More Conversations With Baristas

One of my all-time favorite baristas is sort of easing back into the game after having run afoul of management’s policy about, well, I was afraid to ask, to be honest.

So he was out a couple of weeks. When I inquired about his whereabouts, I was met with sideways glances from skittish part-timers and their rehearsed explanations that were no doubt penned by management.

Fair enough.

He’s back now, but in somewhat limited duty. For about a year now. He’s got the Thursday afternoon shift and Sunday mornings.

He’s in my Barista Hall of Fame because there’s a ponytail that runs down the middle of his back and he has a story behind every piercing (and most of his tats). I believe the unwritten rule on tats is that if tat owners offer details, you listen. But you never ask. Unless I notice that’s a tat of the state of Oregon on the back of your neck while you’re whipping up my Americano in North Carolina. I get a free pass on that one and yes, she was from Portland.

He also has a great playlist cranked at 7:03 a.m. Mondays, when life could use a great playlist. If bullshit has a meter from 0 to 100, he sits at 1 most days. His four-year-old son has some kind of a Scottish king name and a ponytail of his own. One of his things is that he plays what he refers to as an “acoustical heavy metal” of some sort—I’ve asked twice, but I still don’t get it. He gets a bit of a dreamy, distant stare in his eyes when he talks about the Yurt he wants to move his young family into. And, lastly (although there really isn’t a “lastly” with this guy), he’ll wax rather poetic about the various types of wood he’s narrowed his choices to as part of his grand plan to fire-roast his own coffee beans behind that Yurt.

Oh, and did I mention he wears a Scottish kilt to work? (Told you there wasn’t a lastly here.)

So I really just could not help myself when he rolled in the other day for his 3 p.m. shift. Yeah, the 3 p.m. shift at the coffee shop—did I not say they were easing him back in?

He moseyed past my table with a nod.

Him: “Yo.”
Me: “Yo.”

He took a few steps past me as he made his way behind the counter. It was chilly out, so the kilt had been officially retired for the season.

Me: “Hey, barely recognized you with your pants on … !”

He stopped dead in his tracks, stood there for a couple of moments for effect, never turning to face me nor acknowledge the comment. A couple of tables chuckled. He then continued on behind the counter and tossed his green canvas backpack on the counter—the green canvas backpack that also has a good story behind it, but I forget the story (the large “pocket” knife hanging from a chain and odd Scottish relics pinned to it will sort of do that to you). He did look up and offer me half a grin, which in his world translates to “doubled over in laughter.”

So I’m in here again this morning, and it’s been a week, maybe more, since I’ve seen him and his new pants and he’s seen me and my old humor.

When he sees me enter, he immediately turns to begin grinding the espresso beans. He knows the drink. There’s really only one question.

Him: “Hot?”

Me: “Like you, baby!”

The new girl stands nervously behind the register, her eyes shifting from me to him, him to me, me to him. It’s 8:30 on a Sunday morning and she looks to be about a half hour into her first day on the job. I’m certain he’s regaled her in his various theories by now. One of my personal favorites is the five-word analysis he provided when I once asked him—either the world’s dumbest question or the world’s best question, I’m not sure yet—about the local coffee roaster that gets so much play in other coffee shops and stores. He just stood there, heard me out, arms crossed, then smirked and grumbled: “That’s a bullshit roast, dude.”

She’s probably already wondering if it’s too late to call Target back.

Alas, he is stirring my Americano, still not having made eye contact. She stands frozen at the register, offering a forced smile.

He turns to set my drink on the counter.

Him: “Please tell me you’re out of pants jokes.”
Me <shrug>: “No guarantees there, dude. You doing good?”
Him: “Meh. Better, I guess, now that I’ve figured out why my amp wasn’t working.”
Me: “Yeah?”
Him: “I don’t like it when my shit doesn’t work.”
Me: “Amps. Laptops. Phones. Old VW buses.”
Him: Yep. But it’s out front, I see.”
Me: “Yep. Any day in December I’m driving #Dubs is a good day in December.”
Him: “No shit, man. I think my problem was the dog chewing on the cord.”
Me: “That sucks.”
Him: “Yeah, new dog. We finally arrived at The Moment with our old dog.”
Me: “That sucks, too.”

He reaches into his back pocket and produces his phone. He’s now flipping through pictures of the new dog.

The new girl remains fixed at the cash register. But at least she has exhaled, and it’s an exhale that I’m pretty sure could be heard in Georgia.

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