The Starbucks Experiment

Monday, June 05, 2006

Katharine's Last Stand

So today is my Last Day at the Gallery, and i'm feeling v. sentimental. i can't believe i've been here for ten months, since i think it basically took me six months to hit my stride. my departmental-farewell lunch today was the best lunch we've ever had. how can i leave now that the goings gotten so good? everyone seems genuinely sad to see me go and says i've done great work, so maybe this past year wasn't the waste that i've been feeling it to be lately. when you take an unpaid internship on the assumption that you'll be in graduate school in a year, and then don't get into graduate school, its hard not to feel like you should have gotten a real job a year ago. but no job in the world would have taught me so much about museums, or let me do so much original research, or provided so many resources as this one at the National Gallery of Art. it's been an unbelievably cushy environment, and i feel v. privileged that i was a part of it.

i really do hope to be back someday, although it seems unfeasible. i'm applying to the staff assistant pool, so that if any openings come up they'll have my resume on hand. but what i really want is to spend the majority of my post-graduate career at an institution like this one. one full of experts and money and high standards. it's absolutely amazing what a wide variety of people call this place home: from the staff assistants in development with their cute shoes, to the interns in conservation who wear no shoes; from academic curators who have never made an art work in their life, to the artists in the registrar's office who move art from storage to gallery in order to pay the bills. from the Publications department to the Publicity office, this place has security guards, maintenance crew, exhibition designers, IT people, not to mention the framers and silk screeners and gardeners (oh my!). i suppose there are lots of large institutions whose scale of operations seems vaguely on par with a small nation; universities for example, are far larger and more ungainly than the gallery. but maybe that's the difference. the gallery doesn't feel ungainly or fragmented. it feels surprisingly cohesive, as though everyone here has a common mission and a common love. i imagine our ideas on art vary enormously, but we all think it's important. and who wouldn't want to work with a bunch of art lovers their whole life? we're such a charming breed :-)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Informational Interviews

I have been going on a lot of these lately. Monday was Judy Metro, editor in chief of the Gallery's Pubs department. she was v. nice, v. maternal, giving me advice on how to break into publishing with absolutely no experience. then yesterday i met with the director of the Corcoran. i had only ever seen his name in print, Greenhalgh, and i assumed it was an example of that weird british habit of dropping consonants from proper nouns. like how Leicester is pronounced lester. so i thought his name was pronounced grenhall, but it turns out it's actually green-halch. luckily his assistant corrected me in time, but the point is, who wants their last name to be green-halch?

however odd his name sounds, Mr. Greenhalgh himself was v. charming, a boyish-looking, energetic, middle-aged man who slouched so low in his chair i thought he might fall out. yet he was brisk and business-like, rattling off names of programs i could apply to and profs. i could work with. the best thing he said was that if i got a graduate degree in design history i would never be out of work. i am soon to be unemployed and i have a feeling it sucks.

then this morning i had a really great chat with a woman here at the gallery who did her graduate work in London at the Courtauld. she was really nice and made the program sound really nice, and more importantly she was v. frank and informative on how it works re: applying and funding.

so now i've been spending most of the afternoon looking at the profiles of faculty in the UK and trying to figure out how i would apply for a Fulbright. i'm liking this grad school in England idea more and more. i feel like doing that instead would make getting rejected this past year make more sense. whereas if i reapply to the same places in the States and get into a couple i'll just wonder all the more why the hell i didn't get accepted in the first place.

i feel like i've finally gotten over the rejection thing, but of course, every time i do think that i have another meltdown about it. maybe i just have to embrace the roller coaster, they are more exciting that level ground.

Friday, May 12, 2006


This just in: I realized that I haven't posted anything in a while. i have no explanation, except that i've felt busy. so in the spirit of taking a break for a gasp of air and an exchange of information, here are some updates:

Alaskan Envoy Arrives in Washington
The diplomatic group consisted on Jessica Cochran, my sister, her husband Nathan Pankuk, and their daughter Lily. Lily won all the cuteness contests, especially since she was only slightly more fussy that Jess. Nathan as usual was the pinnacle of "diplomacy and tact" a phrase i have been using often lately (explanation to follow). he helped the parental units pick out my birthday gift, an absolutely 007 worthy digital camera that i love more than cheerios (which is really saying something). we managed a few outings to the movies etc., but the envoy's principal mission was to give the native Washington party the opportunity to play with Lily. this was only partly successful, since according to Jess, mom and dad didn't pay Lily enough attention. a secondary mission was to let Jess critique our housekeeping habits by engaging in major cleaning projects like organizing the front hall closet. Jess seems to have displaced gramdma in this capacity. Grandma Heidi did join the summit from New Jersey, but abstained from most of the talks in order to rest. the Alaskan envoy made a good-will trip to North Carolina so Laura did not have to make another journey to DC.

