Monday morning at Starbucks, the surly, middle-aged barista at the register puts forth the question to Mary B.
"Is there anything else?"
He frowns,and the grooves around his mouth deepen with each passing second. She considers his position. Years ago, Mary B stood behind a coffee counter dispensing frappacinos and lattes to life-style caffeine addicts. She loathed the job, but can't remember if her irritation showed then as blatantly as this man's did now.
"No thanks." She drops some change in the tip jar, picks up her latte and low fat muffin, and then departs.
On Wednesday morning, he's there again with the same scowl. His shoulders slump under the weight of the massive chip he's carrying.
When Mary B orders her drink, he snatches the credit card from her hand and demands to see her ID. She slowly removes it from her wallet, glances at the picture of herself, and hands it to him.
"Yeah, I know my hair's a different color, but I like being a redhead!" she bellows.
Startled, his head whips up. Her smile challenges his glare. The anorexic jogger behind Mary B clears her throat loudly and meaningfully. The barista hands her back her credit card and id along with her drink.
"Is there anything else!?"
"Yeah... let me ask you a question." Mary B pauses. "Do you like your job, I mean, really like it?"
He freezes. "Why?
Mary B then reflects on ALL the times customers asked her that question. It meant they weren't happy with the service she was providing. In their eyes baristas weren't very ambitious, intelligent, or deserving of respect, no matter how hard one worked, or whatever their circumstances were. The customers weren't paying for sass; they were there for coffee, and a smile, real or not.
Mary B remembers her last day as a barista. In one hour she’d had three complaints registered against her: the first for telling off a customer who decided to make change out of Mary B's tip jar without asking, even after she explained to the customer that management had forbidden the baristas to make change for the customers; the second from a short, obese woman who accused Mary B of spreading germs because she touched her thumb to the rim of the customer’s skinny decaf latte with extra foam, though the paper cup could have been easily replaced had the second customer requested it; the third was from a Persian man in an expensive, but tight three-piece suit who loaded Mary B up with a huge order while chatting into his cell phone, and told her three times her to “hurry it up, he wasn't paying her to waste his time. He didn’t leave a tip, to which Mary B called after him “you cheap hairy ass motherfucker!”
The management called her into the office. It was inferred that while they appreciated all the times she went that extra mile (working overtime, working weekend nights when the staff called in “sick,” revamping and maintaining the inventory, running interference with the pesky health inspectors), she was obviously suffering from burnout. She had two choices: the management could fire her that day, or she could resign, and put in her two weeks' notice. She chose the latter, but on her last day, was summoned to the manager's office at the last minute and asked to stay on part-time, as she was the only one of the baristas who had not been dismissed for theft, and their store was short. Mary B accepted the part-time status, which eventually was reduced to an on-call position. She worked at the store for another year, at least two nights a week, rain or shine.
A series of shitty jobs (waitress, bookstore manager, night supervisor for an adult chat line shift) eventually convinced Mary B to look for a real job. She signed up with a couple of temp agencies, began her stint as a low level admin assistant, and she never looked back... until now.
The barista's face flushes beet red with embarrassment.
"Well, sometimes…no, well…no, not really. Not today," he concludes.
"Ok, that's all I wanted to know," she says, saluting him with her drink and walking out of Starbucks.
Friday morning, as Mary B walks into Starbucks, she spies the barista in his usual spot by the register. When he spots Mary B, he straightens his shoulders, and smiles.
She stops at the counter. He looks up, and they stare at each other. He's thoughtful; frowns a bit, there is a touch of uncertainty in his expression, and his mouth trembles slightly. "Is there anything else?" she inquires softly.
"Yeah. Friday is my last day. I got a new job. At the corporate office, with more money and benefits. I start next Monday."
She holds out her hand and he takes it in his, pumping it up and down.
Mary B leans forward.
"Congratulations. You're a lot smarter than I was."
She releases his hand, and then orders her latte… and a brownie.