Thursday, December 15, 2011

You've got to pay your write for Yahoo News!

Today, this appeared on Yahoo News. At first I thought it was a link from The Onion:

Only one manager called me back: the one from Brooklyn, just a few blocks from my apartment — and the last store I visited. She offered me the job at $10/hour; and if I worked part-time for three months, I'd be eligible for health insurance.

I'd later find out that the store is located next to the busiest transit hub in Brooklyn, which makes itthe busiest Starbucks outside of Manhattan. My initial idea of working a leisurely part-time job was completely false. This was going to be hard work. And a lot of it.

My first day was deceptively easy – watching videos of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on the store’s laptop with my fellow three trainees, and taste-testing coffee and tea. We had some pamphlets that explained the drinks, and our task was to memorize all of them — including some several dozen variations of shots, sizes and flavors.

We tried making a few of these with our trainers at the bar, but it wasn’t easy. There was usually a steady stream of 20-some people waiting in line, and there simply wasn’t the space or environment to train properly. It was always chaotic, with several people on the floor, calling orders, shifting from station to station, and asking you to get out of the way. Not to mention 10 customers waiting at the end of the bar for their drinks.

Photo: Daniel Goodman, Business Insider

My first real 7:30 a.m. shift was jarring. The intensity of what goes on behind the counter is simply not visible from the customer’s point of view. During the peak morning hours, we’d work through around 110 people every half hour with seven employees on the floor.

Since there was no chance my new colleagues — or “partners,” as Starbucks calls its employees — and I would ever memorize all the drinks, we handled everything else: brewing and changing coffees (staying on top of which ones are decaf, light and bold roasts, while rotating them via Starbucks’ “coffee cadence” using 2-minute timers and grinding the beans, having them all prepared to brew — and never leaving one pot sitting longer than 30 minutes without dumping, since it’s no longer “fresh”), marking drinks (there’s a complicated shorthand that you’ve got to memorize, while translating what a customer is saying into “Starbucks speak” and calling it properly), rotating pastries, the food case, and tossing hot items into the oven — all while managing the register.

Just as I was tempted to remind my coworkers that they were new once, too, I wanted to tell customers that I was way over-qualified for this job, and hoped they’d see me on the street in normal clothes, not in khakis, a black T-shirt, bright-green apron and baseball cap.

On my third day, my boss handed my fellow trainee — who would later disappear after a 10-minute break never to return — and me a mop and supplies to clean the bathroom, because the toilet was broken. It turned out not to be so horrible, but again, I quickly learned to swallow my pride.

We got two 10-minute breaks and one unpaid 30-minute break for every 8 hours on the floor, where we’d have to decide between running next door to use the restroom (because ours was always had a line of customers in front of it), quickly eating a bag lunch (there was never time to stand in line and buy something from the store), or making a cell phone call. If you’re lucky, you got to sit down on the one chair in the break room, or on the ladder, because there were never any open seats in the store.

Some of my coworkers were more demanding than others. Most were nice and welcoming. And there were office politics. On more than one occasion I walked into the break room to see someone crying, or talking about other coworkers. I mostly avoided this, until what would be my last week on the job.

I told my boss that I got a new, full-time job, and could work until I started at Business Insider. Butthe next day my name disappeared from the schedule.

For many people, service industry jobs are not a supplementary income or short-term solution. And hats off to them — especially those who do it without even complaining.

The author on Twitter:

Again, at first I thought this was a piece of satire, but no -- this girl apparently had never had a retail or restaurant job of any kind until, it appears, age 22 or 23. What's so astonishing is the writer's presumption that she will never return to menial work...because she's such a goddamn good writer (did Yahoo News pay her more for this piece than she made during her three week Starbuck's tenure?).

Out there in folksy middle class land, there exists the belief that a brief visit to the blue collar world as a teenager "builds character", or something. After a summer or two mowing the cemetery's grass, it's off to college and its fabulous internships, then dinner parties with similar people in a condo your parents helped you buy (I know you can't wait for just the right time to tell everyone that you bought that Chinese-made imitation Sri Lankan vase in Pago Pago).

I haven't paused in the last few years to think about "what I've learned" from my various restaurant, warehouse, office temp, and manual labor jobs. Putting myself on the spot, I suppose the main things are:

  • Most people are quitters
  • Few people recognize that "common sense" is a trick laid out by people much smarter and wealthier than themselves.

That's about it. Oh, and most white people who are "doing well" (those condo people I just mentioned, as well as most young white adults who moved to New York City after college, and of course most white people who started "their own" business) benefited from money given to them by their parents and/or deceased relatives. Such people on one hand think poor people (you know, real poor people) are cute, but on the other hold people from their native culture who still operate in that world in high contempt.

Is this post really just about me? It certainly is with respect to my deep suspicion of anyone who I spot "Playing Magazine". That phrase popped into my head one day at age 21 or 22 to describe under-30 college graduates who aren't yet "Playing House". Instead they've moved to New York City, or pretend that they have, and consume the specific elements of yuppie culture that magazine articles and advertisements promise will trick similarly insecure members of the opposite sex.

Just one final word to Ms. Groth (who is, like seemingly all who write for magazines, certainly playing magazine) -- I never took a writing class in college, but I hear they say something like "write about what you know". Reading this piece, we all know Starbuck's was in fact your "toughest" job because it was the closest you'll ever be to having a real one.


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