There’s a very noticeable lack of energy after I clock in. I’m dragging ass, and no one is speaking too loudly when I make my way to the kitchen. I set out the pots and brew the first round of coffee for the day. Our overnight houseman comes bustling into the kitchen then, a squirrely woman who always seems a little distracted by something in the air no one else can see.
“Oh, you’re already here?” she asks me, looking mildly confused.
“There’s people at the counter. I didn’t think you was already clocked in.”
“Well we’re not open yet, but I’ll go check on them.”
There are three people in front of the register when I walk out. Two are men who we’ve poured early coffees for the past two days, and now it seems as though they’ve assumed our favor is the new standard operating procedure. When they ask for coffee, the request is made without the candy coating that was used when they first begged us to bend the rules. The assumption is that we’ve thoroughly submitted to their will.
“The coffee’s brewing at the moment, guys, so it’ll be a few minutes…”
“Why will it be a few minutes? Can’t you pour it from the machine?”
I lie to the guy and tell him no, it’s a sealed process, and he seems to buy it despite how outlandish it sounds coming out of me. They pay and take a table while I continue to open. Lee runs in back to grab the pastries.
The third guest is a woman engaged in a full yoga session right beside our bar. She’s in a position I like to call the Scorpion Monkey even though I know that’s not the actual name. Her right leg is curled so tightly over her back she’s a breath away from stomping on the top of her head. She’s middle-aged, not bad-looking but not the type of person I typically check out. For whatever reason, though, our eyes meet, and without skipping a beat she asks for a white chocolate mocha. Grande.
She lowers her right leg, and now arcs the left into what I think of as the stinger position.
Lee comes out with a cart, lugging the pastries, pots, and the first two coffee orders. I get to work on the mocha, foaming the milk for a moment just so it won’t screech so horribly for the five million minutes it takes to scald. More guests trickle in, though none of the lights are on.
“Oh, you guys are open already?” one man asks.
I finish the mocha while Lee opens the register, and ring the woman up. “Oh!” she puts her hand to her mouth. “Is this misto?”
“…no ma’am. It’s a white chocolate mocha.”
“Oh, I wanted it misto! I’m sorry!”
A line begins to form. We don’t officially open for an hour.
I make the misto drink.
At first I think the lady is stretching for a run, but after a second I realize she’s seething. Like, in anger. Shoulders hunched, fingertips digging into the countertop. I thought only Yosemite Sam actually got that mad.
“Yes, ma’am, that’ll be $1.87…”
“COFFEE?” she demands, making it clear she’s not paying until it’s in her hands.
“Yes ma’am, the coffee’s on it’s way.” And right on cue, the other barista hands the woman her drink.
She slams her money down, doesn’t wait for her receipt. A half hour later she’s back down, smiling and laughing with friends. She orders a muffin, and when I run it to her she falls over herself thanking me.
And people get onto me for smoking cigarettes.
“I’ll just be at this table, I don’t need the number.”
“No, ma’am, I’m probably not going to be delivering your food…”
She scoffs. “I’ll be right here. Just point me out!”
Ten more guests are making their way to me.
“Table #1, ma’am.” I hand her the number, and she sighs loudly and shakes her head. True to my word, I don’t deliver her food. The next guest is the same way, off-handedly telling me he doesn’t need a table number, like it’s a receipt he was just going to throw away.
If only their heads were literally that huge, then we could find them no problem.
“Good morning! Can I start you off with a coffee today!”
The guest unfurls a crumpled $10 bill with two shaky hands. “Nah. I’ll just get a Bloody Mary.”
Oh, boy. “Sir, unfortunately it’s too early to serve alcohol in this state. We also don’t have a bartender on duty. I apologize.”
“Bartender? You can make it.”
“Not legally, sir. You need to be certified to serve liquor. It’s the law. I’m sorry. We don’t have any licensed bartenders on staff.”
I’ve just lied to the guy, by the way. We have two bartenders pulling an AM shift, but neither wants to serve the guy. He’s stiffed us before on hundred-plus dollar tabs, carefully disappearing before the room ticket arrives, so that no one can actually stick him with the bill. But it really is too early to legally serve alcohol, so it seems like a moot point to make.
“Can I get you a coffee or anything?” I ask, trying to sound empathetic.
“No,” he squints his eyes, and his voice shakes. “I’ll just have that Bloody Mary, please.”
He’s speaking softly, but his breath is a torrent of fumes.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but we can’t. We’re on camera and everything. Our bar opens at five tonight, if you’d like to come back then.”
