The Starbucks Experiment

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Power Struggles

The Starbucks on MacArthur Blvd. two blocks away from my house looks peaceful and still. it lies in the middle of a row of shops on the ground floor of an office building. the busy parking lot in front gives it the air of a strip mall, and also sets it back from the road. this setback, combined with the regulation dark interior and extreme air conditioning, gives Starbucks the definite air of a cave. from behind the bar or even the register its hard to tell if outside is night or day, rain or shine. my Starbucks is too small for over-sized armchairs, so it's not nearly as comfortable as some, but it has become comfortable to me. or rather, it had become comfortable.

Be forewarned, the quiet exterior of the local Starbucks belies a vicious power struggle taking place inside. deep within the cave trouble has been brewing, probably all summer except I was too new to notice. last week the pot overflowed, and its only now in the aftermath that I'm able to see how everything happened.

Last week I asked to talk with Melissa, the manager, about my scheduling woes. she was very apologetic and sympathetic but then abruptly changed the subject and asked me about Eugene, one of the shift supervisors. Eugene has been working at Starbucks for four years and is practically an assistant manager. i always close with him on Sundays and we have a great time. its an exhausting shift so we always try to get home as soon as possible, and we chat a lot after we lock the door to customers. Eugene is a painter, and very sensitive (though not really to other people's problems, typical artist temperament), so our conversations involve a lot of complaints from him about the other people at the store, and i try to be a sympathetic ear. Eugene is not known as the most industrious person at our store, but he's well liked by the people he supervises. So Melissa asks me about Eugene, do I have any complaints about him? I say no, and she asks me if I'm sure; he's never done anything that i disagree with? she's standing there in front of me, wanting me to say something, and i think subconsciously i wanted to please her, as if to show her there were no hard feelings about my schedule. so i say that occasionally Eugene sort of rushes me out when we close (which is true, he's told me not to finish cleaning the espresso machine or something because he has to go catch his bus, but of course if i'm all done and he's still finishing up, i never ask him to hurry even though i can't leave until he does), but that of course i like to leave early too, and as long as the people who open after us don't have any complaints, i don't think it's been a problem. she sort of nods and says fine and i go on my merry way.

next thing i know, when i come into work on my next shift, Yessi (another shift supervisor who started just before i did), tells me and Yirga (the barista i always open with) that Melissa had a major talking to with Eugene and told him that we all think he's lazy. well Yirga and i were really upset, because Melissa had made it sound like we talked about Eugene behind his back, which we don't. i felt like some horrible informer, but Yessi tried to talk me out of that. i had just answered Melissa's question, it wasn't like i had gone to her voluntarily and told her all Eugene's secrets, etc. i only saw Eugene briefly during the week, and he seemed depressed, but i didn't want to ask him about it because i wasn't sure if Melissa had named names and if she didn't, i didn't want to admit that i had said anything bad about him.

so on sunday Eugene and i are closing as usual, except that we're both rather quiet. but as soon as Eugene has locked the front door, he tells me that he's going to take his time because Melissa told him that he rushes me. well, then obviously we had to have it out, so i told him exactly what happened, and that got him on a whole rant about what a manipulative bitch Melissa is, how she plays favorites with the staff. she hates him and is looking for any excuse to have him fired, but she'd forgive Yirga anything. she's told him flat out that if Eugene tries to transfer to another Starbucks, she'll write him a bad recommendation. Tom, the assistant manager, sucks up to her and is a real jerk. and the regional manager has a total crush on her and would never go against her. a lot of this is news to me. i'm being sympathetic and basically agreeing with whatever Eugene says; it does seem like Tom and especially Melissa dislike him, Melissa does appear to be more manipulative or shall we say, less objective, than i gave her credit for. but how objective is Eugene being? Tom and Melissa have always been really nice to me personally, and I see them during their shifts doing their best to make sure everyone is having a good time. but the sad truth is that with all the fighting amongst the management, it's impossible to relax and have a good time at work. Eugene isn't the only one who's been coming in looking depressed.

things do seem to have quieted down, probably just because Melissa changed the schedule so that she and Eugene won't overlap. I heard a story about a friend of a friend who was twenty minutes late one day at Starbucks, the first time he had ever been late, and was fired on the spot. he was also in his fourth year, and apparently year five is some sort of watershed moment when retirement benefits and stuff go way up. this guy sued sbux and managed to get some benefits money back, but that hardly makes up for being unnecessarily fired. so maybe this is an actual Starbucks policy. scary.

luckily i'm going to New York this weekend so i can put all that sbux BS behind me (for two days). i have begun to miss New York. i miss not needing a car and having everything right on your doorstep. i miss how little outings could feel like big adventures. sigh.


At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Danielle said...

Oh my... who knew selling overpriced coffee would be a Peyton Place experience? I guess it just goes to show; office politics are [most unfortunately] not restricted to, you know, offices...

...and I love that his name is Eugene. And that he's a sensitive painter. And that there are two (two!) people with first names that begin with a 'Y'. It's like MTV made some sort of misguided attempt to cast a melting-pot version of 'The Real World'. Love it.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Katharine (K) Lina said...

oh, my starbucks is like the international house of coffee. sounds like my next post . . .


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