than coffee-making I had to do.

Do you still have to ask, "Would you like a pastry with your beverage?" I felt like I should add that question to the end of every sentence for a good year after I moved on to a different job.
Ahhhh- the service industry. Maybe I'm a grouch, but with each passing year I find it harder and harder to work at a job where I actually have to smile when I don't feel like smiling.
I worked in the building housing the Kamakee store long ago and still flash on telecom issues when ordering there. I think your work ethic is, in a word, awesome.

Hana Hou
This was great, and scary, since I'm currently looking for a job.
Awesome, um I mean, fabulous post! Very funny.
"Just what I need, a blue-heeler jewish mother." Cracked me up. My career is being particularly hard hit by the economy and I have toyed with this idea, mostly because I have a magnet that says "coffee is my only friend". I can drink a quad at midnight and go right to sleep. I love your writing!
rated
Funny, funny. Thanks for doing it so that I don't have to.
I highly recommend working at Starbucks if you're looking for work. It'll kick your butt but also offer quite a diversion from real life!
Luv'd it! After reading, don't think I could keep up....but I'd lose weight on all the caff. Rated for good writing and giving it the ol' college try 20 years later.
It's like a semester abroad, living among the 20 somethings. It sounds like you extracted the maximum from your experience; and no doubt your coworkers learned a few things from you - even if they don't yet realize it.
Just be thankful you worked at an upscale coffee place rather than one of the other, equally ubiquitous "regular joe" coffee shops. I'm not in any way dumping on them, but as far as decent treatment of staff and optimum working conditions (everything being relative), it sounds like you got the best of a bad situation.
Good luck on your reengaged career track - provided you decide hang up your barista's apron & accept the gig. :)
Hey Deborah, I'm a fifty-something barista at Starbucks right now! It's a brutal living. Our manager's motto is "Never stand still. Clean the condiment bar, sweep, mess with the pastry case..." We never get our second 10, and just before Christmas, Starbucks saw fit to cut everyone's hours back -- after, of course, they flew tons of Managers down to New Orleans for the Leadership Conference. As a Shift Supervisor, our cuts have been the worst because we make a bit more. Now I know why people continue to try to unionize that place, and the workers really do need to be represented.

You might as well be reciting poetry when people come in for a simple cup of coffee: "Would you like our bold roast today, which is Sumatra? Or would you like our lame attempt at competing with the dumpster juice from Dunkin' Donuts by taking a cup of our Pike Place? (I think the move to Pike was the worst decision ever.) Do you need space for milk? How many freakin' questions can you possibly ask for a simple cup of coffee?

I have fewer problems with my twenty-something coworkers than I do with the management. I get along just fine with them and we actually have fun together. But the fun of working for the company has worn off...

Thanks for your article!
I love this!

Any food service is only partly about the food and mostly about the ARGH cleaning.

I have to say, though, even now sometimes I miss the simplicity of working in the kitchen, chopping food, cleaning the food case and then just going home, without bringing work with me. What a relief!
Have you gotten your nose pierced yet?

I like "Oldest Living Barista Tells All" as a title for your memoir.

Very funny post. I hope you milk (steamed, of course, with a splash of hazelnut syrup) this experience for all it's worth.
I can't drink their coffee. It tastes like driveway sealer. I'm amazed they dont make it and let it sit for a week. It tastes like they did, then reheated it 4 times. Startbucks makes horrible, bitter coffee.
Thank you Deborah! As the others have said, great writing. Fun to read. If you're ever in NC let me know and we'll get a coffee together. :-)
too funny :)
I love the vision of your husband cocking his head like a confused spaniel- that's gonna stay with me for the week! I swore in my 20's that the dumb retro phrases were not going to get me (dude, awesome, rocks) but in my late 30's here they are flying out of my mouth willie nillie. I've just given up trying to censor myself, it's impossible not to be a product of your environment.
Great post. Thanks for doing the dirty work for me.