His hands shaking even more, he makes a sound like when you try to keep from crying, scoops up his bill, and hobbles off. For three more orders, there’s the lingering smell of old cigarette smoke.
“That’s my coffee!”
The woman is insistent. Predatory, actually, eyes locked onto me, jaw set in determination. She’s dressed in running clothes, the better for pouncing upon me should I make a break for it.
It isn’t her coffee by the way. Or, really, it is, but just the exact same order, made before she made hers. Tall non-fat cappuccino, two ordered in a row. I try to explain that to her, but she isn’t buying it.
“Yeah, okay, no, that’s definitely my coffee.”
Looking her in the eyes, defying her more out of a terrified trance than an act of rebellion, I hand the coffee to the guest that ordered it.
“Your’s is on its way, ma’am,” I tell her.
“THAT WAS MINE.” She’s baring her teeth. Like, actually baring them. I thought only sitcom characters did that.
“Tall non-fat cappuccino!” the other barista pipes up, defusing the situation before the woman can disembowel me with her bleached teeth. The guest takes her coffee, looks at me, and huffs, walking off without even a thank you.
“Excuse me,” the first guest asks. “I think I meant to order a latte.”
Most guests aren’t aware you can open the top dome of the Grab ‘n’ Go, but this guy opens it without hesitation.
“Two of these,” he says, in a thick English accent. “And two orange juices.”
Later he comes up to me, all flustered. “Look ‘ere!” he snaps. “We ordered two orange juices, and they never arrived!”
The orange juice isn’t behind any kind of partition. It’s out in the open, rows and rows of it, ready to be snatched away by thirsty guests with $3.50 to spare.
“Where is it?” he asks, righteously indignant.
“It’s right here, sir.” Right where he saw it, when he first had it in mind to order orange juice.
“Ohhh…oh, silly me! I thought that was just a display!” He takes an orange juice, then opens the section above for another scone.
We’re in the middle of a rush, and the manager injects herself into the turbo line, where I’m stationed. She’s punching tickets before I actually take the orders out, chastising me for punching some early when really the orders have long been processed.
Three separate times she begins an order that I’ve already run, and I have to bite my lip because she has a temper, and she’s not afraid to rip you a new asshole if you piss her off. Generally, I like her, but in a situation like this she can kill a man with a look from ten paces.
“Keep up with the tickets!” she snaps a few times. I force myself to keep quiet, fearing if I point out her mistakes she’ll gouge out my eyes with the oatmeal ladle.
The rush lasts a solid hour. Other managers come in to bus tables. Our cook, who I’ve never seen smoke a cigarette once, bums five from me and disappears. Our cashier spends a solid thirty minutes just clearing the tables.
We have five completed orders of breakfast sandwiches remaining on the line, duplicates my boss unintentionally made. She jabs my shoulder and points them out, like their furtive woodland creatures about to disappear.
“This is why you need to keep up with your tickets,” she lectures blindly. “That’s about thirty-five dollars we can’t make now.”
I wonder if Mr. Marriott will miss his car payment now, coming up exactly thirty-five dollars short, weeping into his cashmere sleeve as they tow away his 1989 Ford Taurus.
A squad of college cheerleaders makes its way to the counter. Under normal circumstances, in tight tee shirts and skimpy shorts, they would be a welcome distraction, but if you work in food service, there is no sight that chills your blood faster.
“I need coffee!” one of them moans. She sounds like a toddler but has the body of a porn star. Who is the asshole who gave women the idea that immaturity is cute? “Can I have a vanilla frappuccino?”
I choose to say nothing of her contradictory order, and ring her up.
“Can I have a quad mocha frappuccino?” another asks. She has cleavage that threatens to eat the thin gray tee shirt labeled “Pretty Little Party Shirt.” “Wait, is that iced?”
“Yes ma’am. Do you want just a quad mocha?”
“Actually can I have a triple skinny vanilla grande latte?”
“That’s not iced is it?”
“Can I have it iced?”
This goes on until all I see is red and murder.
They order breakfasts, too, an ocean of breakfasts that constantly changes after they’ve already been rung up. Half of them order platters thinking they’ll get sandwiches, the other order sandwiches thinking they’re getting platters. One orders oatmeal, then tries to change it to “just a bagel” when I bring it to her table.
It’s nine-thirty, and twelve of them have asked if we can make them Sweet Tart shots from the bar.
“That guy was hitting on you!” one says to her friend after I ring her up.
“He was totally hitting on you!” another says, like I’m deaf.
I’m trying to think of the crassest way I can tell them that I don’t fuck women I believe are legitimately retarded, when the woman currently ordering suddenly asks: “Hey, don’t get mad, but are you gay?”
