Thursday, January 17, 2013

It Shall Not Be Brewed!

Wow. It has been over two months since I last wrote a blog post! Time sure flies when you're waiting for the pieces of your life to fall into place.

Sadly, since I last forced myself to sit down and write in my blog nothing much has really occurred in my life. I applied to grad school, gained a third pseudo roommate (a friend from Georgia who is trying to begin a new life in Chicago -- in other news, I no longer have a living room), participated in a three-week long storytelling festival, started a new part-time job, and (drum roll) left my apprenticeship at United Theatre Company. The short explanation for leaving United is that they grievously abuse their unpaid interns. And by "abuse" I mean they do not respect our (unpaid/volunteer) time, have those of us with a car spend our own gas money running pointless errands, and really just use us as grunt work. I had been warned by several theatre friends that United was notorious for this type of behaviour and that if I ever felt I was being taken advantage of then the Chicago theatre community would understand. After being instructed to drive around the Loop on my day off, denied the free time to go to a paid-job interview, and told I had to make up a sick day when I called in with a fever -- well it didn't take long for me to stop and think, "Umm I'm not even being paid for this and I am miserable." It was also clear that the Board had the Gala already planned and they only needed me to fill in a few gaps and basically do tedious paper work. Having already gained that experience at Heartbeat Theatre (and in a much more appreciative atmosphere!) I decided United was not worth my time and raised blood pressure.

Leaving this apprenticeship obviously left me with a lot more time on my hands than when I had first moved back to the city. I used this time to complete my grad school applications, walk around the city just to get out of the apartment, write, and apply for new jobs. Although I applied for a few semi-glamourous positions that I am still keeping my fingers crossed for, the job I ended up with is part-time barista at Caribou Coffee. Now, I have never worked in the food industry, but I have always commended people who do because just from observation I can tell that it is not an easy position. Tomorrow will mark my two week anniversary as a barista and I must admit: this feels like the hardest job I have ever had.

Those of you who know me and my love/need of coffee are probably thinking, "What? But working with coffee is right up your alley!" To these people I say yes, a job in coffee should fit me as well as a job dog-walking would. However, I have always been the type of coffee customer who looks at the board and picks a drink that is listed on the board. If it's not there then I assume it is not an option. Customers at Caribou, on the other hand, are approaching me with what sounds like made-up words and concoctions and already I find myself wanting to point at the series of boards behind me and exclaim, "If it is not written, then it shall not be brewed!" (And those last words will go something like Gandalf yelling at the Balrog Demon: "IT SHALL NOT BE BREWED!")

Up until today I have primarily been working evening shifts at Caribou (or "The Bou" as the cool kids call it). These shifts go from 5-10pm and I see an average of 15 to 20 people each night, which is really not much when the primary drink these customers want is a cup of drip coffee. Luckily, I have had a few people actually wants lattes and mochas so I have gotten a lot of practice in making those drinks. 

Today, I worked 11am-4:30pm. This meant I would be right in the mix of people still leaving for work, going on lunch break, and getting off of work (or, my favorite, the people bringing work and meetings into Caribou). Part of the daunting task of today was that not only were people expected to order beverages more complicated than a plain latte or mocha, but now food was being thrown into the equation. I can barely find the button for Hot Cider on our touchscreen registers let alone try to figure out where the hell the Turkey Gouda Pesto sandwich is listed. I have worked with money and cash registers since I was 13 years old, but these have always consisted of a scanner. Every single item having its own special button on the computer register is a whole new concept for me and one I am frankly not a fan of. Give me a good ol' ISBN any day!

After the early morning rush (pre-9am), my Caribou only has two team members working at one time. This is so one person can work the register and the other can handle the bar (i.e. where the drinks are made). Today, my "shift buddy" was the store manager, Janet*. Janet is a very sweet woman, who is probably only my senior by four or five years. She is a patient supervisor and has yet to make me feel like an idiot even when I admitted to giving someone iced tea sans ice. Janet also gave birth about two months ago. Therefore, Janet is still breast feeding and must "pump" nearly once an hour. This means, although Janet is wonderful to work with, it feels as though she is rarely there.

