The People You Meet When You Work At A Coffee Shop

Every Sunday, for two years, I would put on my jeans and white polo, do my hair in a side braid, and don my Dunkin’ Donuts apron and visor. The smell of stale coffee mixed with the chilly air coming through the drive-thru window made my nose wrinkle, but at 6 am, I manned my station at the front counter and waited for the day to begin.

6:10, “Small, hot black” would come in.

I would ask her, “Would you like any munchkins today?”

“No,” she would reply, “those are no good for my old body.”

She wandered away to her corner and then slowly sipped her coffee and waited in the corner for her husband, the “Reduced-fat blueberry muffin and a medium, iced, hazelnut regular”. He would touch her cheek and wrap a napkin around her cup so it wouldn’t burn her hands.

6:25, “Medium hot, and a small iced, both extra-extra” would come in. He always wanted more cream, so I began with 7 creams in both and showed him the color before I capped it. His daughter would stand on the counter—something I never allowed other kids to do—so she could look at the available donut selection. She shook her head and reached her hands out for her father. She only started coming in recently, as she would stay with her mother while her father came and ordered three coffees. The father would always get a medium iced, extra, extra for the mother, but he doesn’t order that anymore.

7:15, “Medium hot, regular cream, two Splenda and a chocolate frosted donut.”

7:35, “Medium hot, with steamed milk, a turbo shot, three Splenda, and french vanilla flavoring, and whatever the hell they want” would come in with his three young children. Instead of standing back and letting them decide, he rushed them to the counter and made them stutter their undeveloped orders to me.

“Tell the lady want you want, right now” he ordered.

They were afraid to make eye-contact, like I was mad at them. I always drew a smiley face on their bags.

8:30, “Large iced coffee, sugar up to the red line, about thirty, ten whole milk, french vanilla, coffee and ten iced cubes” would come in, fingernails caked with dirt and flannel covered in paint and dust.

“Don’t worry about that, honey, I’ll mix it,” he said, watching me struggle to shake the weighted cup. After giving me a teasing smile, he walked back to his construction site.

9:00, I got a phone call from “Turbo Lady”. She told me what types of coffee she wanted that day, and exactly how to make them. It was usually about 7 coffees, with at least two Turbo shots each. I had them ready by 9:15, when she came through the drive-thru. She hated when I charged for all the turbo shots, but I only did it when she is rude. Some days she was nice, and I’d even give her a discount. I had to hand the tray over first, and then the coffees, and then put the straws and napkins in a separate bag. I have no idea what she did with all of those coffees. Maybe she drank them all herself. I’ve heard caffeine can make people cranky, so that would make sense.

9:15, “You dropped that munchkin, could you bend over and pick it up?” would come in. He was stout, middle-aged, fake-tanned, tattooed, and wore sunglasses. I didn’t say a word as I walked away, opening the position up for somebody else. He was carnally rude one too many times, so I didn’t serve him anymore. I’ve met his children and his wife. There was one time that they came in without him, and I was amazed to see that the kids behaved well, that they said thank you and always made eye contact. His wife didn’t toss her money on the counter.

10:00. I would go on break. I sat down in the lobby, and I was approached by the homeless man who lived behind the restaurant by the train tracks. He sat down without a word and I handed him the bagel with plain cream cheese that was in the bag next to me. He would comment on the pretty day, and I would agree. He would finish chewing.

“Another day,” he said in salutation before he walked to the bathroom to do whatever he did in there.

2:00, “Medium-iced with regular cream, 1 Splenda, and french vanilla”

I’d have her coffee ready for her, covered in a styrofoam hot cup to insulate it. I handed the coffee to her and exchanged a quick kiss across the counter, my legs off the floor as I tried to lean forward. I would count my tips and clock-out. “Medium-iced with regular cream, 1 Splenda, and french vanilla” waited in the lobby. I sat down next to her for a few minutes before she left for her own job.

Each time a person would come in for a coffee, it would be a break in their day. They would be coming or going, and I was the in-between. It was that exchange that meant the world to me. Creating moments is sometimes the only substance you need. The job had miserly pay, and my coworkers were not enjoyable in the least, but I didn’t do it for pay or for the company. I did it for the people I served, and the stories I learned, because to me, they were more than just coffees. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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