starbucks

Starbucks: the first job I loved.

The first real job I had was in a fur shop. I can't have been older than 15, and my next-door neighbors owned the shop. I spent a summer sitting on a stool, behind a counter. Occasionally greeting a customer, taking her coat, entering her information in the computer and tagging the coat for warm-weather storage. But mostly chatting on AOL Instant Messenger.

 

But the first real job I ever loved was at Starbucks.

On the first night of training, they told me to order any drink I wanted, and I'd never had an espresso before. I feared coffee, so I ordered what seemed to be the sweetest item on the menu: Mocha Valencia. Five pumps of mocha syrup, five pumps of orange syrup, whole milk and three shots of espresso that barely made a dent in all the sugar.

My Jeep flew down State Line Road back home to the Kansas side that night, my hands shaking on the leather-wrapped wheel.

I learned how many pumps went in a grande, how many shots in a Venti. The numbers: 18 to 23 seconds for a usable shot, 180 degrees for satisfactorily steamed milk. A nitrogen cartridge, heavy whipping cream and six pumps of vanilla syrup to make the whipped cream that still sends me into a Pavlovian fit.

 

My store was brand new, in a beautiful neighborhood of Kansas City that was largely uncharted territory for chains, and the residents let us know we weren't welcome.

They spray painted the windows. They superglued our locks. They left threatening fliers on fluorescent copier paper. They walked past, all nose rings and sleeve tattoos, always sneering and often flipping us off as we minded our own business behind the bar.

 

A man came in one night and stole our tip jars. I don't remember him flashing a gun, but I do remember we'd turned on opera that night to clean before we closed, and my supervisor had gone in the back to count the tills. I was as scared then as I've ever been.

I also remember my hair after every shift, brown water swirling down the drain as I washed the day out. I remember my coffee- and milk-stained aprons because they're still in a kitchen drawer, starched to this day and emblazoned with that unchanged image of the brand's signature Siren.

I remember my first chai, and spending my breaks sitting with a huge mug of it — and a piece of coffee cake — every Sunday before the after-church crowd came in.

I remember, too, discovering how much I love people. At 17 years old.

 

Starbucks didn't have its names-on-cups corporate policy in place yet, and because I worked so infrequently, I never grew to know any of my regulars — if there were any. But the couple of minutes I had with each person as I rang them up or made their drink — that little chance to say hello and give a smile, or hear about their day if they were awake enough — amazing.

Even if we screwed a drink up, handing over a coupon for a free drink that cost us nothing but meant everything to the person we'd just made it up to? Again: amazing.

And I got to know my coworkers. Especially Brian, a bald-headed poet who I still call my friend today. He introduced me to LiveJournal, where I started my first blog, and later to Kat, the woman he would later marry and have a gorgeous child with.

 

Today, that Starbucks in the neighborhood of hip antagonists always has a line, and those baristas know their loyal customers just like my baristas know me.

Today, I still find myself saying "we" when I talk about the corporation. I still remember the number I punched in to track my hours and get my employee drink discount, and I could still probably make most of the drinks in my sleep.

Today, chai still tastes like warm, spiced heaven, and I still think about going back to work at Starbucks on days when I'm plagued with writer's block or crave human interaction.

And most of all, today, I still look for ways to delight people as much as I knew I could then with a green and white cup full of their particular brand of caffeinated poison.

It's not as easy as it was then, but even on the days I fail at first, there's usually enough caffeine and hope in me to keep trying.

Le fabuleux destin de Paige Worthy.

Sunlight streamed into my room this morning. I squinted at the oversized clock that hangs on the wall; the red hands pointed in the ballpark of nine and seven. I panicked. 8:35?!Oh, sweet Jesus. I'm late. To my temp job.

But myopia's tricky like that: Little hands become big hands; hours become minutes. It was actually only 6:42, six minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Panic turned to annoyance. Six minutes wasted. Grumble.

An hour later, I closed the front door behind me, begging Emaline not to take another dump in an unfortunate location. (Last night, I came home from choir rehearsal and found a really glorious gift from her on my sofa. She'd somehow managed to shut the door to the room with her litterbox; clearly the only piece of soft furniture I own was the next best option. Hardwood? That would be far too neat.) Across the street, I pushed through the turnstile and surged up the escalator with a small mob of other Lincoln Square commuters, armed with their full-length North Face jackets, massive coffees and RedEye newspapers. Ill equipped with only one of the three, I scuttled to my seat and poked idly at my iPhone for the entire ride downtown. People watching isn't much fun during the morning commute on the Brown Line — everyone is more or less a zombie, or dead set on making it to the next level of Angry Birds — unless you're into watching some DePaul kid wearing tattered jeans and a coin purse of a handbag stumble into you every 40 seconds. Then it's fantastic. Ah, I wear the disgruntled, not-a-morning-person commuter look so well.

Except that I so am. A morning person, I mean.

The woman taking orders at Starbucks was singing when I walked in. She's a morning person, too, and she knows what all her regulars like to drink. She sang along between orders to the Al Green song playing over the din of the espresso machine, joking with the man in front of me in line that she'd finally found some decent music mixed in with the other stuff. The line was at least ten deep, nearly out the door in the miniature matchbox café that overlooked the Chicago River, but my drink was ready just a few seconds after I'd paid, and I was out the door with my soy. My soy chai. My grande, soy, extra-hot, no-water, no-foam, five-pump chai. Yeah. I'm working this week and next in an office on the 12th floor of a building across the river from the Tribune Tower and kitty-corner from the Wrigley Building, settled into the intern's cube with a lifetime supply of red pens and Post-It notes. The job itself isn't…well, it pays the bills. But I'm part of the pulse of the city again, if only for a couple of weeks. I haven't worked downtown since New York. I haven't quite fallen in step with everyone else just yet, but at least I'm there. Here. My life lately has felt a little like the scene from Amélie where she leads a blind man by the elbow around her little corner of Paris, describing everything she sees in brilliant Poulainesque detail — my favorite part is the baby looking at the dog gazing at the chickens in the window of the butcher shop. There's no way the man could ever absorb more than the tiniest bit of what she's told him, after a lifetime of isolation and darkness, but he's enchanted all the same by her. By the sheer magic of it. Every day this week, I've taken a different route fro

m the train to the building. There's so much to see along that half-mile, so much I've never needed to notice before as I rushed from point A to point B. This week, I'm still rushing, but it matters that just a little bit more. I want to absorb it just a little bit more.

