Me & Gary

Me & Gary

Sunday, February 23, 2014. The morning of the Gold Medal Men’s Olympic Hockey game of Sweden versus Canada. At puck drop–7am EST–I found myself standing behind a warm espresso machine, arm on top of the stainless steel with my head on top of that, staring out at an empty dining room that was Peet’s Coffee & Tea.

7:13am, my phone buzzes in my pocket. “So I’m in Amsterdam, sitting at a cafe at the airport ready to watch the Canada/Sweden game…” An iMessage from my brother from his iPad. Mostly about hockey, but ending with “Enjoy your last shift at Caribou!!!” I smiled. I texted back and said I wished I was at home, sitting on the couch, watching the game.

As I’ve said many times to people who have asked, the last shift is sadder today than it was yesterday (the day of the shift). Yesterday, I was too tired to care. Today, the fact has sunk in a little more. Maybe John Mellencamp can sum it up best from the song that happens to be playing in my ears right now: “Yeah, we had some good times. Reckless at heart but never, never unkind. In a perfect world, we’d have done just fine.

So am I positively crazy now to be feeling this way?

How many times, how many different ways can I say that the coffee shop was my life for seven years? I would love to spend the rest of my life working in the industry, but I know that’s not practical for the path I’ve taken in life. Maybe one day (as I tell anyone who asks) I’ll become a best-selling author so I can own my own coffee shop and have it be part of my life once more.

Ben & Kim & Me, cracking up

Ben & Kim & Me, cracking up

I mean…just look at the pictures in this post. There’s a deep-seated love in these pictures, between these people. Seven years of dealing with these people, seven years of them watching me grow up, becoming friends, surrogate parents, whatever you want to call our relationship. When Ben and Kim sat down with my parents in their house after asking me to house sit for them one summer, I remember Kim saying, “We know your daughter, but we don’t know her. It’s a weird feeling. And we love her.”

It’s one of the strangest kind of relationships out there. It’s what’s kept me sane and happy since senior year of high school.

How did the shift go?

Well, it was one of the more relaxing shifts I have worked. A decent stream of customers from time to time kept me busy on bar making drinks. Working with Evan for the first time in what feels like years (but in actuality was only two months) was a perfect callback to our Saturday mornings together when I was the shift supervisor and he was the team member. Back when we were Caribou Coffee.

Not many showed up to see me outside of those who I thought would. Mostly old regular customers I asked beforehand to come in. Coworkers, present and past, did not show up. Some did not feel well, others lost track of time, and those who may have shown up live too far away (California, Kansas).

Gary was the first regular, and I knew he would show up for me. Our history goes way back. He has always been my favorite customer. He stayed for maybe ten minutes (and told me that the game was 1-0, but not who was up) and hugged me countless times. An end of an era indeed.

Steve & Me

Steve & Me

Mark was the surprising one. “Here you go, quitter,” he said, throwing a card at me. I laughed. Often times he gave me random Red Wings memorabilia (playing cards, a car scraper, and the best of them all: a signed Kirk Maltby picture). The card was, honestly, touching, signed with his name and wishing me best of luck.

And then…Ben and Kim. The ones I love. The ones who baked two different kinds of brownies and announced to everyone in the shop that it was my last shift, here, come have a brownie! Ben took countless pictures. He pulled me to the side at one point and asked me all the “grown up” questions about money and future endeavors and wedding plans. They have always felt protective of me, for many, many good reasons.

Steve came in minutes after Ben and Kim and the first thing I said to him was, “Well, the game didn’t go to overtime if you’re here already.” He chuckled, gave me an incredulous look and said, “No…it definitely didn’t go to overtime.” He stood in the circle made up of Ben, Kim, and myself and talked. And ate brownies.Evan and Noelle manned the counter. Out of habit, I continually turned around to check if there were customers. My brother and sister-in-law showed up, Mike saying some sort of smartass comment about poor service, to which I yelled, “Shut up!”

I felt like the shift ended far too quickly. Should I have had a daunting feeling? Remorse? Sadness? As I searched for a hidden card in the back room from Seth, Evan said, “I really expected you to be sadder than this.” I laughed and said something about not really caring at the moment. I was too tired to do anything but the basic functions of a coffee house job.

“Look at us, getting off on being withholding,” Evan & Me

I look at the pictures from my last day. All of them were with Caribou family, Caribou friends, Caribou customers that no longer come to the store because it’s not the same. What I miss, what I crave no longer exists. The part of me that aches is aching for what I can no longer have.

If/when I ever work on my “coffee shop memoir” I have told many about (you readers included), I know I will not include these five months with Peet’s Coffee and Tea. That’s not part of the story, not in the way it should be. It illustrates the dark side of the business, the part that I’ve seen overwhelm others easily. The part that makes you hate the coffee shop life and look for any alternative.

No, I did not hate the shop. But I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind. I could see myself falling into that rabbit hole. It was the last thing I wanted. That part of life was too precious to be marred.

After my first summer working in a coffee shop, I knew the place would never be the same as it was when I started. Things change–not always for the better. I will miss the place, but I know I will not be able to leave so easily. I know I will still stop in and visit.

I always do.