For five years, I’ve owned a drive-through coffee stand just south of Seattle. In the Seattle area, there are drive through expresso stands off almost every exit of major highways and on most large streets. I put myself through college sixteen years ago, by working as a barista. After being laid off from about five high-paying corporate jobs, I cashed out my 401k and bought this place. The most popular drink is an iced white mocha. We only have two regular two customers who order drip coffee. Most of our customers are great people but some are very, very strange. I always say people are ten times more wonderful — and ten times more strange — than you’d expect.
Once, I had an upper middle class woman ask me if I could make a latte from her pumped breast milk because her husband was curious to taste it. I politely told her I couldn’t put outside liquids into my machines, but in my head, I was thinking, “How in the WORLD do you think this is an okay thing to ask a stranger?” The thought of steaming a person’s bodily fluids still makes me a little ill.
I had another woman bring in a glass bottle of goat milk and demand that I make her latte using it. She threw a fit when I said no, and I eventually had to call the cops because she wouldn’t leave and kept screaming about how we were “forcing” her to drink cow’s milk.
People drive through high all the time on all sorts of drugs. The neighborhood has been gentrifying for the past fifteen years, so there are bougie people who’ve bought houses and are now stuck here. There’s a woman who drives through smoking pot, wearing pajamas, in a Mercedes every morning.
Meth is a fairly large problem here. You know who’s using because they’ll order an iced white chocolate mocha extra extra sweet with half and half and extra whipped cream, because meth users crave cold sugary drinks. If someone orders one of those, I know not to be surprised if they return with sores on their face in a few weeks (if they don’t already have them).
Since we’re a drive-through, I’m the only person who works during my shift. So it’s just me and the customer. When people know that no one else can hear them, they decide it’s the perfect time for an anything goes confessional. People ask me what I think about skin conditions, menstrual cramps, and even their bowel movements. People really ask a lot about poop. They’ll say, “I’m really constipated. What should I order to get things moving along?” One woman asked me what she should do about the fact that her teenage daughter, who was sitting in the passenger seat, had chlamydia. I try to be helpful, but I also tell them to see a doctor.
We had a guy who wanted us to steam his drink to 193.5 degrees, which isn’t possible without scientific equipment. Other people want a quarter of a packet of sweetner. We can tell them we’ll do it, and they feel special. They don’t really know that their latte is really 195 degrees or that I really put in closer to one-third packet.
At trendy coffee places in downtown Seattle, there are dude baristas, but around here, all the coffee stands are owned and staffed by women. There are definitely older men who come by to flirt with my young employees in the morning. But most of our customers are our friends. They remember our birthdays, they give us gifts at Christmas. One of our customers is a bail bondsman and he gave us a 19-inch stun baton to keep at the stand.
Sometimes I do miss my old jobs, but then I think about sitting in a cubicle and it makes me go nuts.
As told to Hillary Reinsberg.
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