Meeting L.A. at the Register

A lady came into Starbucks today for an encounter I wouldn’t forget. She asked for the cheapest tea that I could give her. I told her that our cheapest tea was priced at $1.75. It was more than she could afford.

She then smiled, and asked for just a cup of water, which sure enough, our Starbucks had recently started pricing at $0.25 cents.

She then handed me two dimes and a handful of pennies, after which she said something I didn’t expect.

“It’s because I need a boyfriend to support me, ya know,”

“I hear you,” I replied instinctively, meeting her smile with my own and then taking her change into the register. I was used to hearing customers’ side-remarks by then and steering the interaction to its close to serve the next person in line.

That’s when the lady said something that’d strike me, when she looked at me and asked:

“Will you be my boyfriend?”

I chuckled, and looked at her then. She was probably in her mid to late forties, and had an orangeish-red complexion. Her hair was thin and dyed, and she had freckles around a small, pointy nose. I guess she must have been of mixed heritage, perhaps somewhere in between white and Native American.

Reflecting about it now, I’m sure she had broken quite a few hearts before we met at Starbucks. She had a charm to her and was obviously aware of it. But we were from two different lifetimes, and being at work, I could only receive her question as a playful one. So I smiled again and said:

“Maybe, but not sure!”

I felt a tinge of self-awareness as I said this, immediately wanting to see the next customer before I started blushing. But the then lady stood there for another moment and lingered on her playful question:

“Maybe then, right?”

Once again, I smiled, and replied that her water would be on the side.

The whole thing lasted just a minute or so, but I would think about it again later in the afternoon.

With just twenty-five cents to spare, the lady was obviously down on her luck at the time, yet her playful question brought something else to mind.

In this world, which is so dominated by the cha-ching noise in the background, we don’t actually need terribly much money to survive; what we need is each other. It might sound sappy and cliche, but as human beings, all we really need to get by is… other human beings who get us!

At the end of the day, the register is just a machine. Money is the fuel the machine runs on. But when the running is done and all that’s left is our humanity, what counts is what we do for each other. In turn, I hope I made a good impression on that customer today, but to be sure, next time her tea is on me.

L.A.’s Workers Are a Critical Mass

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One month into steady work at Starbucks, and it turns out to be another page for the stories. I’ve met some great people, and in doing so have learned about a whole world’s worth of even more characters in the city of Los Angeles. Just what these characters are going to teach me will take more time to tell, but for now I know that they’ll be stories which will move others as they’ve moved me: stories of an absolutely integral part of L.A., whose contribution to the city’s movement subtly but aptly defy the markings of class which tend to separate so many people here.

Put simply, the people who work some of the toughest jobs in L.A. earn the least bit of money for their time. Yet there’s something about their acceptance of ‘a small part’ here that makes them bigger than their time or earnings. After all, what are millions of small parts combined? They form a ‘critical mass’, who move citygoers one grocery bag and frappuccino at a time.

They connect us to one another, even if only for a few minutes of the day. And so even if only for a moment, our lives come together in the community we so often idealize rather than actively tend to more often that not.

At Starbucks, I’ve got this opportunity to engage with the community. I can either welcome a customer to the store with warmth, or I can greet them passively, depending on how the day is going. In truth, I’m still learning, particularly from the way the more experienced servers alongside me approach the craft. Underneath every smile or quip is a philosophy about the world, and it’s a philosophy rooted in a lifetime of experiences much different from my own, yet similar enough for me to acknowledge.

At the end of the day, only one thing is clear: every human being is scaling a mountain of themselves. Every one of them is climbing through their own fears, and contending with their own doubts about how to get through the world.

Somewhere along the way, we meet each other through this, and at least for yours truly: it makes for a wonderful glimpse at other mountains, where there lie other failures, triumphs, and lessons to learn from as I continue with my own scaling. It’s no small feat to serve alongside this critical component of Los Angeles!