“Uh, no. Why?”
“Well, you haven’t looked down my shirt.”
I look down then, expecting the sudden revelation of the near-mythic G-cup, but all I see are B’s. Nice B’s, admittedly, but not the most impressive set in this crowd. Why bring these up?
“Eyes up here,” she says, almost annoyed, and I not only meet her eyes, but roll my own.
“Ma’am, you’re barking up the wrong tree,” I tell her. I’m not gay, but this chick makes me wish I was.
“So you are gay?”
“No. Just not interested.”
She scowls the way I do when I see a dog turd left on the sidewalk. “Oh, yeah. Bullshit,” she says, taking her table number.
I want to tell her I’ve seen better, but instead I only say: “I can help whoever’s next in line.”
“These Corn Pops don’t taste fresh,” a guest tells me, with a look of legitimate concern.
“Oh, I’m sorry. We can reimburse you if you’d like. You shouldn’t have to eat stale cereal, that’s for sure.”
“Oh, no, they’re not stale. Just not fresh.”
“Ah. Well…they are Corn Pops.”
The cheerleaders leave a mountain of cups and platters on the communal table. None of them tip. The cook shuffles past after delivering a griddle item.
“Quittin’ time!” she sings. “Griddle’s goin’ off! Kicthen is closed!”
A man walks up to the register and begins ordering breakfast. I tell him we’ve already closed our kitchen. He checks his watch.
“But it’s only 10:30!” he says.
I check my phone, and, yup, he’s right. We’re open another thirty minutes.
I sputter and apologize, privately vowing revenge against a cook too frazzled to read a digital clock. The other barista runs back to catch her and tell her we’re still open, goddammit, you’re not fucking leaving us like this. There’re hurried swears and clattering pans as she fires up the oven.
“This guy was trying to tell me they were already closed!” the guest laughs to his buddy. I ignore him, not actually caring, and hand him his table number.
“You’ll be table #14, sir!”
“Now are you sure?” he laughs.
“Or 16,” I say. “Could be 23, though. Maaaybe 7. Or…”
“Yeah yeah yeah…” he waves me off and goes to sit down.
The next guest lumbers up. His friends hurriedly say their orders, off-hand and under their breath, and I barely catch them as the guest in front of me, the human equivalent of a polar bear with psoriasis, tells them it’s on him, then mutters an order for oatmeal.
“Alright, so this is all one check?”
“Yeah.” He shakes his head so vigorously his bushy hair flares.
“Alright, so we have the oatmeal, the cereal, and the parfait…”
“No, I just had the oatmeal!”
“…oh. Okay, so their order is separate?”
“No! No, it’s all on me.”
“Okay. So that’s an oatmeal, her order of cereal, his parfait…”
“No! I just had the oatmeal!”
“…and you’re covering their orders?”
“Yeah! Yeah, it’s all on me.”
“Okay.” I abandon the itemized summation. “$14.47, sir.”
He’s astounded. “Just for oatmeal?”
He…looks sober enough.
A couple has been sitting at a nearby table for ten minutes, and it only now occurs to me that they don’t realize they order at the register. It’s after eleven. We’re closed.
“Can I get another order of Pops?” This is the guest who complained about the freshness of his first order of sugared Styrofoam. He speaks like a character from a nineties commercial.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re closed to food orders.”
The guest who I told the wrong time to looks over at me with a smirk. I roll my eyes, making no effort to hide it from him.
“Oh, okay, well…I’ll just have this orange juice, and a muffin, two muffins, and one of those yogurts, no, that yogurt, and a scone, and a glass of water, and some of that cut fruit.”
These are orders immediately available from our Grab ‘n’ Go cooler, and I ring him up. He complains about the lack of prepared food options, telling me lots of people still eat breakfast after eleven. He sounds honestly indignant. I tell him that I apologize, and that at the first opportunity I’ll review our menu with corporate. He doesn’t catch my tone, and takes his food.
I could have easily prepared his cereal. Everything is in the cabinet behind me. But I can’t bring myself to do anything but the minimum for such a person.
Now that I am allowed, I will do nothing else for anyone I have served today.
The couple seems to realize they need to order at the register, and the wife makes her way up. She’s a sweet middle-aged woman in a turquoise cotton jacket. “I’m so sorry! Is it too late to order food?” She’s honestly hopeful, prepared to be told no. She’s regarding me as someone with a choice.
“You know…” I tell her, “let me check. I think we may still have the griddle on.”
We do, but even if we didn’t, I would have fired it up myself. For this dear, sweet couple, who mean no offense, who at least seem to care…I would do anything.