Tag Archives: Coffee

Big crane operator

I hadn’t been on the job for very long, a few months maybe, and yet it was all I could think about, operating the big crane. I knew it was going to be one of those things where I’d have to start at the bottom, making all of the coffee runs, taking shit from all of the old-timers. But still, I asked on the second day, I tried to make it like I wasn’t interested, “So,” I said to one of other guys, “when do you get to work the heavy machinery?” pointing to the crane.


And that guy wasn’t that interested. He stood there smoking his cigarette – you’re technically not supposed to smoke on the job, but it was the seventeenth floor, there weren’t any walls up yet – and he gave me one of those, “I don’t know,” answers.

“Have you ever operated it? Do you know how?”

And he was just like, “I don’t know,” which didn’t answer anything, and made it very clear that he didn’t feel like chatting.

Sure, day two may have been a little soon. I didn’t know anybody. If I’d waited like a week longer, I would’ve gotten a better sense of who I could have asked and who didn’t feel like listening to my questions. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. No matter how I tried to occupy my time, my thoughts kept going back to the crane.

“When can I use the crane? How long does the training take? Do you need a special license?”

And so one day, maybe like two months in, I showed up to work and the foreman called me over in front of everybody else. “So,” he said in a really loud voice, “you’re the guy that really wants to work the big boy, huh?”

I tried to play it cool, but you know like when you’re playing poker, and you have a really good hand, and even though you just want to sit still and not make it obvious, you can’t help but feel your heart speed up, your lungs automatically taking in more air? That’s what this was like. “You mean the crane?” I said, and I heard my own voice, it sounded way too overeager.

A few of the guy behind me started laughing under their breath. I knew they were laughing at me, but I didn’t care. I probably deserved it. Like I said, I was all about the crane, talking to anyone who’d listen. I figured they thought I was a dumb kid, sure, but whatever, because at some level they had to be a little jealous. Because isn’t this how you do it? Isn’t this how you get places in life? You have to make your intentions clear. You’ve got to be persistent. It’s all about attitude and motivation. So go ahead and laugh, I thought to myself. I’m getting called out by the foreman to work the big crane.

“Listen up,” the foreman told me, “usually it’s not only experience, but seniority. Everybody wants to drive the big boy. I get it. And normally I tell them what I tell everyone, that you got to wait your turn, pay your dues. But you. I don’t know, there’s something special about you. I can tell you really want it, that you’ve got a certain something that I can’t really put my finger on. I’ve picked out a lot of top crane operators, and if I’m right about you, I don’t think we can afford to not have you on that crane another day.”

That was exactly what I wanted to hear. But it’s like, you’re hoping to hear something like that, and then when you actually hear it, it’s too much. I stood there, unable to really come up with a response.

“So,” I said, “when do I start? Can I hop in right now? I’m ready.”

“Whoa, whoa, take it easy,” the foreman said. “There’s still the issue of paperwork, of licensing, of dealing with the union heavy machinery representatives, and then there are bunch of classroom sessions that you’re supposed to take before you ever actually get in the crane.”

And I was kind of disappointed. I mean, I thought I was getting this right now.

“But,” he said while I tried not to look bummed out, “I think I have it figured out.”

“You have it figured out?” I repeated.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think I can get you on that crane by this afternoon.”

I couldn’t believe it. This was getting to be too much, the highs and lows, back-to-back, an emotional rollercoaster.

“Just give me a minute, let me go to the office, I’ve got to see if I can make this happen,” he said.

And he did, he went to the office, a little trailer set up to the side, while everyone else got to work around me. Some of the old-timers were still kind of smirking, but I didn’t feel threatened anymore. I was special. The foreman could tell I had potential. Let these losers laugh at me. I could care less. So I just stood there and smirked back.

The foreman came out of his office trailer like five minutes later.

“All right,” he handed me an envelope. “I need you to take this to ground level and meet my contact five blocks from here. The address is written down. When you get there, call this cell phone number and wait.”

This was so cool. I took the envelope and confirmed that I understood my instructions and I was on the service elevator in less than a minute. When I got to the spot, I did exactly like I was told. I made the call, the guy on the other end told me to hold on, and then he hung up. A couple of minutes later, this guy shows up, I guess he knew it was me by my construction vest. He took my envelope and gave me another envelope, he told me to go to a deli three blocks in the opposite direction and ask for Julio.

