By Kenneth Justice
~ There he was, covered into tattoo’s and piercings, looking so completely different from the business man in the three piece suit at his table; yet they were equals ~
Last week shortly after my return from Costa Rica I got caught in the midst of a blizzard while driving home from work so I stopped into a Starbucks in the afternoon to take a break from the intense driving conditions. The city I was in, Oak Park is a suburb of Detroit and according to the city website, “The diversity in Oak Park’s population makes it a very interesting place to live and visit. The strong Jewish, African-American, Chaldean, and Arab populations provide an eclectic mix of race, culture, and religion in a relatively small land area” and despite the economic woes that the city of Detroit has suffered in recent years; the city of Southfield has been thriving in the midst of it all.
Sitting next to me was a young 20ish looking guy covered in tattoos and looking the part of the typical young person who wants to disconnect from suburban corporate America..…but looks can be deceiving.
For thirty minutes or so as we sat there a steady stream of customers stopped by his table to chat. At least twenty to thirty various men and women all said hello and asked this young man how his weekend had gone;
—-) A Suburban mom with her two little ankle biters in-tow stopped to talk to the young man
—-) A business man in a sharp looking Gucci suit and shiny black shoes stopped to talk to the young man
—-) A Rabbi stopped by his table to chat for a few minutes
Apparently I was sitting next to Mr. Popular at the coffee shop and I eventually turned to him and said as much, “Dude, either you are a barista here or you’re simply some kind of celebrity at this Starbucks” I said
The young man laughed, “right on the first count” he said, “I usually get to work an hour or so before my shift starts because I like to interact with the customers”
After I explained to him that I’m in the middle of a yearlong trip across the United States and other parts of the world in my quest to visit 100 coffee shops, I asked him what the best thing about working at Starbucks is and his answer came before I could finish the question,
“The people” he said, “I don’t even have to think about the question; I love opportunity to interact with customers….with people from all walks of life. A lot of the people I consider to be my close friends are people that I’ve met working here at Starbucks and I’ve made so many different contacts with people who’ve helped me in so many ways; a guy from here fixed my car, another dude helped me find an apartment, and those are just a couple examples”
Clearly, what impressed me the most was that even though on the surface of his appearance you would think he would have nothing in common with the high-flying business crowd, suburban soccer moms, or the priests and rabbis who come in; yet this young man was able to connect with people from so many different walks of life. Starbucks for this guy is the great equalizer; it helps put him on the same footing, or ‘level’ as the poor, the middle class, and the rich.
It’s easy to find things to complain about in Western Culture, especially when it comes to income inequality and the way so many of the wealthy people in the country appear to be entirely disconnected from the people of the lower class. But at least at this particular coffee shop that I stopped in; it was refreshing to see a community of people that were much less concerned with how you look, or what you do for a living; and cared more about the simple things in life such as sharing a few friendly words with the familiar faces at the coffee shop.
I think what impressed me the most was how many of the business men (who clearly came from high-paying jobs) not only interacted with the young barista; but I noticed that a few of them invited him to hang out later in the week….clearly these people were not merely ‘customers’ but also considered each other friends.
Even more notable was that why the young man said he came to work an hour early, “I love interacting with the customers and since it can get pretty busy during my shift I can’t really have any in-depth interaction while I’m behind the coffee bar” and so he comes an hour early; even though he’s not getting paid…..merely to connect with these people from his community.
Maybe I’m overemphasizing the significance of what I observed last week; yet when so many people over the course of the year tell me how much they hate their job, how they feel they are underpaid, underappreciated, and overwhelmed……it is really refreshing to meet a ‘simple’ coffee barista who loves his job.
There are too many places in society where we segregate ourselves as people based on class, income, or race…..and as a Christian I often get discouraged by the simple reality; Sunday morning is often the most segregated hour of the United States.
So I’m thankful for that brief window in time where I was able to observe people in a community who are actively working towards breaking down the walls that separate us.
For now, I think it’s time for my morning coffee,
If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a national and worldwide tour of 100 coffee houses, meeting with readers, bloggers, and everyone else in-between….. go to the Homepage on my website for more info. In March I’ll be in Atlanta, Chicago, and Pittsburgh
Categories: Culture & Society