Rare Triple Birthday Celebrated
The Alaskan envoy (see above) arrived in time to celebrate the birthdays of Jessica (May 6th) and myself (May 8th). We were joined in this endeavor by Eileen and her daughter Sorrel, who was raised with Jess in a Hippy-Dippy commune in New Haven, CT. Eileen's birthday (May 7th) was the occasion of a rare triple birthday party brunch, which actually had nothing in common with a traditional birthday party. there was no singing, cake, candles, or gift exchange. but, at my insistence, there was champagne. much fun was had by all.

Office Saves the Day with a Traditional Birthday Party
On Monday, my department took me out to lunch, sang the happy birthday song, and presented me with a cake, thus saving me from a non-traditional birthday fate worse than death. the cake was especially important, as Cathy, the staff assistant in our department, kept asking me what kind of cake I liked the week before. she tried to order at least three different cakes, none of which were available, before she just sent me the web page link and asked me to pick something out myself.

Dogs Run Amuck, Literally
Lizzie, our dog, "ran away from home" in the sense that she ran a block before a neighbor kindly picked her up and took her to a neighborhood vet. it was not the vet we use, and since they didn't recognize the dog, they called the pound. we spent a frantic afternoon and evening looking for her before an email to the neighborhood listserve solicited news. next morning bright and early we arrived at the animal shelter, from which we had adopted her in the first place, to pick her up. there were absolutely tons of dogs there and Lizzie was the best behaved. then the v. same afternoon Sorrel's dog, August, a beautiful and expensive italian greyhound, was out in our (fenced-in) backyard and cut his leg, probably on a ladder (we're having some work done on the house--more to follow). an overnight at the vet and a few stitches later, August was back in the bossom of his family, and right as rain. oh, except for the tube sticking through his wound and the elizabethan collar around his neck. oops.

The Hartmann-Wells's Redecorate
It all began with a guest room. Mom wanted me to help her pick out new paint and carpet for the basement. next thing I know, we're repainted the upstairs, replacing old wood and doors, repainting the front porch, and installing a new front walk complete with landing strip. Sorrel happens to be a landscape designer and now mom has her working on a plan for the backyard. the house looks fantastic, but mother has become a bit of a wreck. she gave me a massage for my birthday (like paid for me to get a professional one--it was absolutely heavenly) but she should really get one herself.

The Job Search Begins . . .
Yes, i caved. i started looking for jobs. somehow the thought of applying to grad school in a few months really overwhelms me, whereas the thought of having a job, a salary, and my own place seems sort of cool. probably this feeling will pass as soon as i get a job, or since i now want a job, that will become the one thing that is impossible to get. so far i've only applied for a development job at the Met, another one at the Whitney, and something more academic here at the Gallery. applying to the Gallery job has been particularly trying because it's a government job and therefore requires three times as much paper as usual. it also requires you to explain how you meet very specific qualifications like "ability to deal with a variety of people using diplomacy and tact," at which point my job at Starbucks came surprisingly to the rescue. i have a few informational interviews in the works and have decided it would be really cool to work at a university press. so if anyone here's about anything, let me know :-)

Social Life Appears to be Picking Up
Maybe it's just been all the visitors keeping me busy, but i also seem to be reuniting with lost friends recently. Leah came to the birthday brunch, and a few days ago i ran into Clem (short for Clementine, yes that is her name) a seriously long-lost friend from elementary school. naturally we vow to get together soon. Eva is coming to town this weekend. and tonight I'm going to an after hours thing at the Hirshorn with none other than Louise. should be fun. of course she hasn't shown up yet . . . um, Louise?