“Just tell Julio who you are, give him the envelope, and tell him that the big guy sent you.”

“And that’s it?” I asked. “I’ll be good to go?”

“You’ll be all set,” he confirmed.

I went to the deli and tried to get the guy behind the counter’s attention, “I’m here to see Julio?” I asked. But there were three people ahead of me getting egg sandwiches and coffees, and he made me wait in line.

Finally it was my turn. “Julio? I’m here for Julio?” I asked.

“Yeah?” he said.

“You’re Julio?”

“Yeah. What do you want?”

“I’m Rob. The big guy sent me.” And I handed him the envelope.

He took it from me and told me to wait like five minutes.

And then five minutes later, he handed me a large brown paper bag and two cardboard carrying cases full of coffees.

“What is this?” I asked him. Surely there had to have been a misunderstanding.

“What are you talking about?” Julio said.

“What is all of this stuff?” I asked.

“What do you mean? Six egg sandwiches, two no bacon, eight coffees, I marked them all like you said on the phone, just look, it’s all written on the lids.”

“This is just a food order?” it still hadn’t sunk in.

“What are you talking about?” Julio repeated. “You needed something else?”

“The big guy?” I was desperate now.

“Yeah, Richie, the big guy, egg sandwiches and coffee. You all right kid?”

And I’d been doing coffee runs since I started, but this deli was so much more out of the way than the deli closest to the construction site. So I had to balance those two coffee trays, the giant bag, I had to walk it like eight blocks back to the site. And when the elevator doors opened up, everyone was standing there, pointing and laughing. The foreman was in the back, he was clearly enjoying himself too, but he probably wanted us all to be getting back to work.

“All right, all right!” he shouted out. “Get back to work everybody!”

And people took their sandwiches and coffees and made jokes, asking me what took so long, and why were the coffees so cold.

Just admit that you still feel it

One time I was in line getting a cup of coffee. These two guys in front of me were having this conversation about how one of them was about to go spend a semester at sea. So there were a lot of questions back and forth, like what kind of stuff are you going to bring, how big is the ship you’re going to be on, questions like that. And then they got their coffees and left.

And then it was my turn to order coffee, and as I stood there and waited for the barista to make my drink, this guy to my back tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know, I spent some time at sea.”

Usually I’d at least respond, maybe with a, “Really?” or some sort of acknowledgment. But this stuff always happens to me. People start talking to me about random stuff while I’m waiting on line. And I could see where this was going. He’d get into a crazy story about life on the high seas, I’d probably have a lot of questions, I’d wind up staying and talking to this guy a lot longer than I ever really wanted to.

So I looked at him and said, “Yeah man, well I lived on a boat for five years. A really small boat. It was just me and the ocean. Just me and this really tiny boat.”

And he looked at me and said, “OK man, way to make everything about you.”

I said, “Excuse me?”

“Yeah man, I hate it when people do that. When I start to tell a story, and someone else just has to butt in with their own story. You could have at least heard me out first.”

And now I was already putting milk into my coffee. I should have been gone, that should have been it. But here I was, still standing here. Obviously my attempt to pivot out of the conversation hadn’t worked out. But why should it have? I could have started talking about basketball. That would have been a nice pivot, something that didn’t have anything to do with the sea. But now I wasn’t even talking to this guy about the ocean or boats. I was getting scolded for poor conversation.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I just get really emotional when people start talking about the sea.”

“I hear you, brother.”

Jesus Christ I could not shake this guy. Now he was nodding in sympathy, patting me on the back, and what was with all of that brother business? I’m not this guy’s brother. I’ve never been on a boat for more than two hours at a time.

“Did you feel it?” he asked.

“Did I feel what?”

“When you were alone out there, did you feel it call out to you?”

“I don’t get it.”

“Sure you do. The ocean. The eternal sea. The abyss.”

“Listen, I think you have the wrong idea.”

“I don’t. Not many people know what we’ve been through, you and I. I know you felt it.”

This had to have been the worst conversation pivot in the history of small-talk. I felt like anything I threw at this guy, he caught it, turned it into something even weirder to say right back to me.

I tried to pivot toward the truth, “OK, look, I’ve never been out to sea. I just said that before. I’m really sorry. I didn’t know how to react when you told me you spent time at sea, and so I just made something up. I don’t know why I did it. It obviously wasn’t cool of me to lead you on like that. But I really have to go, OK? I just came in for a cup of coffee, and now I have to leave. So goodbye.”

