Have you ever had the overwhelming feeling of the blues? Sadness, melancholy, whatever you want to call it. It’s that feeling when your entire chest aches. As if your lungs and heart are being compressed together in a scalding hot vice that’s constantly, slowly constricting. Because of it, your mind cannot focus. You jump at every noise, every thought. You take a deep breath, as deep as you can, and the pain dissipates for but a brief moment; it feels like you haven’t been breathing properly until that point.
I had this feeling when the man I came to know as Robert Crum placed the barrel of his gun against the back of my neck in that coffee house bathroom. I knew it was all over in that singular moment. And I knew there was nothing I could do.
These are words I just now wrote for the sequel to On The Border, temporarily titled After You. In case you didn’t know, I write to work through emotional struggles, big and small. The above passage describes exactly how I’m feeling today…minus the whole gun against the back of my neck part.
Yesterday was my Caribou Coffee‘s last day of existence. I knew I would feel sad, but I did not think this would happen. It’s one of those thoughts of, “How many more things have to change in my life?!” because the past two and a half years have been ridiculous. That’s not fair to ask. Life is constantly changing.
The four hour shift was about what I expected it to be. When I walked in, Sam was cleaning over by the coffee scale and Alex and Miriah worked the counter; Seth was in back working on paperwork and inventorying everything that was left. He handed me a list of things to do:
- Deck scrub built-up areas
- High dust—thorough, but not too thorough
- Assist Sam and Noelle
With the amount of people still in the store at 3:45 in the afternoon, I couldn’t do two of the three things, so I sat down on the floor next to Sam and helped her clean for a bit. As we sat there and chatted and laughed, Bill and Amanda walked through the front door with their two children. They walked over into the old men’s corner where Melissa was sitting and waiting for them. The last time I saw Bill and Amanda was when Dave had a Bou Crew reunion a few months into Matt and I dating; they showed up almost as I was leaving and I remember thinking that Amanda looked ready to burst in her pregnancy. Now they came toting a two-year-old and a four-month-old, the spitting image of Amanda’s face and Bill’s long, thin body.
At one point, after wiping off the open tabletops, I sat in the front corner and chatted with them, catching up in the way you would with those people who you miss, but it’s not exactly important if you meet all the time to stay in contact. Melissa reminisced about when they told her they were getting married and asked her to be a bridesmaid; I silently remembered working with Amanda after her first date with Bill. And Bill was the one who told me Paul Newman died during one of my open shifts. Maybe not the brightest memories, but they are fond ones.
They came up to the counter before they left to say goodbye and that they would like to come up more often. I thanked them for coming in and said how nice it was to see them. Being Facebook friends, you’re still privy to seeing their lives unfold, but it’s not the same as the close shifts Amanda and I used to work together.
Steve came up to grab his daughter a vanilla latte and to see me in my Caribou garb one last time (which was very out of dress code—a white collared shirt completely unbuttoned with a Sun Records t-shirt underneath for the world to see). He hugged me and told me to stay in touch via email and he would see me on the other side.
Kim came up as well, giving Sam and me a ton of free tickets to CJ Barrymore’s. “Give some to Noelle, too. I can’t make it back up here when she’s here.”
Katie F and her newlywed husband showed up toward the end of the night as well. I had not seen her in well over a year and a half and it was nice to see her again.
My favorite regular, Josef, and his wife came in around 4:30, extremely excited to see me. “It’s been a while!” Josef said.
“Show him your ring!” his wife exclaimed, and I held out my left hand to show off my engagement ring.
“I was here before! I’ve seen it!” he said. “Man, it’s really empty in here…” The two of them looked around at the empty shelves and everything crossed out on the menu.
“Yeah, we close at eight tonight,” I replied. They stared back at me.
“When do you reopen?!”
And the question I heard all night from regulars: “Are you coming back with Peet’s?”
“It sounds like the training is going to work out for me, so unless it’s horrible, I’ll still be here my one day a week when we reopen!”
Repetition at its finest.
My evening ended up dissolving into deep cleaning the blender area and the sound guard on the blender itself on top of high dusting everything and doing dishes. And that meant every single metal and plastic container imaginable. I put my phone on the rack next to me where Seth was taking stock, put my iTunes on, and jammed out as I did dishes. When they finally slowed after about an hour, I took it upon myself to scrub underneath the sinks.
