November 2010


Guess what?

I can make a delicious espresso drink to order! If you give me about five minutes and are willing to taste it in front of me and don’t mind if I take another five minutes to make you another one if it isn’t exactly delicious on the first try.

I work in a bookstore with a cafe. As a manager, I’m responsible for scheduling breaks for all of the associates on the clock, including the cafe workers. For the first few weeks, I was fortunately scheduled to work with bookstore associates who could run the cafe while the cafe associates went on break. This lovely scenario came crashing down around me last week when I was the only person with even the remotest of training in this area available to break out the cafe associate .

And when I say remote, I mean REMOTE. Up to that point, I’d spent half an hour in the cafe making two of the easiest drinks on the menu with another manager. Then all of a sudden last week I’m in the cafe making complicated drinks, the ingredients for which I am not even faintly familiar with, much less know where to find. I believe I held my own – I had customers taste their drink and let me know how it was, and no one asked me to make something else, so I’d consider that a success.

But after that half hour, I was absurdly flushed and jumpy. I thought for sure I was going to screw something up and I felt like I’d rushed around the cafe the whole time accomplishing very little. I looked every bit the Embarrassed Barista that I was.

Since then, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the cafe. I’ve made a little bit of everything, done a little up-selling (of delicious baked goods!), and generally feel less worried that what I’m making is going to disgust my customers. I still tend to exit my time behind the counter a little flushed, but I suppose that will subside as well.

Let’s just hope that I don’t get asked to make a Mint Bliss Frappe (or something to that effect) again. I’m fairly certain the recipe isn’t in the binder behind the counter and I actually had to talk a customer out of it the first night I was in the cafe. That was pretty embarrassing. But he seemed to be pleased with his super-duper easy Hot Apple Cider instead!

It’s after 1 am.

I’m writing a post.

And I’m not even remotely tired.

That would be because I am frequently scheduled to close the store in the evenings, a shift that either puts me home at 11:30 or 12:30, depending on the day of the week. Obviously, tonight was one of those 12:30 sort of evenings. I can’t really complain, I’m a manager, and as such, my duties tend to be less menial and more clerical. Don’t get me wrong, I pitch in, and I work  my tail off every second I’m on the clock. But for the most part, I just supervise and make sure the urinal in the boy’s bathroom is scrubbed without actually having to do the scrubbing myself. This is a cause for celebration.

The only problem is, I tend to need eight to ten hours of sleep nightly to perform at peak efficiency. I am currently getting six to seven hours a night. So, I’ve taken up drinking coffee. In copious amounts. I haven’t quite gotten the necessary quantity figured out, because I’m finding that I tend to drink more than I need and am up for two hours or so after I get home. That is LATE. And the only thing that gets accomplished in those hours is soap opera viewing and the occasional episode of America’s Next Top Model. Or Hell’s Kitchen. If I have the stomach for it, maybe Glee.

So basically I might as well be sleeping, but I’m not, and am therefore not benefiting from those extra two hours of sleep that I so desperately need in order to not have to consume so much coffee. Honestly, I don’t remember when this cycle began, but I wish I’d never had that first cup of joe. Worst choice ever.

Oh wait, I’ve definitely made worse choices. Maybe ‘Worst-choice-involving-coffee ever.’ That seems safer, if I’m going to go for the superlative, which apparently I enjoy.

Anyway, the only drawback I’ve found to closing is that it negatively affects my sleep schedule. There has been a positive or two: I have to be a bitch every now and then to make sure everything’s done correctly. I wouldn’t normally consider this to be a good thing, but I’ve needed to learn how to be a bitch for a long time. Necessity is the mother of invention…and bitchiness! But seriously, I’ve grown some balls in this process, and I’m proud of myself.

As for the second benefit, I eat a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner (as a general rule, sometimes I just eat a big lunch and a big dinner…but not usually) which Mom tells me is a much better way to have meals. Also, doing paperwork brings me joy. That is probably the lamest thing I’ve ever said, but heck, we all know I’m lame. No revelations of character there!

Ok. The Closer is finally winding down. Fifteen minutes with a book and I’ll be dead to the world. Unless I overdid it with coffee AND soda tonight… Brilliant!

I’ve done a little career shifting of late (which should surprise no one, really) and have jumped head-first into the retail game. Sure, I was ankle-deep in it at my previous job. But I still sat at a desk the majority of my day. And one could argue that I worked in retail previously as an assistant buyer, but I was ten steps removed from the customer at that point, and I rarely got up from my desk chair for anything but bathroom and lunch breaks.

These days, if I get ten minutes out of nine hours to sit down, I’m shocked. I won’t say ‘lucky’ because I don’t really mind all the activity, and not getting to rest makes the day go by so much more quickly. On the other hand, my feet….. well. They hurt. I’ve got blisters. My toes are tired of being shut up in shoes all the time. I’ve taken to propping my feet up to relieve the aching. And oh, the smell. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m the only one who has to endure it when I get home. The Ex (formerly known as ‘Hubby’) is lucky to be outside of a five-mile radius of my feet after a day of work.

I’ve been working at this bookstore for going on five weeks now. My first two days were sketchy. I was certain Retail and I were going to be deep, loathing enemies. There I was, shelving books, holding back tears. I just knew I was going to be awful at it all. Sure. I loved helping the customers at my previous job. That, besides all the lovely people I worked with, was my favorite part of that job. There, I learned that customer service is easy. Smile. Be as professional as possible. Represent yourself and your employer with grace and poise. Keep a calm, patient demeanor. Do whatever you can to make their experience exceptional. It’s sort of like Super Professional Smiling Liz who answered the phone so pleasantly at the university store. Only, in person.

I stifled the tears for those two days, and then something clicked. I got on the register. I sold some things. I got a kick out of reading the customers and trying to do what I thought would make them happiest. I started to enjoy what I was doing. I took a second look at my preconceived notions of Retail. I relaxed a little and gave Retail the benefit of the doubt.

After a couple of weeks, I was ‘promoted.’ Something I’m doing in this position for the first time is managing others. Again, I was ankle-deep in this before, and I learned a few lessons from having my ankles bitten a little. The nice thing now is, I know the answers. People can feel confident asking for my authoritative advice. It’s nice knowing that my previous work for this company is coming in handy now, because I have a level of confidence I never would have felt anywhere else. That makes the limited managerial responsibilities I have much easier to bear. Almost enjoyable.

Plus, as has been the case before, the folks I work with are just awesome. And pretty amusing. I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in. And if you couldn’t tell, Retail and I get along pretty well these days. Especially when the customer grins back at me when I finish ringing up their purchases. Or when my attempts at small talk actually sound natural. Or when a co-worker gets bright-eyed to find out we’re working the same shift the next day. Those are good moments indeed.

So, Retail, it’s very nice to meet you. Let’s see where this relationship takes us, shall we?