The Starbucks Experiment

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.