Thursday, February 6, 2020

Coffee Shop Blues

In the last few years I have spent a large part of my down time in coffee shops and I finally realized I think I need not. I am not sure how to meet people or how to find community without it but perhaps I can figure out boundaries and my own "issues" to engage with those behind the bar in a still meaningful yet not way.

The reality is that I feel bad for most kids in service sector jobs, the same goes in retail or any other minimum wage gig that we have now found our economy is so reliant upon. The days of middle class wages have been replaced with gig wages and secondary jobs to make up for the low wages of the everyday worker.  So I tip and talk to all service personnel with dignity and respect and 99% of the time it has not been a problem.  It became a problem when I decided to pass of castoffs of clothing and other items rather than walking it to the Goodwill.  Here is why.  I am not a fan of the Goodwill or even the Salvation Army as most thrift shops have conflicted political and religious beliefs as in the case of the Goodwill a non profit where the CEO earns a six figure salary   while the Salvation Army has issues with the LGBQT community.    Thrift shops that are locally run are preferable and the Veterans have them scattered throughout with pickup if you are lucky to find such, but in all I simply think its nicer to give quality items to people you know and if they cannot use it they may know someone who can. In other words: Pay it Forward.

Now in relocating to Jersey City I found a coffee shop that suits my needs, it has a cool outdoor courtyard and the coffee is fine, the location is great and more importantly a diverse set of folk who work behind the bar.  They are nice folks and generous with my coffee and in turn I tip well in exchange or as the term now goes: Quid pro Quo. (That one needs a slow death)

In the past everything from housewares to clothes I would ask the kids at my local if they would like any of it and give a bag for them to sort through.  I would tip generously at holidays and often buy coffee for those in need and provide them dignity without a thought.  One Barista said that because of me they often made their day in more than one.  I often stepped up and bussed and cleaned when they were rushed and felt that one act of kindness mattered when those around failed to provide.  I did it without thought or any ulterior it was just how I was raised to do the right thing regardless and never forget that it was mutual and to not expect it nor demand it but earn it.  Well that was then and this is now and fuck what happened then I guess as today the new crew of day laborers are so self entitled, ignorant and arrogant with it that it seems even the slightest of gesture is thought of us a farce, a joke or just plain weird.  Now again that I came from Nashville where that tribal concept of fear the outsider and get what you can from whomever you can is a norm I may be projecting that onto those who are not.  So I decided to pay only cash for coffee I round it up to 5 when I pay card I tip the normal dollar and leave it at that.  I may share an article or movie that I read or saw and have pledged to talk only rarely and in turn when asked I will go into detail but I try to avoid that under all costs.  Again once burned twice shy.

So after two weeks in Nashville I was looking forward to the positive energy and distraction of once again having to go back to Nashville in the next two weeks, pay taxes, find a new Accountant in which to do so, fire the former one who has been diagnosed with cancer after 20 years of working with him it was a tough one and just trying to navigate my way in my new home which is on a constant start stop thanks to the demands of Vanderbilt and their failure to do their job well and enable me to finish this sooner than now. So now is not the time for more drama and bullshit and yet like always I walked right into it only this time without waders on.

To set this story in place the backstory is needed to clarify why I have been trying to figure out where I belong.  In Nashville I hung out at two of the four Barista Parlor shops there. In that I met and made friends with many of the staff, had many laughs, many tears and many many coffees. They gave me a place at the bar and in turn I could find a place that I felt safe and welcomed and in Nashville that was few and far in between.  Over the course of two years the staff turnover was as expected in said gigs and the owner is a well known asshole who was busy trying to build an empire all while underpaying his staff and basically treating them with little to no respect. During my last visit he closed off the parking lot while he and his buddies had a car show or as I call it a dick measuring contest to show off their high end vehicles.  On a Saturday morning when you would hope business would be busy to close off a parking lot with a sign saying the lot was closed for a private event would confuse even the most basic of customers believing not just the lot but the shop would be as well and again as parking is a premium in the area it was sheer hubris to do this as it would ultimately affect his earnings, the kids earnings and well did I mention this dude is a well known asshole in Nashville?  Well it is all for naught as he is opening a branch in a hotel being built around the corner and this will siphon off more business and in turn earnings across the board.  But math and business sense is a craft not brewed in Nashville.