I showed your post to the girls at the yoga studio where I work sometimes (probably same rate of pay as Starbucks and boy do I sweep floors and clean.) I thought it'd be a nice break from teaching, and it is, but there's a reason it's called w-o-r-k.
"nosed her bone at me as if to say,'Eat,eat,
you'll feel better" nearly made me fall of my
chair from all the laughter.
Starbucks in some of our major cities here
'down under' are closing due to the dwindling
patronage.
Since their first shop here opened 4 years ago,
I've only ever drunk 1[one] of their offerings.
2008 was rough for my chosen trade, as well. I was laid off from a startup at the end of January. The same thing had happened in July '06, and I'd made the mistake of crossing my arms and saying I wasn't going to even leave the house again for less than $70K. It eventually happened, but not until I'd ruined my savings.
Determined not to repeat that mistake following last year's layoffs, I decided that I was going to do something, anything, and right away. Anything that at least kept me in human contact and gave me a reason to shower four times a week instead of falling into the unemployed-guy pattern from '06: sleeping later and later, spending longer and longer portions of the day online and finding that some days it had reached 3 p.m. and I was still in my boxer shorts.
I got a job at Banana Republic at the nearby mall. The money was a joke, but it kept a few hundred a month coming in while I networked for something else. The customers were by and large pleasant, the discounts deep, and the work fairly easy. I definitely liked the customer contact job a lot better than the folding and straightening, and there were a handful of cringeworthy moments: a former vendor, client or fellow alum drifting in and doing a double-take at my nametag. Yeah, it's me, Mr. Hot Shit. I'm going to help you pick out chinos today.
I obtained and was laid off from yet another job that spring before landing at a PR firm in late August where I work happily to this day; I held onto my BR sales job just the same. I'd picked up the job as an exercise in humility and a bid for sanity, but over the months, I'd become a discount whore. I could, and will not, give up the employee discount, even when it means dragging my ass up to the mall for four hours on a Saturday when I'd be better served to rest. Ah, well.
Thanks for the story.
CHB
Thanks for all of your intuitive posts; Hector said it best - this was an exercise in humility and a bid for sanity. It was an excellent lesson to pass down to my son's generation: Get A Job.
Excellent post all around, but I have to talk about one very insightful (awesome) point: These kids hook into relationships like nobody's business. Perhaps it has to do with their parents' generation being so full of divorce they think "that's never going to happen to me" or perhaps the result of coming of age in the age of HIV. I am in a support group with a bunch of twenty-somethings and am amazed at their attitudes about sex and relationships. They give me much hope, despite their caffeine addictions.
What a fun post! You really touched on some of my major points of living in some of the lower economic echelons: Always keep moving foremost.
Great article. As a lover of all things Starbucks, it sounds like a more decent place to work than a lot of other food/beverage outfits. I always feel bad for those who are just learning the ropes as a Barista particularly when making such tailored drinks. Mine happens to be a triple venti latte, 1/8 pump of mocha, 3 splenda, foam -no whip, 1%.

I tell you this because there is website out there where you type in your starbucks drink and it assesses your personality. When I type in mine above the results came out to be: "High Maintenance". :o)

Which I somewhat refute, but hubby sats it is pretty much spot on.
Haha I have always wanted to be a barista at Starbucks! Only the mortification of my teenagers has prevented my taking the plunge.
Too bad about the cleanup detail, though - I envisioned just making sophisticated beverages all day long. Very enjoyable article!

www.HookingUpSmart.com
Thanks for the post. I strongly considered a move to Starbucks while at my last job. I took this job and after 3 months hated everything about it, except the Starbucks right across the street. I visited at least 2/day and many, many times thought, 'that's it, I'm asking for an application'. For some reason I never did.

Luckily I found another job which I love (although it's not nearly as close to a Starbucks), but I still keep that in the back of my mind.
Wow, I missed this and didn't find it until after I blogged on tipping baristas! Honestly.

Good read.
Thanks
(rated)
Being baby boomer does not mean we should stop living. We are still vital and the need to continue. Well done!
http://www.lifestyle-after50.com
With the bitter irony of one the characters in Robert Browning's personae poems you here display a breathtaking and unwitting self-revelation. But such is what one might expect from a thankfully no-longer-employed-at Starbucks barista who regards her "awesome!.. highly educated, ... savvy” coworkers as ‘political imbeciles’ whom your “inner Gandhi” loves to trash with salacious, venomous, homophobic, gossip — especially directed to your “lovely manager” facing personal crisis. With a friend and co-worker like you so utterly devoid of human compassion no one needs enemies.

Fortunately, being far too good for the likes of the "awesome!.. highly educated, ... savvy" gay workers at Starbucks whom you delight to disdain and slander as they face life-crisis, we (and they) might all shout "Thank you Jesus!" that you are finally back to your “actual career path” as a “Sole Proprietor” in coal mining mountain town in East Gas Pump Colorado. You are the last person the public should want Starbucks to employ to make whipped cream after cleaning their toilet– though the later seems a task for which you seem particularly well-qualified.