Janet took her first pumping break around 12:15pm. She asked if I could handle working the cash register and bar at once and I said that I would be fine. The moment Janet left a woman in a jumpsuit suit entered the store. She strode up to the counter and ordered a nonfat mocha and an oatmeal. "Oh, and can I have it Maple Brown Sugar Crunch, please?" I assumed that was a type of oatmeal mix we offered.

I made her mocha without any problem. I pulled out the Food Guide Book and flipped through, looking for Maple Brown Sugar Crunch. Finally I found it: fill the pre-made oatmeal cup halfway with steamed water. Okay, easy enough. Stir with wooden stick. Done. Bam! I am awesome. Add two pumps of Maple syrup. I held the small oatmeal filled cup under the syrup spout. The lever seemed to be stuck so I pressed down with more force. The nozzle suddenly gave way freely and fell into the oatmeal as the rest of the bottle magically unattached itself and clattered to the floor. I scrambled to pick everything up before anyone noticed. I then saw the new bottle of Maple syrup and used that instead. Stir with wooden stick. Now came the tricky part. Add two scoops of Brown Sugar Crunch. To the side of the three espresso machines at the bar are 16 canisters filled with toppings for our various drinks. Some of these, obviously, were used to create different types of oatmeal flavours. Naturally none of these were labeled. I opened each canister and narrowed my choices down to three possible toppings that could have been Brown Sugar Crunch. The bar can clearly be seen by the patrons and I didn't want anyone to see me just stick my finger in a canister and taste-test something.

The front door opened and a woman with a stroller entered. She held the door open for a tall, clean shaven young man, who held the door open for tall, bearded young man, who held the door open for a much shorter young man. It was obvious this foursome had simply arrived at the same time and were not actually together. Suddenly the Brown Sugar Crunch clock was ticking. I sniffed my three canisters -- still nothing, although now I had narrowed it down to two. Stroller Woman leaned over a cash register to look at me. "One moment!" I called. My time was up and I knew what I had to do. Quickly, I stuck a clean wooden stick into one of my two choices. I acted as though I had dropped something on the floor and as I bent down to "pick it up" I stuck the topping-covered stick in my mouth. Damn. That could be brown sugar or it could be...well I don't know what it could have been, but it certainly did not taste like what I thought Brown Sugar Crunch should taste like. 

A man in a business suit entered and got in line behind Stroller, Cleany, Beardy, and Shorty. Time was up! I scooped two spoonfuls of the whatever-topping into the oatmeal and planned to apologize profusely if the woman could tell I had made a mistake. I momentarily looked for a spoon and then decided to hell with it and just brought Jumpsuit her overly complicated 3 oz oatmeal.

Stroller Woman whispered her order to me and I had to lean across the counter to catch even a syllable of what she was saying. Thankfully, it was a white hot chocolate with whipped cream (this I had learned to make when I asked my shift supervisor how to make hot chocolate and she said, "Girllllll, it is a mocha without ex-presso."). I swiped Stroller's card and told her I would get to her drink as soon as I had taken the orders from the other people in line. Cleany ordered a miraculously completely pre-made Blueberry Parfait. As I handed it to him I saw Jumpsuit stand and turn towards me. 

"Can I get a spoon?" Cleany asked.

"Yes, that would be helpful, wouldn't it?" I responded, heading towards the bar to begin my spoon search once again.

"Can I get a spoon, too?" Jumpsuit asked.

"Yep! Just one moment..."

"They usually pull them out from under the counter," Cleany said, pointing below the register.

"Do they??" Thank god the customers are more competent than me! I dove under the counter and began pulling apart boxes. "I don't see the spoons?"

"They definitely always pull them from down there," Cleany said. "Like from the Magical Spoon Jar."

