Thrilling Tales of Retail Hell, Part 3

I had moved to New York City to go to college and ended up staying there for 9 years. I loved the city and still do. Before I moved to Seattle thogh, I had a brief detour back to the Boston area where I grew up. After several years of freelance writing for roleplaying games, I had decided it was time to move into publishing. I started a company called Ronin Publishing with my brother Jason and an old friend named Neal who was also from my home town. We decided that we really had to all be in the same city, so we got a place in Somerville, MA and I moved up from New York.

Overall, that year was pretty dismal. I had some savings when I moved up but that wasn’t going to last. I needed to find a day job because selling the Whispering Vault RPG was certainly not going to pay a livable salary. After four years slinging coffee in NYC, I desperately wanted to do something else. I signed up with a temp agency and did some horrible office jobs here and there, but kept looking for something steadier. My resume at this point was a bunch of retail jobs and RPG writing credits that meant dick to anyone outside the game industry. I sent out resumes and went on interviews, but could not find anything decent. Then one week I saw in the paper that a new coffee place was opening in Kenmore Square and it needed an assistant manager. I bit the bullet and applied. I thought at least being an assistant manager might not be so bad and Kenmore still had some life in it at that time.

With all my coffee experience, they of course offered me a job. They said, however, that the new cafe wasn’t going to be ready for several months. In the meantime, I could work at their other location and get trained in to their way of doing things. And where was this other location? South Station, the main train station in Boston. And when I say South Station, I mean right in South Station. There’s a series of doors that lead out to the tracks and their coffee stand right in the middle of that wall. Thousands of commuters pass right by it every day as they rush for their trains.

So I had to get up around 5 am to be there for 6 am opening. For the next four hours it was sheer pandemonium. Endless commuters wanting their coffee now, now, now. Things would slack off a bit around 10 and then rev up again around noon. There was no time to get to know my co-workers, no time to interact with customers,no music to listen to, nothing. It was, at best, soul crushing.

Management, of course, can always make a situation worse that was the case here as well. During my first week when I was racing to fill orders, the manager stopped me as I was lifting up a carafe of milk to pour it into a customer’s coffee. She said, “Didn’t anyone tell you about our signature tip?” I had no idea what was she was talking about and feared to find out. “No,” I said, bracing myself. “What’s that?”

“We don’t pick up the carafes and pour. We hold them by the top and tip them to cream the coffee. It’s our signature tip. Customers expect it so you have to do it.”

I can only imagine what my face looked like in that moment. This is the sort of mindless coporate bullshit that makes me seeth. Still, I needed the work, so while I thought that not one customer in a hundred had any fucking idea about their signature tip, I grunted something noncommittal and went about my business.

A few days later I had another run-in with the manager. She had noticed that I had a nose ring. Yes, she was a perceptive one; I had gotten it in France a couple of years before. “Well,” she said, “You can’t wear a nose ring while you’re at work. It’s not sanitary.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “It’s not like I’m dipping my nose into the coffee as I serve it.

“Sorry, it’s our policy.”

I desperately wanted to give her my signature fist at that moment, but I held back. I took out the nose ring and tried to find a way to make working at that hellhole palatable. I kept hoping the Kenmore location would beckon so I could escape, but that didn’t seem to be moving at all. In the end I lasted at that place for less than a month. The money was not worth the aggravation and work was mind-numbing. The manager was not surprised when I quit. She didn’t think I was fitting in too well on their team. No shit, lady.

The funny thing is that now I cannot even remember what the place was called or the manager’s name. Just as well.

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