Monday, April 24, 2006

An Easter story, sort of

Last week was a time for travellin'. spent the weekend at my grandma's in New Jersey for easter. Laura came up from NC, which was nice, but otherwise it was a bit of a bust. mom failed to come through on the easter baskets and candy, and although we all claimed we didn't care the truth is, i was crushed. i had been looking forward to my annual meal of marshmallow peeps for quite a while. plus the service at grandma's church was pretty atrocious. the minister reminded me of nothing so much as a car salesman. he bellowed about how we should "plant the cross" but never made clear what he meant. maybe he thought his vague language would be counteracted by his use of visual aides, for i kid you not, he actually had two different life size crosses that he carried about the, um, stage. the first one was "rustic," made up of "logs" bound with "rope." it looked like the kind of thing people sold to pilgrims back in the middle ages ("no really, this is christ's cross, yeah, he died on this very cross! only five bucks!"), and probably came from or something. the second one was bright white and more rectilinear, you know, clean modern lines. this apparently represented the cross reborn as a positive symbol after the horror of the crucifixion. again, no specifics were offered.

after suffering through the sermon and an even more purgatorial easter buffet at our depressed aunt reenie's, we headed back home. laura returned to the shallow south (as opposed to the deep south) and i worked at Starbucks for a couple days, during which time easter redeemed itself, when a customer came in with a huge basket wrapped in cellophane full of an easter bunny stuffed animal, chocolate, and, you guessed it, peeps. Lea brought it in for Yirga's daughter, but when Yirga saw my eyes light up at the peeps she insisted on cutting open the cellophane to give me some. i was rather ashamed, talk about taking candy from a baby, but it was totally worth it, i was so excited to eat those peeps.

so on wednesday i got up a 4:30 as usual to open at Starbucks and then left at 12:30 to catch my flight to San Francisco. i was there to visit my friends Cat and Annie, who cruelly left me last summer to take a fabulous road trip to their new port of call. i had a really wonderful time. it was great to not work for four whole days in a row, to sit around laughing our asses off, go out and get hit on my strange men, go on long walks and longer drives, eat delicious edibles, and not plan much of anything. they live right by the ocean and golden gate park, both of which are gorgeous, but i have to say that i was unimpressed with the aesthetics of the city generally. it's a place were the nature seems very divorced from the housing, it's neatly confined to city parks and maybe the waterfront, but it doesn't spill over onto the streets in the form of trees or yards or median strips. and if any buildings could use a little natural color, it's these. block after block of low row houses, in those washed out beige-pastels, each one with its little garage tucked in, each one with a little light grey iron work. of course there are those celebrated painted ladies, a few gaily colored old victorian houses that enliven the older parts of town, but for the most part its rather a wash. i remember feeling that way when i want to the bay area with my family for a christmas vacation years ago. every town we went to seemed like one big slab of concrete, which seems a particular shame since the countryside is so unbelievably gorgeous. we spent a day driving around across the golden gate bridge and walking around the redwoods and every view was incredibly beautiful. of course the redwoods are amazingly tall, but also their bark is so cool and highly textured, it reflects the light beautifully. and there is something so fabulous about dramatic hills covered with scrubby green brush, i suppose eighteenth-century landscape lovers would say they are perfectly picturesque.

anyway, it was really fun to get away from it all, especially since it made me forget the fact that i didn't get in to Northwestern. it didn't hit me until my layover in Atlanta, when suddenly i literally felt like i'd been struck down by a pile of bricks. i'm not going to grad school this year. i applied to five schools, i got rejected from five schools. total shut out. yes, USC flew me out to interview. yes, Northwestern said they would definitely make me an offer if they had the funding. yes, i graduated with highest honors from a demanding liberal arts college, i'm a research intern at the National Gallery, and i have original academic interests. i'm guessing i made it to the top tier of most lists, i'm guessing that i shouldn't be taking this personally, i'm guessing it was just bad luck. but how can anyone honestly get turned down by all five schools to which she replied and not feel rejected?!? i mean, i'm literally a reject, five times over, its official.

okay, enough of that. i'm trying to see this as an opportunity to do things i wouldn't normally be able to. i'd like to go stay with my aunt and uncle in London for a few months and look into doing my graduate work there (where i could get my PhD in just three years!) then maybe i'll work at a ski lodge, and give the Alaska railroad another chance (they did offer me a job, even a full time one, but i'm going to take the summer off to travel instead). this summer i'll take a trip down south with Laura, spend a week in Montana with the fam, go to a wedding in Colorado, visit the most adorably niece ever in Alaska, hopefully spend a week at the beach with those same San Francisco friends, and oh yeah, move down to the basement.

my mom is on a total renovating kick. we're repainting and re-carpeting the basement. we redid the front walk (and added a nifty landing strip). we finally had the house power washed and the rotting wood replaced. and in the midst of all this it came out that my dad wishes he had some office space on the main floors, ie., not in the basement. so i selflessly offered to move my bedroom down to the basement, so that my room can be used as a study, except that somehow my parents decided that my mom should take my room and dad would get her study. so i predict that while i will move into the basement this summer, mom and dad won't get their act together for another year or two. anyway, i think it will be good for me. if i can get most of my stuff packed up in the attic and only put the necessities down in the basement, it will make my eventual departure for graduate school all the easier.