One of the staff members, a fine graduate of Liberty University who majored in being a Minister or whatever nonsense they teach there decided to bail on that profession as it was not financially lucrative enough so he went into coffee.  Yes they don't teach economics clearly there at the Falwell school.  So to supplement his income he wrote a poorly written book on Coffee and its everyday use. He of course has a Podcast, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube channel in which to preach his idiocy about coffee.  I call it Coffee for Dummies and he is the Dummy. It is sad frankly when he gets his co-workers to reprimand, call out customers about tipping, behaving and ordering in a coffee shop when his real problem is his boss and the wages or lack thereof is the real problem.  Pray for a miracle kid as when that asshole finally finds out about these public broadcasts using his shop, his equipment, his employees and  doing so on his time you will be out of a job faster than you can say Macchiato.

So when I returned home I had this discussion with one Barista whom I would call street in every sense of the word and he is adorable and charming and I suspect once you get on his bad side it is not a side of the street you want to be on.  He knew of the gross and net costs of the store and its second location, they are building another just around the corner and I thought, how familiar.  Needless to say the discussion about wages and parity along with the idea that having a disposable workforce of teenagers is a great idea then he misses the point of why his business has and is grown.  The main store has adults working there, a diverse eclectic lot who bring with them customers and in turn contribute to new ones who find their tribe.  It describes my ability to connect to most of them on an independent level as each has their own story and narrative that I find compelling after the vanilla years in Nashville.   And after I left that evening I returned in the morning to find him packing his kit as he was being fired.  It was odd, it was mid shift as the shop had been robbed in the night taking most of the money, leaving behind 400 bucks in the till and yet the camera caught a person who was not him doing the robbery but they claimed he was the reason and that was one of his associates.  I thought, "Is this the Sopranos?"  Only a few weeks ago Bruce Springsteen's son was inducted into the Jersey City Firefighters and I when I saw the Boss I thought, "Is this a new video?"  No to both questions, this is just Jersey City.

As he left he said if he did rob the joint he knew how to turn a camera and not leave 400 bucks untouched but again as in all stories there are three sides and if they truly believe he did orchestrate the robbery where was the Police, why did they allow him to come to work and wait until 10 am to terminate him?  These questions I suspect will also be answered with hey this is just Jersey City.  But his co-worker whom I have issues with as she is a gruff if not dumb girl believes he did.  I ignore her and have tried to treat her decently but this was just another paper cut to me on skin that is scarred from those I received from the Barista Parlor staff.  So there are two options not go when she is working and I am all for that or not go back at all.  These are questions I have yet to figure out the answers to.  I am not sure what really happened and it is none of my business but it is when they do this in the shop, do it publicly and without respect to anyone customer or server.  Sorry but shit take your drama to the stage or do so privately this is not Judge Judy.

But we cannot seem to figure out anymore what is private, personal and what is public.   The boy in Nashville with his bizarre multi platform bitch fest seems to think he is providing a service by dishing  on customers, raving about other coffee vendors and using his company for a resource in which to whine and profess knowledge about a business he has been in for a whopping three years.  At times the white male privilege shows through during his coffee talks and it is tragic, grim and pathetic.  I take it as the arrogance and ignorance of the religious sect that dominates the Nashville scene as they believe they are morally and intellectually superior so it gives them a free pass to pass judgment and to make heinous remarks about people they don't know, don't care about and are not like them. In other words everyone.

Irony that I am from the land of Starbucks a place I go out of my way to avoid.  I was Howard Shultz's neighbor in the Kurt Cobain time when he lived across the park from Howard and knew he and his wife casually, but after Kurt's suicide they moved into a gated community as well that is what the rich do.  And over time we have seen/heard the truth that while good PR covers up the reality of what it is like to work at Starbucks it is not superior to any other shop on the street it is just bigger.  But hey when you need a coffee you do and that is what coffee is just a beverage you drink but where you do often matters.  So as I try to figure this out and find balance it is like my brew I simply prefer a Latte with whole milk or as I call it - the basic bitch.  And basically I am tired of being bitched at, too and being around them.  But this is where we are the haves and the have nots and no one trusts, likes or respects anyone.  As the Barista said to me yesterday during my order about America, "Its over we had a good run but its not working anymore."  I could not not agree more.   See you at the bar, but what kind may be new one and maybe its time for a whole new drink.

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