At the beginning of last summer, I found myself with a job at Avant-Card, a specialty card shop on Bancroft Way that sits next to a flower stand. I would come into work in a cute outfit I’d planned the night before, read Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” behind the counter and play Anderson .Paak in the store. It was like my life was turning into a meme-y rom-com, and honestly, I was pretty okay with it.
I ignored all of the owner’s peculiarities — how she boasted about not having a single computer in the store, the constantly breaking cash register from the ‘80s that was the only record of sales and her strictly off-limits gallon bag of salt and vinegar chips that she kept next to the bathroom keys. I dismissed the string of Yelp reviews that warned of the short-tempered woman who ran the place. I was just excited for my first paying job that wasn’t babysitting — even if I was being paid in crunched-up dollar bills at the end of the week.
But two weeks into the job, I got fired. I asked for a weekend off, which led to a very dramatic meeting with the owner of the store, which led to tears and my termination. With $200, I walked down Bancroft Way, brainstorming how the hell I’d get another job.
The following weeks would be filled with frantic Handshake applications, various poorly worded resumes and online interviews all done in a valiant quest for minimum wage.
I had told a girl I was subletting with that I was on the hunt for a job, and she said she would keep an eye out for me. One morning she sent me a picture of a hiring fair at the Peet’s Coffee on Shattuck Avenue. I dreaded the idea of working food service, but at 3 p.m., I found myself at the hiring fair — I didn’t really have much to lose except for a hot afternoon scrolling through Facebook for memes and maybe catching an RSF spin class.
When I got there, I sat down with some HR person and answered a few generic questions — had I ever worked food service, three words to describe myself, my availability, etc., etc. Two days later, I got a call from the manager telling me I had gotten the job. With no other job prospects in sights, I went to Peet’s the next day and got myself a brown apron.
Although I wasn’t looking forward to making impossibly complex lattes for white girls and cleaning the bathrooms, I was kind of excited to embark on this journey toward becoming a coffee snob — another pretentious thing to add to my repertoire of pretentious interests.
Even though my days would go late into the night or start at some heinously early hour, I grew a fondness for that chain coffee store on Kittredge Street and Shattuck Ave. I spent hours affirming my suspicions that Berkeley had a wild elderly population while brewing more gallons of dark roast than I’ll ever want to know.
I also learned about how hard and thankless the service industry is while remaking lattes at 9 p.m. Cleaning bathrooms covered in piss and sweeping up razor blades from behind the toilet is now something I believe everyone should get to do at least once in their lives.
What was the most unexpected was how quickly I became friends with the people I was working with. I suddenly knew about this barista’s Japanese doge and my shift lead’s art-school-fueled journey to being in a country band. I looked forward to working with this guy who was also part Japanese because we would talk about boys and Tinder adventures and our dreams of one day finding a sugar daddy — but settling for a rigorous academic career and a subpar barista job instead.
Even though I was enjoying my latte-filled days, I couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t enough. Going to Berkeley, there is this expectation that every activity must be some prestigious internship or career-building stepping stone. When I told people that my summer was just foamed milk and summer classes, it was met with a sort of pitying nod and an “Oh, and what else?”
The reality was that I loved the simplicity of the job. I would clock in, make some lattes, sweep some floors, crack a few jokes and leave. It wasn’t like being in school which required thankless late nights and constant pressure. When I was done with work, I was done and could go home and resume my life. I got the satisfaction of completing my job everyday without feeling any lingering pressure or “what ifs” after I clocked out.
Shifting back into the school year comes with a lot of transitions. I gave in after my two weeks at Peet’s, because it just isn’t possible to be in classes and cover the six-hour night shifts of a coffee shop job. Nevertheless, working at Peet’s showed me what it was like to enjoy working. It showed me that grades aren’t the be-all and end-all of a career and that there are certain job paths that you can’t plan for. Even though I can’t make cappuccinos for the rest of my life, this experience helped me get closer to what I may want to do someday. It makes this future life after college and the journey to get a degree a little less scary and a lot more exciting.