because, although daunted, i still intend to reapply (probably to twice as many schools, ick). i have been told that there are only two kinds of people in the world, those with PhDs and those without, and that the only thing that separates them is perseverance. so, i guess i'll persevere, but i intend to have fun doing it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Forced Smile = Grimace

Last night i had a second interview for a part-time food-service job on the Alaskan railroad run by princess cruise lines. Wait, let's let this sink in for a minute. last night i had a second interview for a part-time food-service job on the Alaska railroad.

if this seems weird to anyone out there, i can assure you that it is a direct result of my taking a job at Starbucks nearly a year ago. the nature of my job at sbux, relatively mind-numbing labor coupled with mandatory cheerfulness, accommodating the personalities of customers and staff, and being generally overworked but under stimulated, have made me unable to continue this job past june. but having worked in the corporate world of forced-friendly food service, i am now only qualified for more jobs in forced-friendly corporate food service.

Enter the Alaskan railroad, a tourist venture run by princess cruise lines that runs roughly from Seward through Anchorage to Fairbanks. it is full of big windows to watch the wildlife, tour guides, and club cars, staffed by friendly servers. my sister Jess, who lives in Anchorage, knew a number of people who had been those friendly servers and really liked the job. the hours are nice because you work long days but get more days off, the people who do it are great, it's beautiful, you learn a lot about Alaska, etc. etc. so i applied online and used Jess's friend's name as a referral. i get an email back, then a call, then we set up a phone interview, then i get another couple calls to schedule another phone interview. did i miss something? is this actually a managerial position disguised as a part-time food-service job?

that's what one might think from the questions. describe how you try to improve your job for your co-workers, describe a problem you have had with a co-worker and how you addressed it. describe a problem you've had with a customer and how you addressed it. what is the most important component of customer service? would you rather work with someone who had perfect performance or a perfect attitude? what do you like most about your job? what do you like least? and on and on. i know these questions are set down by central HR, and i understand that a company in the business of customer service wants to make sure that their employees who work directly with customers will be good ambassadors, but i was sort of hoping that up in the wilds of Alaska people would be more laid back, more realistic. i was hoping they would understand that a forced smile is no smile, it's a grimace.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Top 5 Weirdest Orders

So you think your triple venti skim two splenda latte is complicated? Have no fear, we have heard it all. at my own Starbucks, the top five weirdest orders (which we receive on a regular basis, mind) are, from nominal to super weirdness:

5. the "Venti Four"
A venti coffee with four shots of espresso, this rather strong drink is ordered every morning by a dreamy doctor. I would consider him superhuman but i happen to know he puts lots of milk in it.

4. the ""Grande Latte in a Venti Cup" (or it's variant, the "Tall Latte in a Grande Cup")
I hate people who order these, because basically they are cheap. What they want is a venti extra-foam latte, and what they want to pay for is a grande latte. In the first place, if someone asks for a grande latte with one shot (a "solo grande") we are supposed to charge them for a grande. We are not supposed to give them a deal and charge them for a tall because, guess what? it takes just as much work to make a grande latte with one shot as it does to make one with two (are you still with me?). You have to steam just as much milk, in fact, more milk! People try to circumvent this policy by ordering a tall latte in a grande, but unlike when people order a tall coffee in a grande cup, they don't want extra room at the top. oh no, they expect us to fill it to the top with extra foam, yet not charge them for it, because it's not like foam is the product of actual labor. apparently it just sort of appears out of the sky like snowflakes. This problem is even more pronounced when people order a grande latte in a venti cup, because they want the same amount of espresso as a regular venti (two shots) and the same amount of milk (only foamier) but they only want to be charged for a grande. if that's not cheap i don't know what is.

3. the "Venti Mocha with Half Soy and Half 2% Milk"
The woman who orders this everyday is v. nice, but come on. We have to steam three different kinds of milk to make this order (or get a new pitcher and custom mix her milk pre-steam). And it just doesn't make sense to me. She can't be drinking the soy milk because she's lactose intolerant, since half her drink is milk, but if she likes the taste of soy, why does she only want half? If she drinks it for health reasons, why 2% instead of skim, or why a mocha at all, since the mocha syrup is like pure sugar? Yet if she's not concerned about eating right, why not have whole milk? What does a woman who orders this drink want out of life? I assume that she herself as no idea.