And I started toward the door, but he just followed me. I didn’t want to exit now. I didn’t want him to find out what direction I was walking in, or where I lived. So I stopped.

He got uncomfortably close and said, “Now I know you still feel it.”

I took another step. He took the same step.

“Come on man,” I said, “I really have to go.”

“So go.”

“Are you going to leave me alone?”

“Just admit that you felt it.”


“The sea. Tell me that you still feel it.”

“OK, fine, I still feel it.”

He just smiled.

And then I opened the door and started walking. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was following me maybe. That psycho. So I walked way out of the way, and then I got on the subway and took it two stops toward the city. And then I got out and took a cab back to my house.

Free coffee day at Dunkin Donuts

I went to Dunkin Donuts, I went to the counter and told the guy, “Hey man, I missed free coffee day,” free coffee day was like a month ago, “I missed it, but I’m here, and I’m really sorry I’m so late. I don’t know what happened, it’s like, I was all about the free coffee, I kept making sure to remember to come in for the free coffee, and I don’t know what happened, I just totally forgot about it,” the guy behind the counter had a nametag that said “Jeff.” I said, “Hey, Jeff, do you think I could still get one of those free coffees? Please?” And I did one of those apologetic smiles, like come on, please?


And Jeff was like, “Come on, that was two weeks ago.”

“I know. I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t even bother asking, I know this is like super embarrassing. And it’s not even about not paying for the coffee. It’s just, I really … I was really looking forward to free coffee day. And it’s like, I’m in here all the time.”

“Well,” Jeff said, “Not all the time. Because free coffee day was two weeks ago. So you haven’t been here in two weeks.”

“OK, well these past two weeks have been kind of crazy …”

“You see that guy over in the corner?” I turned around and saw this old guy with a big bushy moustache reading a gigantic newspaper. He had the smallest cup of coffee I’ve ever seen placed at his table, like a paper cup, like I didn’t even know Dunkin had those tiny paper cups. “Hey Joe!” Jeff called out.

“What’s up?” the old man looked toward us.

“That’s Joe,” Jeff said to me. “He’s here every day, a regular.”

I didn’t know what point Jeff was trying to make here. “Listen Jeff,” I said, “I’m not trying to make this a thing about being like the number one customer. I come in here enough.”

“Do you?” Jeff said.

“Jeff, what did you call my name for?” Joe called over from his table in the corner.

I waited for Jeff to answer, but he didn’t break eye contact with me. So after an awkward half second, I said, “I think I come in enough.” Jeff didn’t look convinced, so I added, “And when I do come in, I always buy an extra large coffee with a turbo shot, and then I always get one or two donuts. That’s like six bucks. How much does Joe spend on that tiny coffee? And for real,” and I lowered my voice a little so Joe wouldn’t hear me, “how long does he sit there every day, just reading the paper? Is that the kind of customer you’re trying to please?”

Jeff looked at me, but didn’t say anything back. Maybe I was getting through to him.

“Hey Joe,” I called out this time.

The old man turned around and said, “Who are you?”

I said, “Were you here for free coffee day two weeks ago?”

“Of course I was here for free coffee day,” Joe replied, folding his huge newspaper down the front. “I always just get a small coffee,” he said. “But on free coffee day they give you a medium. It was too much coffee, so I didn’t want it to go to waste. I said to Jeff, I said, Jeff, just give me a small. But Jeff wouldn’t, he said a small was gonna cost me. But a medium was free. Go figure. So I took the medium. And it was just really … just really too much coffee. Who drinks that much coffee?”

I thought Joe’s testimony basically made my argument right there, but Jeff didn’t look pleased. Maybe I shouldn’t have had Joe undermine the company line. Maybe I should have just begged.

“Come on,” I tried again. “Please?”

But Jeff didn’t budge. I wanted to storm out, but I also really wanted some coffee, so I got my extra large with a turbo shot, my two donuts. After he gave me my drink, I thought he was maybe going to offer the next person in line a free coffee to spite me. But no, it was just, “Can I help you?”

On my way out the door, Joe was staring me down. He saw my extra large coffee and said, “Holy smokes, you kids drink way too much coffee. You know, before 1980, 1985, you never saw coffee cups that big. Never. And let me tell you …”

Usually I’m a nice guy with old people. Like, if they want to talk my ear off, I’ll give them two or three minutes of smiles and eye contact. But I was pissed off at not getting any free coffee, and so I just got out, I just gave Joe a polite nod, and I left.

