When I first met Alicia, I decided I didn’t like her. I had been working at Starbucks for four or five months when she first arrived on the coffee scene: thick red hair, probing green eyes and classic Irish skin. After working with her the first week, I concluded she was careless, blatantly dry and insensitive to customers. She constantly violated dress code regulations by sporting green socks that stretched from her shoes to her knees, and for some reason, that annoyed me.
As a barista and shift supervisor with six months under my belt, I knew as well as any other Starbucks partner (code word for employees) the importance of cultivating friendly relationships with customers. In my mind, the objective was simple, and achieving the objective was simpler. All it took were constant smiles, routine “how are yous” and “how’s the familys,” and if you remembered their order, you were golden. Sometimes there was harmless teasing or joking, but generally everything was clean and standard and stayed within customer-barista borders.
However, Alicia did none of these things. She couldn’t even remember the same guy who came in everyday and ordered a regular cup of coffee—oops, I mean a “tall” coffee. She was obliviously one-sided, not a thought to reciprocate a “how’s your day going?” Yet, despite all these things, she unintentionally maintained good relationships with customers in quirky unconventional conversation. She had created her own path to reaching people that went far outside the lines of conventionality and for some reason that refused to sit right with me.
It wasn’t until a few months later that Alicia and I really started to click. It became harder for me to suppress my amusement when I found her stroking the caramel bags like a baby over her shoulder and then saying she was going to ask for those caramel bags for Christmas. Or when she would compare her thick wavy hair to the Samuel Adams logo.
Her quirkiness began to rub off on me, and I found myself actually looking forward to going to work, even at 5:30 in the morning. Yes, I did say morning.
We started to take the trash out together during our shift and invented the brilliant idea of riding the boxes down the stairs. Although highly unsuccessful, it was the beginning of a long legacy of hilarious trash-running experiences.
I was impressed with Alicia’s bravery and lack of inhibition toward customers. Earlier in a shift, we had taken a box and cut eyes out of the front and drawn a nose and mouth. I was in the backroom getting supplies when I happened to look up onto our video monitor to see Alicia with the box over her head helping a customer. As much as I loved her, I envied her ability to do things I was afraid to do. Things that I would reveal to my friends but never to a customer. But Alicia was the same in every group, in every situation, no matter who you were or what you did, she was consistent across the board. And I wanted so badly to be like her.
One of our proudest moments was when we created “Scary man.” Alicia was relining one of our trashcans one day and as she parachuted the bag upwards to its fullest potential, it unexpectedly latched onto the ceiling due to a vent holding it securely. It irrevocably resembled a large ghost suspended behind our workstation. So Alicia went to work, cut out some shapes, added color and created what we soon came to know and love as “Scary Man.” We danced with Scary Man, we made bubble sayings coming from his wavy mouth, we kept him on top of our ice bin and hung him proudly during our shifts on days we needed a little pick-me-up.
As stated before, Alicia’s humor was quite dry and seriously quirky. I had grown to love and appreciate it, however, it was still foreign to many of our customers and even partners. One morning a woman arrived in an outfit set with vibrant colors. “You look very bright today,” Alicia said as she served the woman coffee. “Uh, I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.” The lady said with a smile. “Oh, it definitely is,” Alicia said plainly. “You definitely won’t get hit by a car today.” The lady’s smile withered along with her sweet demeanor. I, conversely, tried my best to keep composure until she had officially left the store.
Alicia evolved from being an annoyance to comic relief, to a dear, close friend. Her sillyness, quirkiness, humor, and kindness were huge influences in my life. I noticed change within myself toward customers, my family and friends. I didn’t feel obligated to go through polite restrictive motions I was accustomed to when dealing with customers. I felt confident and more comfortable in my own skin to express my humor, silliness, quirkiness and everything in between. I honestly felt she had awakened a part of my personality that was in desperate need of coaching and refining. I felt 10 times more creative when I was around her, and we constantly fed off of each other’s wit and bizarre ideas; needless to say there was never a dull moment.
I won’t ever forget our trash-running rituals, or the morning she brought me a large rock from her backyard just for kicks, when she got a lightning bolt shaved in the back of her head, or when she decided to start a Starbucks band playing the rubber band and the jug. Countless memories that I couldn’t forget if I tried. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have found a friend so intricately unique and defined, sincerely unpredictable, and able to pull off wearing a box over her head any day.[Kimi Raspa is a great barista and unusually dark for being asian.]
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