2. the "Tall Coffee in a Venti Cup, Half Regular, Half Mild"
I hate the woman who orders this everyday, so i make a point of being really sickly nice to her. First of all, it seems cheap to order a tall coffee in a venti cup, rather than a grande coffee in a venti cup. how could you really want that much room for milk? i figure she just assumes that we give her the same amount of coffee as we would if she ordered a grande in a venti, and i further suspect that the whole half-mild half-regular thing is designed to make us pour her more. seriously, if you're putting that much milk in your coffee because otherwise it's too strong, than why not just get all mild? and once you've mixed in all that milk can you really taste the difference between half-mild half-regular and all-regular or all-mild coffee? v. fishy.

but the weirdest order of all time has got to be:

1. the "Tall Earl Grey Tea with Steamed Skim Milk, No Water"
Yup, you've heard it from me. there is actually a woman running around steeping her tea in milk rather than water. as a tea drinker i find this so unbelievably weird that even after weeks of making this i still always want to ask this woman "are you sure?" everyone knows you should steep tea in water that has just come to a boil, meaning its about 200 degrees fahrenheit. whereas we only steam milk to about 145 degrees. making tea in water that's not hot enough is gross, there is no other word for it. making tea in milk that's not hot enough i can only imagine to be milky and gross, not exactly a good combination. i guess she's pleased with it though. what a weirdo.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Soy Juice

First, let me say that i have been trying to update this for a while, to get rid of the rather saccharin last post. i have also been meaning to put this blog back on the track of entertaining stories about Starbucks, rather than doleful tales of my personal life. my personal life is more doleful than ever, but I want to talk about it even less than you want to read about it.

So instead I will tell the tale of Janice, the hands-down worst customer we have ever had at sbux. my very first encounter with her tipped me off that she was not v. pleasant. i was on bar, she ordered a soy no-foam latte. i started steaming a pitcher of soy milk. now, as a barista, it often behoves you to steam more milk than you immediately need, because then it will be ready for the next customer. so even though this woman did not want any foam on her latte, i steamed some foam because you never know, in five seconds i might receive an order for a grande soy extra-foam latte. so this woman sees me making foam and yells out, "oh no, i asked for no foam, you can just take all that foam off" okay, or i could do my job and pour the soy into your cup so that no foam will get in there in the first place, which is what we always do, you anal bitchy cow.

so it turns out this woman's name is Janice. i've served her many times since then and she never redeemed herself by being nice. one recent day, while i'm supervising, she announces to Yirga, who was on register, than our soy milk is too sweet (it has vanilla flavoring), and she can't drink it. so she whips out a box of unsweetened soy milk that she wants us to keep in our refrigerator to use for her soy (no foam!) lattes. right. because we are her personal servants and this sbux location is her personal kitchen. fine. unfortunately Yirga, who loves to please even the craggiest customers, says its no problem and promptly puts the soy in our fridge. i sort of roll my eyes but don't want to fight with Janice about it before checking with Tom to make sure that we are in fact unable to do this.

so a few days later i've checked with Tom and, surprise surprise, we're not allowed to store personal ingredients for customers (if she wanted to bring this soy milk every time she came in that would be one thing, still obnoxious, but feasible). apparently, Janice did not take to this news kindly. one day when i wasn't around she waltzed in and told Yirga that she was "the only one who gave a damn about her." Dan, another supervisor, tried to explain the policy to her and she said "no, i don't want to talk to that asshole, i want to talk to the manager." okay. Tom was in (of course) so he explains the policy to her, at which point Janice goes off on how obesity is a serious problem in this country and sbux is just making it worse by adding sugar to everything and you know "sugar is the second ingredient listed on that soy milk, the very next ingredient!" right, which says nothing about what percentage of the recipe it takes up. in fact, it turns out that our super sweet soy milk has only 1% more sugar than the regular milk.

what a pain in the ass! it's incidents like this that make me unable to imagine myself working at sbux may. one year is enough. on the other hand, events like this do bring out the satirical talents of the staff to wonderful effect. sometime before all this started actually, Dan decided that we should no longer call the soy milk soy milk, because of course, it's not milk at all. it's really just the juice pressed out of the soy bean so we should call it, you guessed it, soy juice. i swear to god, now every time i drink soy drinks (i got v. in to the soy cinnamon dolce latte, delicious) i feel like they taste juicy. oh juicy juicy soy juice. how we love you (and hate Janice).

if you want to hear more on the horror of Janice check out dan's side of the story