I should have taken pictures. Everyone who has ever worked at that store knows how disgusting those red tiles and that sink drain gets. Even cleaning it on a weekly basis would do nothing to deter it from becoming positively disgusting. I took Pine Sol and 180F water from the coffee brewers and let it sit on the caked tiles for a few minutes before I scrubbed. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. Apparently after seriously scrubbing the drain, my hand was bleeding. The jagged piece of plastic on the brush I was using cut open two of my fingers. That didn’t stop me from wiping up and going at the tiles and drain with a bit of bleach.
“Okay, that’s the best I can do,” I announced to Seth as I stood up and dried my hands off on my pants. My hand was not bleeding anymore. Seth took one look at the area and replied with:
“I think that’s more optimistic than we could have hoped for.”
I went back out to the dining room area to continue on with my high dusting of all the wood beams when my brother and sister-in-law walked in the back door. They were coming back from her cabin up north and knew I was working, so they stopped in for one last time. “Should I get something?” my brother asked.
“Depends on what you want. There’s not much,” I said. He opted for nothing.
And then it was time for a dinner break. By this point, Marcus, Noelle, and Bayleigh had arrived and Seth came back from Little Caesar’s with four pizzas. We alternated dinner shifts, making sure two people were out front to help the straggling customers who wondered why we had very little product left. It turned into a party in the back room, Alex, Alex, Sam, and I laughing as I took pictures and everyone stuffed their faces with greasy pizza. Seth and Bayleigh joined later, and I caught Marcus at one point making a pizza sandwich to eat.
It turned into a free-for-all when Seth said all the milk would be spoiled and we were welcome to it. Marcus and I opened the skim milk fridge where most of it was left. “Oh my god! How many of these do you think I should take?! Five?!” Marcus asked me, way too giddy over free milk.
“Five?! I want one two percent gallon and a half and half!” I replied. We both laughed.
“Don’t judge me!” he shot back, handing me my desired milks.
By 7:30, I was out of things to do and Seth had dismissed me, though it still took me until eight o’clock to leave the store completely.
In the end, it was like any other shift where I was the third or fourth person on—getting stuck with the less necessary but still necessary tasks to complete. Scrubbing under the sink destroyed my left hand as well as my nails, but it was very therapeutic. Cleaning at the coffee shop always made me feel better because it was change you could visibly see. “I always wanted to scrub under there. Every single shift,” I said when I was done.
“I can tell you I’ve felt the same way,” Seth said.
I drove away from the building listening to two Tegan and Sara songs on loop: “I’m Not Your Hero” and “Call It Off.” The melancholy feel of the songs just seemed fitting. I drove to Matt’s and sat with him and Drew for a few minutes before heading home to unpack all the stuff I brought with me, pack my lunch for work, and sit on the couch and watch the (rather boring) Emmys. I thought nothing of never returning to a Caribou Coffee for a shift.
Apparently my subconscious had other plans. I did not sleep that evening. And when I did sleep, it was only for an hour or so before I woke up again and looked at the clock, wondering if I would sleep at all or if this week was going to start on the wrong foot. My alarm went off at seven that morning and I wondered how I would make it through the day. And clients getting snippy did nothing to help that feeling.
It’s hard to explain to people how much that shop means to me. You think a place cannot have a profound impact on someone’s life; if it weren’t for that coffee shop, I do not know where I would be at this point in my life.
I started when life was simple. A soon-to-be senior in high school with pointless boy drama and friends that fell away from me, friends I had known for my entire life. That was the extent of my worries. I found a manager who treated me like a family member and bosses who didn’t mind giving me pointers and crafting me into a killer barista. People I loved came and went and new workers came in who became a new coffee family. Lifelong bonds have been forged and lives have been changed—all because of a coffee shop. Regimes changed hands, people were promoted, passive aggressive fights broke out, and everything changed hands again. It was a vicious cycle that either made you stronger or wore you down and made you miserable until you left; I watched it happen both ways.
“I want to officially thank you for your years of service to Caribou Coffee,” Seth told me last night as I handed over my employee card and my key to the store (my keychain already feels strange without its heavy weight).
“Thanks,” I replied, smiling. “Six and a half years here and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Even the parts I hated.”
“You know, when you can look back on something and look on it with fondness like that, it really means something,” he said. I almost started crying.
It will be back on November 4th as a coffee shop.
But it won’t be the same.