Hello, hello, good morning/afternoon/some time of day to you, dear reader! Remember last month when I was drafting a novel? I have good news: this post contains the second excerpt from my project.
Did you catch my first excerpt? If not, click here to read; otherwise, you may find yourself a bit lost. Feel free to leave feedback!
At some point, I was happy to come to work even when it was dark outside. My passion for the barista life has dwindled with each shift. Honestly, if I could just make pretty drinks and not have to answer to corporate leadership, I would probably be a lot happier. It would also help not to have the customers in my face, but I have to make coffees for someone. I have proven myself to be a pretty solid barista, so after a year of being a regular employee, I was offered a step to the next level as shift supervisor. If I want to stay, I can discuss moving to an assistant store manager role with the idea that I would have my own store one day. I can feel my manager waiting eagerly to take my hand and pull me up to the next rung, but I am weary and tired. Still, where would I go if I left?
I have little energy to contemplate these questions while it’s just Paolo and me in the store. When our first relief comes with a third employee at 6:30 AM, I am eager to take a quick break. As the so-called manager on duty, I steal away my breaks when I can because they almost always get cut short. I have given up hope that we will ever have enough help for me to actually have uninterrupted time away from my responsibilities. Such is the curse of the service industry under a corporate umbrella. Still, I get to enjoy free beverages on the company’s dime, so it’s not all bad.
As I sip a piping hot mug of peppermint tea, I hear the door thump open and the heavy strides of Paolo’s sneakers hitting the tiled floor. So it begins, I think. I scroll through my phone to show that I am not ready to be bothered just yet.
“Hey Zora, sorry, but there’s this crazy guy who is giving Melba a hard time and she can’t shake him. Can you help us out for a quick sec?” Paolo pleads. I lock my phone and place it face down on the desk.
“Sure, but it’ll cost ya,” I tease. I stand up and toss my apron on over my head and quickly tie up the strings in back. As jaded as I am, I can still pretend to give a shit.
As we open the door, we come upon poor Melba trembling behind the cash register as a statuesque man lights into her. He is so loud that I am pretty sure one would be able to hear him from outside of the store. I swoop in to try and diffuse the situation.
“Hi, sir, my name is Zora and I am supervising today, how can I assist this morning?” I interject as he is taking a breath. I stand directly to Melba’s left as she continues to shiver like a leaf. Paolo and I have these interactions down like a well-rehearsed dance routine: I take the offender head-on and refuse to break eye contact or back down, Paolo helps remove the victim from harm’s way and keeps the rest of the store afloat. As much as I complain about his lack of punctuality, he does well when he’s actually on the clock.
“Are you the manager?” the angry man bellows.
“I am the supervisor on duty,” I repeat, slowing my pace and keeping my tone even. “How can I help today?”
He scoffs and rolls his eyes. “I told her that I want to order a coffee with a shot of vanilla and she doesn’t get it! It’s not that hard! Your job is not complicated,” he yells, turning his attention on Melba. She is frozen to my side.
“Sir, we would be happy to make your coffee with vanilla. Shots refer to espresso. Are you looking for a brewed coffee with vanilla flavor?” I suggest.
“I said,” he growled, “that I want a coffee. With a shot. Of vanilla. Are ALL of you this stupid?”
At this point, I drop my tone from pleasant to no-nonsense. “We can either make a coffee with vanilla syrup or you can leave.” I shoot a look at Paolo who nods, then decides to give Melba a new task. I hear him ask her quietly to work on pulling frozen sandwiches out of the freezer in the back where she will be out of this wacko’s way, and she flees to the back, her gaze downcast. “Which will it be, sir?” I continue, looking at him again. This generates an exasperated sigh.
“Ugh, I guess I’ll just have that. Whatever.” He rolls his eyes and draws himself up in an attempt to tower over me. Although I only reach a measly 5’3” in my bare feet, I have spent far too much time learning how to stand my ground when people try to pull this nonsense with me first thing in the morning. I sign into the register, ring him up, take his payment and hand the cup off to Paolo who dutifully fills it and gets the miscreant out the door.
“Good job,” Paolo says, clapping me on the shoulder. “Should I go see Melba?”
“No, thanks, I’ll go check on her. It’ll only be a sec,” I reply. I appreciate the gesture, but it really needs to be the shift leader who rallies the troops back. I steal away for a minute to see how my charge is handling things.
“Hey, Mel, how are you—” I stop short. I find her in a heap on the ground, freezer door wide open, sandwiches cascading off of the shelves, her shoulders heaving with sobs. She looks up at me and the rims of her eyes are hot pink with tears.
“I just don’t know what I did to him,” she bawls. “It was a simple question! Why did he have to be so MEAN!” I kneel down next to her and give her shoulder a friendly pat. I try not to touch the other employees because it feels odd to me, but sometimes, they welcome the gesture. Melba was a hugger and did not bat me away.
“It wasn’t you,” I assure her. “He just wanted to take it out on someone and you were in the crossfire. You didn’t do anything wrong. That guy is just miserable.” She continues to wail. I use the opportunity when she’s not looking at me to check the time. It’s quarter to seven, and the true morning rush is set to begin any minute if it hasn’t already. My next barista will be here by 7:15 barring an emergency. “Tell you what; take some time, take some deep breaths and pull the sandwiches, please. I’ll bring some dishes out as well so you can work on those and not have to deal with anyone for a bit. Paolo and I will take on the front lines. We got you, Mel!” I cheer. She mumbles a sniffly thanks as I stand up to go back out front.
Luckily, Paolo is turning on the charm for the one customer in the lobby. An older woman who looks like she could be my great grandmother is at the register, and she is cooing and giggling at Paolo’s easygoing nature. Since he is at the register, I decide to sneak over to the bar and will update him on our plan once he finishes flirting. I hear our sticker printer buzzing and whirring as mobile orders start to pour in. Oh, boy. I sticker cups and get to work making beverages, the easy rhythm of pulling shots and steaming milk taking me out of the snag that my team hit just moments ago. As much as the mobile orders can drive me crazy, I do like the fact that it takes some of the face time out of my interactions with our customers. Some of us thrive on the attention from clientele; I, however, would be happy never seeing the people who will end up chugging my lattes and going on with their day.
Once Paolo and his pal finish up, I take a second to breathe and give him the rundown. “Melba needs a few minutes,” I explain. “He really got to her. I have her doing some dishes in the back so she can collect herself before the rush hits.” As if it can read my mind, the sticker printer sends more orders our way. “I’ll stay on bar; you ring,” I command, gesturing at the cash register.
We work in an easy synchronized rhythm. I do best when I am on the bar, but Paolo knows when to step in and help out. As the morning proceeds, we go from a team of three to six total including my store manager who pops in during the peak at eight o’clock. At this point I have returned to the register and it has been complete mayhem; the line has reached all the way back to the front door and is queuing up around the front of the building. It also feels like the customers have been crankier than usual which is saying a lot; the calm ones are the outliers for once. Still, I was unprepared for what would lie ahead that day.
What did you think? Are you ready for more? You’re in luck; I plan on releasing excerpt #3 next week, so mark your calendar.