It's the little things.

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I have a lot of friends who are very important. They run their own companies and travel all over the place. They do speaking engagements and have high-profile clients they do brilliant work for. Actually, I guess I'm just thinking of Gini Dietrich. She's great. And probably the busiest person I know. Since I left my full-time job about six months ago, some might say I own my own business, but really, I'm just trying to scrape together enough work to pay my bills. I spend the rest of my time just trying to prove I'm not a total waste of oxygen. Oh, and get dates. (Which is another discussion for another time, but here's a preview: No, it's not going well.)

Even on my busiest days, I still find plenty of time to read people's blogs, write idiotic tweets about the fact that I'm going to see Just Bieber: Never Say Never (tonight! […don't judge me]) and take pictures of my new kitten. But trust me when I say that screwing around on the Internet is not the same as taking time out of the day to live. Relax. Shrug off the feelings of creeping isolation and feel like I'm actually part of the world.

When I was still working in the suburbs, hating my life, I would spiral into this soul-crippling rage as I steered the Shining Camry back to the city. Because I'd spent the whole day living out my slow, painful death in Arlington Heights. And, inevitably, the traffic would jam up around Park Ridge. (Oh, how I do not miss that life.) Instead of pulling over and stabbing a pedestrian — not that there would have been many to choose from — I turned the radio to the classic station and just…breathed it in. Instead of sending irate texts at stoplights, I closed my eyes for a few seconds and remembered that there was more to life than my horrific commute. Little things like that made all the difference. They always have.

Fast-forward to the present: I've had a REALLY awful past couple of days. Related in equal parts to the above statements about the creeping isolation of freelance life and date-getting. And for a most of that time, I wallowed. Until I realized that's not the kind of person I want to be: the kind who stays in bed until 11 a.m., the kind who eats her feelings in the form of four meals a day (plus snacks), the kind who writes hundreds of thinly veiled tweets a day about her problems. Today, I got out of bed and took my life back in tiny increments. I made a to-do list and attacked it. I ate a nice lunch and played with my kitten — just to play with her, not to take pictures I could tweet later. I rode my bike to the Gap and browsed the sale rack, tried on jeans and found a pair that actually fit. I bought socks covered in tiny flowers. I called my mother as my laptop booted up. I had a few extra minutes, because my computer is a piece of crap. Inside the café, one of three little girls who had been running around for half an hour marched right up to me, twirled her cup proudly in her hands said, "This has coffee in it!" By the time I was halfway through my iced tea, I was in love with the world again. Then again, it doesn't take a lot for me. But it's not so much the effort it takes as it is remembering how wonderful it feels when I make it.

February is half over, and spring is on its way. There's always time to fall in love with the world.

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February.

The field organizer for an aldermanic candidate in my ward is 15 years old.Fifteen. There is a kid with braces and a bowl haircut standing on the street corner by Starbucks in the freezing cold, holding a stack of shiny cardstock handbills still in their copy-shop brown-paper packaging. Talking to passersby about the virtues of his candidate with the poise and composure of someone at least twice his age.

He has a BlackBerry, for God's sake.

When he came inside the café for a snack, I gave him my card and told him I'd love to help him in any way I could. When I was really thinking, "I need this child to help me figure my life out."

If a kid like that isn't enough to give you a crisis of confidence in your capabilities as an adult… I mean, I don't know.

Honestly, if February were any longer than 28 days, I'm not sure what would happen to me.

That blizzard we had last week delighted me at first in its novelty, and now the snow is just making me angry. I am angry at you, snow. You are ugly and grey and wet.

I'm angry at the season in general. You're making me depressed, Old Man Winter. You and Father Time and your patriarchal oppression. My feet are cold, and I'm lonely.

And I think it's safe to say I'm overextended. I have work. So much work. And work is a good thing, I suppose. It helps me pay my bills and buy things like kittens and steam mops. I'm writing and editing and helping fill the world with excellent content for all the good girls and boys.

But it's too much. I stay up working until 2:30 a.m.

Actually, I could just be really, really bad at managing my time. That's probably true.

But I would much rather blame external factors. Like winter. And the slow, spotty Internet I'm scamming from an unsuspecting neighbor. And my cat.

The worst part about overextending is that it leads to coming up short in other places. Like writing. And that's really frustrating.

The whole goal of quitting my full-time job was to make more time for writing. And I think I actually do it less now. But as I approach six months of this freelance gig — my, how time flies — I'm still working on that "cutting myself some slack" thing. Six months feels like ages, but it's barely a ripple in time. So are the 27 years I've lived so far. So it goes.

Listen to this song. It's by my friend Becky, who I've known since second grade and is now half of the amazing duo Barnaby Bright. (And if she's not enough to give you a crisis of confidence in, well…everything else in life, you're better than me. Amazing.) When you listen to that song, do you feel hopeless or filled with possibility? Becky Bliss — February: February reminds me that winter's behind me. And the flowers of another spring will come, and I'll have nothing to show.

I can't decide either. But March is another song altogether.