I stood and looked at the four pairs of eyes on me. "I am so sorry," I said. "This is really sad. It's only my second day and I have no idea where the spoons are." (I realize it wasn't my second day, but I thought that sounded more forgiving than admitting it was nearly the end of my second week.) "Let me just got ask my manger." I ducked in the back quickly. Janet had a curtain drawn around her desk and the hum of a pumping machine could be heard. She told me the spoons were actually behind the register; not under it. I returned triumphantly and even gave a little "aha!" as I presented two spoons to the line of customers.

"Okie," I said, "knowing where the silverware is -- check!"

Next in line was Beardy, who laughed and said, "You're doing great." He ordered a "small coffee in a medium cup." This order seemed simple enough so I quickly turned, grabbed a medium to-go cup and filled it to what I thought was the small cup level. I handed it to Beardy and he had just enough time to turn before handing the cup back to me. "I don't want to be picky, but that doesn't seem like a small size. It looks even smaller than the small."

"Does it?" I looked in his cup. I thought my measurement was accurate.

"You can pour it into a small cup if you want to gauge the size," he suggested. 

"I'll just take your word for it." At this point I was ready to start giving away free food to make people happy.

Shorty ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, a cookie, and an espresso shot. I apologized that his items would have to go in line behind Stroller's hot chocolate. As if on cue, Stroller waved my attention from the other side of the bar and asked if anyone was going to make her drink. I apologized, said I was alone behind counter, and promised to get to her drink ASAP. Businessy ordered a Caramel Highrise and my heartbeat sped up -- I don't know what that is!!

I began to make Stroller's drink. I attempted to do Shorty's espresso shot at the same time and burned myself on the steam wand in the process. As I poured the hot chocolate into a cup for Stroller she whispered something and pointed at her drink. I went around the bar and put my face half a foot from her face. "I want nonfat whipped cream," she said.

"No problem," I replied.

I went back behind the bar and spilled some skim milk. I looked into one of our refrigerators. Four identical whipped cream canisters stared back at me. I could have sworn the other night one of them said 'nonfat', but now it was nowhere to be found. Screw it, I thought and grabbed one of the canisters. I gave her half of the normal amount of whipped cream to make up for giving her more calories than she had whispered for.

Finally, in the midst of cautiously handing Businessy what I hoped was a Caramel Highrise, Janet came out and took over making the drinks. She left for three more pump breaks during my shift. Each time she left, hoards of people would suddenly enter the store. The worst group was a foursome of business women. One woman ordered a plain coffee (thank you, kind lady), two ordered small lattes (one with skim milk and one with 2% milk and a half shot...yeah...that wasn't confusing when trying to make simultaneously), and the fourth woman ordered a Lemon Ginger Pomegranate Something-Else sparkling tea. She warned me that the last Caribou Coffee that she went to didn't know what she was talking about either. Awesome. I searched for the recipe in the Drinks Guide Book, but alas it could not be found. Instead, I took some of our pomegranate tea and promotional Limone Earl Grey tea (because it sounded like the word 'lemon'), mixed them together, and poured in what I assumed was soda water. 

"Pomegranate Lemon...ummm...sparkling tea?" I called out. The woman stepped up to the counter and stared at the drink. "It's supposed to be red," she said.

"Is it?"

"The last time I had it, it was red."

"But that girl also said she didn't know what she was making," one of the Latte Women commented. Complicated Tea Woman stared in disgust at my drink. 

"I can go get my manager and see how to make another one," I said. "Do you want to try it at least? See how it is?"

Complicated Tea Woman sighed exasperatedly. "We're in a rush," she snapped. "I'll just take this." She snatched it from the counter, took a sip, and grimaced. (I wanted to say, "Would you even admit to liking it, if you did?") "Whatever, let's go," she commanded. The foursome left. As they did, Plain Coffee held the door open for ANOTHER foursome of business people. I silently cursed Janet and her milk-filled boobs. 

Please, someone hire me before I give people coffee poisoning.