For the past six years, I have wanted to write a story about the life and times in a coffee shop. Every single fictional attempt at it became so cliché and full of too many actual people from my coffee shop that I stopped every time. Fictionalized stories of real people just did the entire experience no justice at all. Too much reality in what is supposed to be fiction does not work.
If you have ever spent any amount of time people-watching in a coffee house, you will understand. If you have ever worked at a coffee shop, you will understand. Because if you have worked there, you see the connections between people. You watch two retired men who come in every single morning to read the paper for an hour or two sit several tables away from each other for a few months, then sit a table or two closer, then suddenly, out of nowhere, they are talking every morning, bonding over hockey and whatever else they can come up with.
Why have I suddenly decided to write a semi-autobiographical account of my time as a barista? You can blame Kevin Bacon.
We used to have a “Meet the Bou Crew” board above one of the mixing stations that had pictures of each barista, their names, and a handful of answers to silly questions. It was my creation from two years earlier, and had not been updated in some time. Seth, the current manager, changed it around to picture frames with our pictures in them and a single question being asked, our answers written on the glass of the frames. They hung along the wood in front of the bar area so people waiting for their drinks could look. This week’s question was, “What is the funniest movie?”
My answer was Tremors.
In the month those picture frames had been up, I never had anyone even look at mine and mention it to me, despite the fact that my frame is literally right below where we hand you your drink. And it’s a picture of me and Johan Franzen, a player on the Detroit Red Wings, so you would think it would make people look twice (I even labeled it as Franzen).
The first came mid-morning while I was in the middle of making his mocha. “Are you the one who answered Tremors?” he asked from the right side of the espresso machines. I glanced over and grinned. He wasn’t much older than me.
“Yes!” I replied with a laugh. “It’s actually my favorite movie, and I really don’t know why.”
“Kevin Bacon!” he said, and by this point he was laughing along with me. “Is it the second or third one where Burt shoots a hole through the gas tank of the car?” (Answer: It’s the second one.)
“‘I didn’t know! How could I have known?!’” I quoted readily. I gave the man his drink and told him to have a great weekend; he told me to keep being awesome.
The second came maybe a half hour later. “Kevin Bacon is awesome!” he exclaimed. “Did you watch his show that was on Fox this year?”
“I did!” I said. “Aside from the FBI being incompetent, I liked it.”
“Me too. I hated the finale though,” he continued, and we chatted about what we think the second season is going to bring and who we think is alive or dead.
Two short conversations about Kevin Bacon made my early morning shift so much better. And they made me want to share all of these trite little things with the world. Things that don’t seem important in the bigger picture, but make a difference in everyday life.
It’s stories like one middle aged man coming back over to the counter in the middle of a rush, looking at me with a dead serious expression, and asking, “Are you the Johnny Mercer fan?” Quick little snippets that make a big impact. Conversations with coworkers that can range from completely ridiculous to downright serious. Stories you cannot make up, no matter how much you try.
These experiences have become my life. That place has had such a profound impact on my life, who I have become, and where I am going. It seems strange to just let it slip by without showing that to the world. That phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” That applies here, too. Time and time again, I found myself in a fortunate situation thanks to the regular customers at Caribou Coffee.
I can list off the people I’ve worked with in my six years there, but names like Dave, Jessica, Tina, Amanda, Ryan, Stephanie, Bryan, Katie, Christina P, Jaclyn, Jenn, Shannon, Evan, Sam, and Chelsea don’t mean much until you put them to a story. And that’s only naming the people that popped into my head. That’s not even mentioning Jason, who had such a profound impact on my life in his three years of managing the store that I had to steal him and his personality for a novel of mine. My Caribou Coffee store has been an integral part of my life for well over six years that I cannot simply let it go.
But it all comes down to Kevin Bacon.
This is the temporary introduction to my memoir. If you would like to see my blog post explaining more in depth why I’m writing this, you can check it out here.
If you would like to read what will probably be the epilogue/closing chapter, you can read it here: The End of a Coffee Era.