The 6:43 a.m. Saturday conversations with baristas are the best conversations to have with baristas.
Most of the morning crowd is still stretching and reading headlines in bed.
Those who are here? There is a man sleeping in the leather chair in the middle of the shop. I guess if you’re going to sleep in a leather chair in a coffee shop, it might as well be the one right in the middle of everything.
Another sits in the corner, staring blankly into the distance, his headphones having teleported him elsewhere. The waters of Key West? The playgrounds of fifth grade? The beers with old buddies at the rock quarry?
A third man, the one in sweats and a baseball cap, stares intently at the screen of the laptop on the table before him. He stares, leans back, leans forward again, types frantically, leans back, looks out the window several minutes—and he’s been doing this since about 2011.
It’s either the world’s worst dissertation of the world’s best novel.
Two baristas lean against the counter, arms folded, chatting, waiting for the next espresso to walk in the door.
As I cross the floor, the first barista, Jeremy, is already reaching for my big mug—they only have two big mugs, now that Corporate has phased it out in favor of paper cups (about three years ago). Whenever a new barista is in training, one of the veteran baristas explains that it’s not on the keypad in front of them, so don’t bother. “Jeff is the only customer who asks for it and,” reaching under the counter, “it’s right here.”
It used to be somewhat of a frantic search for a clean one. A glance under the counter, the moving of silverware holders behind the bakery display—or was it in the kitchen? Hey, check the kitchen! But Jeremy has had the Saturday 6 a.m. shift for quite some time now, so it’s already under the espresso spout as I approach the counter.
The barista running the drive-thru, Sarah, adjusts her headset, then reaches for the oatmeal. She knows, too, that it’s the blueberries, oats, and almonds. None of that brown sugar mix for the 50-year-old blood sugars of the world.
As they work, “Santa Baby” comes on over the speakers. Without even making eye contact, and while still staring at the machines and cannisters that are their world, they both begin shaking their heads slowly.
It’s November 19.
“You guys are killing me with this stuff, you know that, right?” I say.
Sarah drops a scoop of almonds into the cup. “I woke up the other night, this exact song in my head. Santa baby. I didn’t even want to look at the clock. I didn’t want to know. I feared what I might have done.”
“What’s it been, two weeks of this already?” I ask.
“13 days, 6 hours, 43 minutes, 57 seconds,” says Jeremy with a snarky smirk.
“I love that special Corporate touch, where it’s two or three holiday songs, then about five alleged hits of 2007,” I say. “And just when you’re checking the refill date on your bottle of Prozac, they sneak some Smash Mouth in on you.”
Sarah winces. “I swear, if Smash Mouth were to walk in here today, or any day, I would, indeed, smash them in the mouth.
Nobody doubts Sarah.
The tats, the nose ring, the streak of purple in her hair. There is no guessing with Sarah. Sarah’s the kid who announces the only real Christmas gift she wants is a gift certificate to the tattoo parlor. At 15. And her Dad already has the checkbook out, asking the name of the parlor.
I briefly envision a Super Hero-like right hook from Sarah crashing onto the collective jaws of Smash Mouth, and with such force that not only does a shitty lyric never again leave their lips, they’re forced to drink their pumpkin spice lattes out of straws the rest of their creative lives.
Then, still lost in my head, I see Sarah ripping off her apron, tossing it on the counter, and storming out.
Through the drive-thru window. That’s where Sarah exits, stage right.
“Yeah, Smash Mouth single-handedly ruined the Major League all-star game for me once,” I say. “And that was what, 16, 17 years ago? Fenway Park. I had to leave the living room, gather myself. Smash Mouth, Joe Buck. Thank God that drama king Curt Schilling was getting shelled or I might have turned it off entirely.”
Their blank stares remind me this generation is not a generation of baseball fans.
Jeremy sets my Americano on the counter. “Still another month to go!” he says, an overly cheery, first-pump sort of voice that perfectly mocks the gravity of the situation.
I love baristas.
Not the grumpy ones, no, nor the ones who clearly are counting the days—and started counting six months ago. Jobs can suck sometimes—I get it, and I have had them. The baristas I love are the ones with the blank stares as they pour their 76th latte of the day while lost in thoughts of rent payments, Psych 201 papers, or the 20-year-old frat boy who still hasn’t called.
“This same holiday playlist has played since I started here, and that was what, five years ago?” says Jeremy. “And the weird thing about it is that every now and then, they actually sneak in a song I like, and now I’m just so very confused.
Jeremy can be a bit animated—could be a drama major, not sure. If not, he probably should be. “I’m like, ‘Oh. My. God! Do I have terrible taste in music?!’ ”
I sip from my mug. “It’s a moment for you, isn’t it Jeremy.”
His eyes come down from the ceiling; he throws a left hand on his hip, and turns to look at me with this sort of matter-of-fact stiffening of his neck. “I do become very introspective about it,” he says.
I imagine turning the television on again someday, to a sitcom entitled “Jeremy.” And enjoying it very much.
Sarah has looked up from her phone, where she has Googled “lame 90s bands” and now begins reading from the list. “Ricky Martin! I swear, if Ricky Martin walked in here right now, I would punch him in the throat.”
I turn away from the counter, oatmeal and big favorite mug in hand, laughing, heading toward my own laptop. “Jeremy, make sure Sarah doesn’t get too close to the drive-thru window.”
Jeremy turns to Sarah and flips his right hand at her. “You’d probably only break an ankle anyway.”
“Mild sprain at best, are you kidding me?” she says, not even looking up from her phone. “I’d have to work the next morning.”
I sit down, looking out my own window, reminded that I need to check in with my other favorite barista. Jared, at the shop a couple of blocks from my house.
You know, the one whose dream is to fire-roast his own beans over an open campfire behind his Yurt.