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How I learned to love coffee and get over myself

First read September 24, 2018, at Between Bites, a Chicago-based non-profit connecting communities and supporting charitable causes through food-inspired storytelling. Written and performed at the organization’s Fifth Anniversary event, which highlighted 5-minute long flash stories. 

When I was a freshman in college, I was a little shit. I wanted to trade my former good student, Sunday school volunteer life for something else. College was a chance to be a different person, right? But I overcorrected: I was arrogant, entitled, cocky.

I went from cargo shorts and Target-off-the-rack video game t-shirts, to denim and punny graphic tees from Ed Hardy and Abercrombie. It was 2003 and I thought it was not only appropriate but fucking hilarious to wear a shirt emblazoned with a topographic rendering of Iraq and the words “Baghdad Ass Up.”

Bagh. Dad. Ass. Up.

Oh, I also wore scarves. I lived in Southern California, by the way.

This new me was the absolute worst at Starbucks. Having never been a coffee drinker before college, I made sure to make it my business to show everyone I was “hip.” That’s what college kids did, right? Sip lattes disaffectedly while writing poetry from deep, faux leather armchairs? At least, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. But because I didn’t like bitter flavors — remember, coffee newbie here — I was one of Those People who required a diagram for ordering a caramel macchiato.

Deep breath: 

Quad venti non-fat, no-foam, sugar-free, extra caramel, caramel macchiato. With whip. All these years later, I keep that order in my brain as a reminder of my odious shame. Sugar-free, extra caramel, people! I was a scourge, a ghoul.

One day, I was rushing to class, but I also wanted to look cool and, yes, hip. I was wearing some ridiculous sock scarf and a bright pink shirt that said “don’t hate me because I’m awesome,” and I needed (!) my caramel macchiato to complete my look. I think I had maybe 10 minutes to class, which seemed like enough time to run to the campus Starbucks. I was a snobby asshole to the barista — short, rushed, snide — and literally tapped my toes waiting for my drink. Finally, I got my drink and ran out the door, shuffle-running to the nearby crosswalk before it turned.

And then I tripped on a crack in the street. In a split second, I went from being so cool to so foolish, as my quad venti non-fat, no-foam, sugar-free, extra caramel, caramel macchiato — with whip — rained onto me as I tumbled head-over-heels into the middle of Fullerton Ave. There was a chorus of laughter, and my cheeks were hotter than the coffee running down my back. I was within the sightline of the Starbucks, and my baristo — to whom I had just been so horrid — ran out with a towel and helped me up.

“Are you hurt?” she asked. “Do you need anything?”

“No, no, I’m fine,” I insisted. “My butt and pride are bruised, though.”

She took me inside and helped me get myself in order, during which time, I profusely apologized for my earlier behavior. “I was a dick,” I said. “Yeah, you were, but this is what we call in the biz ‘growth,'” she laughed. I ended up not going to class that day, for obvious reasons, and I got rid of that shirt. (I also stopped wearing sock scarves, which was a wine for everyone.)

The following week, I applied to be a barista at that same Starbucks — I ended up working for the company through college.

And now? I prefer my coffee black and iced.

Photo by Alex Plesovskich on Unsplash

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