Forced conversation while waiting in line

I was in line at a Starbucks when this guy to my back started chatting me up about raw sugar. “It’s so much better than the processed white stuff,” was his gist, and I just kind of nodded, making sure to smile so as to maintain a base level of a friendly enough disposition, but without responding to anything more than, “Oh yeah?” and, “huh.”


It’s like, you find yourself in a situation like that, where you’re in line, where you’re dealing with an unknown variable introduced into your fixed amount of time spent waiting, there aren’t too many options. Of course, you could just leave, just make an abrupt exit. That would certainly be the easiest way of not having to address that variable.

But then you wouldn’t have your coffee, and that’s why you’re standing in line in the first place. And so, bound to the fact that there’s nothing that you can really do for the foreseeable future, you’ve either got to engage this unknown, or ignore it. There’s potential for danger in either situation.

Some people don’t like being ignored. If someone says something to you, and you don’t respond back, you’re sending your own message, not interested, back off. Assuming you’re not dealing with a total psycho, at the very minimum, the rest of that wait is going to be awkward, regardless of how cool you try to play things off.

But if you decide to engage, how far should you insert yourself into the conversation? My tactic is always to do what I did above, to just kind of not commit to anything. “Yes, I hear you. I acknowledge that you are saying something to me,” is the underlying message of anything coming out of my mouth. And even this doesn’t always work, depending on how aggressive the other person is in pushing his or her point of view.

In the case of processed vs. raw sugars, I could just tell that this guy had an agenda. And the fact that he wasn’t afraid to start hurling his opinions on a random stranger in line at a coffee shop made me assume that he’d have no problem exploring the boundaries of just how far this interaction could go.

But my very passive contributions seemed to have worked, and after a while this guy started bothering someone else. “Hey man, can you believe how much post-consumer waste just winds up choking our local ecosystems?”

When he got to the barista, I could hear him making sure to specify his preference in raw sugar over the white stuff. “I don’t want that toxic crap anywhere near my latte.” And the barista was like, “Sir, unless you want a flavored syrup, all of the sweeteners are at the counter behind you, right next to the milk and napkins.”

And I’d been listening to this guy for a lot longer than I wanted to. Again, I didn’t have a choice in the matter, not if I wanted my coffee. Still, a big part of me wanted to be like, “All right man, we get it, you don’t like processed sugars. But what the hell dude? You’ve never been to a Starbucks before? You don’t know about the sugar packets on the counter to the back? Come on man, cut the act, all right? Make your own hippie coffee at home, because this place is about as industrialized as a cup of coffee gets.”

But of course I didn’t say that, because that would have only extended my forced coexistence with this bozo for a potentially really long amount of time. And I didn’t want that. I wanted my coffee. And then I wanted out.

Don’t mess with Greg’s coffee

I was with my friend Greg last week, waiting on line at a Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. “And can you leave like an inch or two of space for milk? Please? Thank you,” Greg asked the barista. And I saw it, I saw how everything went down, the polite request, it was almost like he was afraid to ask, like he was really trying to communicate how he didn’t want to be a pain, if he could just get a little less coffee. And then the please and thank you, all very, very timid.


“Here you go Craig,” the barista handed him the cup of coffee. I could tell by Greg’s face that something wasn’t right, and seeing as how there was only one aspect of that coffee that could’ve gotten him upset, I guessed that just by holding the cup, that he could feel the weight, he could tell that something wasn’t right.

My initial instinct told me that the cup was probably filled too high. Maybe some of the hot liquid leaked out of the top hole on the cover, a dead giveaway that the container had reached maximum capacity. But then again, it could have been almost comically under-filled. Maybe instead of one or two inches of space, there were four or five.

I think back to my customer service days. I hate to admit it, because it’s something that I can only really describe as a serious character defect, but a lot of my interactions with customers and guests were directly influenced by the fickle nature of my mood. Sometimes I wouldn’t feel like going to work and waiting tables. And I don’t know what it is, because it’s not something that I want to have happen, but every once in a while, someone would ask me a perfectly reasonable request, like, “Can I get some extra ketchup, please?” and my internal reaction would be this automatic, “Go fuck yourself. I hate you.”

And of course, I don’t want to be that guy. That’s just not a nice way to live. And if you want to be employed as a waiter or a barista or whatever, you can’t be that guy. You’ll get fired. But on an especially dark day if I just couldn’t get my better nature to wrest control of my actions, I had a choice, I could just not get them any extra ketchup. I could say, “Sure, coming right up,” and then disappear for a while. Or I could take a really long time, watch for that customer to flag down someone else, and then right as he’s in the middle of asking that person, “Hey, could I get some extra ketchup, please?” I could show up in mid-sentence, “Here you go, sir,” make it look like he’s the one being really annoying.

This is all terrible, awful behavior, and I hope that nobody thinks that I’m condoning it or trying to make it OK. And it’s not like that’s something that I did, certainly not often. But yeah, I’d be lying if these thoughts weren’t a part of my underlying consciousness, that there’s something in me, and I’m sure in a lot of service industry workers, that just don’t want to, they don’t want to do anything, even if it’s a perfectly good-natured request, it’s so easy to slide into this almost comfortable pit of bitter entitlement.

Anyway, Greg took his coffee over to that little table by the side where you put your milk and sugar in and, it was just as I’d initially suspected. That coffee cup was filled all the way to the top. By the time Greg managed to get the lid off, there was coffee splashing down everywhere. He couldn’t even lift it up without spilling even more, and the cardboard container was already stained, becoming visibly warped by having so much hot liquid poured over the outside of the cup’s lip.

His face said that he was pissed, but I didn’t expect what happened next. I thought, maybe he’d try to take a big sip, which he did, but it was too hot to really get down a good gulp. And there was still the mess to deal with. I thought maybe he’d shake his head back and forth a little bit, try to make eye contact with the barista, give him a really nasty look. Of course the barista wouldn’t be looking. You don’t want to engage too much. The key to being passive aggressive is to focus on the passivity. That way if you get called out, if some guy that you screwed over confronts you, you’re not giving him anything like eye contact or any other sort of ammunition to further provoke a fight.

And I said it already too, that Greg’s a pretty cool guy, very polite, hardly confrontational. But that same thing that’s in me as a waiter, that same voice telling me to tell random people “fuck you” for asking for ketchup, it had to have been in Greg too. And sometimes you just can’t hold it back. Sometimes you know you shouldn’t do something, but you do it anyway.

So Greg went right up to the counter and screamed, “Hey!” and the barista looked up, and Greg splashed the whole cup of coffee right on him. And I’ve got to say, it was a perfect shot. Obviously you can’t go for the face, because that’s a hot cup of coffee, and you’re looking at burns, at legal action. No, it was right in the middle of this guy’s thick, green apron, right where you just knew there were enough layers of apron and black t-shirt and undershirt to absorb a lot of that heat. But it was a big cup, a venti, and so now this guy was soaked. And maybe it wouldn’t scald him, but there was probably a burning sensation, or at the very least, a really uncomfortable feeling of being very hot and wet.

And we just walked out. Nobody said anything, no manager came running after us. Because what were they going to do about it? What would I have done if I were in that barista’s position? I have no idea. It felt really good at the time, to have been there, to have witnessed what surely felt like such a release, just taking that “fuck you” and returning it right to sender, but without actually having to have done anything, no guilt afterward, no regret.

Because there would have been regret, if that were me anyway. Even now, a week later, I can’t help but thinking, what if that guy really did just make a mistake? What if he was really busy, and meant to leave that extra inch, but for whatever reason, he forgot? What if he’s just so conditioned to filling those cups all the way up, that it’s not even a conscious decision anymore, that it’s more muscle memory than anything else? And yeah, he made a mistake, but it’s a mistake. And now he’s got to, what, ask the manager for a new apron? For a new black t-shirt? What if they didn’t have any available? Would he have to go home, leave his coworkers short-staffed? “And why did he splash you? What did you do to piss him off?” the manager might ask, suspiciously.

No, I can’t, I couldn’t, it would have been too much. And I was expecting something out of Greg, an apology, maybe just the slightest expression of remorse, but nothing. I’ve seen him like once or twice since, and it’s like it never happened. And I don’t know, man, there’s something of that in me, definitely, and I’m pretty sure Greg has a little bit of it too. What else is inside? Aren’t you just a little bit sorry? What if he got him in the face? In the eyes?