Tuesday, December 22, 2009


When people say they don’t believe in God I can only marvel. Look beyond the seeming randomness of events and you’ll learn there are no accidents.

In 1998, Starbuck’s corporate offices realized many of their stores failed to stock first aid kits. When Corporate sent our store a letter expressing concern over this, I took it upon myself as Assistant Manager to order one. After reading the letter, our General Manager also ordered one. Starbuck’s claimed the usual warehouse didn’t have the updated first aid kits we needed, so even though both our orders had been confirmed, Corporate gave us a phone number to call for a different kit. I wanted Corporate off our backs, so I called the number. So did my GM. Soon after we called, Corporate decided such a priority couldn’t be trusted to store level personnel. They shipped a fist aid kit to every store in the company, including us.

Over the next two weeks, we received five fairly expensive First Aid kits. Burn cream, band-aids, aspirin and ibuprofen (which by corporate credo we couldn’t dispense even to ourselves), gauze, mini-scissors, and rubber gloves. We tried to return them for credit. The problem is, we had followed the Corporate credo. Upon receiving the First Aid kits, the first thing we did was trash the aspirin and the ibuprofen (I don’t know who sued Corporate for dispensing medication, but there are a lot of aching baristas out there cursing their name). Also, between slicing bagels, steam wand burns, paper cuts, and banged knuckles, the band aids didn’t last a week. With these items missing, the kits were considered damaged; unreturnable.

Each first aid kit also had a bio-hazard kit. In two years and three stores I had never seen a bio-hazard kit used, but I was sure it was a nice thing to have, just in case. Five, on the other hand, is a lifetime supply.

One afternoon, as my GM and I discussed passing the kits out to other stores in the district, our good customer Dane came in and asked her for “ass paper.”

Dane was a regular. He came in several times a week and was a sweet guy. He had half a face, and that only thanks to extensive reconstructive surgery. Scabs covered his body. He also had a speech impediment heavy enough to bend steel. When he asked for ass paper, it was so far removed from our normal coffee talk that Janet, our GM, had no idea what he was saying. She laughed and got him his usual. We did that sometimes when Dane felt chatty because of the trouble understanding him. Also, that afternoon we had wall-to-wall people desperate for caffeine, so Janet didn’t have the time she might otherwise have spared to parcel out what Dane was trying to say.

Dane wandered over to the bar to doctor up his drink. When he turned from the condiment bar and back toward the counter, he had left a little something behind.

Now, in case I haven’t been clear, this man was struggling with a number of physical differences. Not only does he not look like the average guy, his system must not work the same. Lying in front of the condiment bar were what could only be described as a pair of very dark, soggy prunes. He got about five feet before another pair rolled down his leg from inside his shorts. At that point, no one had really noticed. Dane asked again, more insistently but no more articulately, for ass paper. The other customers gave Dane the stare-ahead, pretending he didn’t exist. Then the smell hit.

One minute, a crowd of cranky people waited impatiently for their double-tall lattes and grande 180-degree, one-and-a-half Equal cappuccinos, the next minute . . . well, I don’t want to exaggerate. No one ran for the exits, but when I looked up from the bar only two people waited for their drinks. A guy who just paid stood at the register. Everyone else had taken their caffeine Jones to greener pastures. Or more to the point, a coffee shop that didn’t smell like a truck stop bathroom.

The light went on for Janet. Once she understood Dane’s problem, his words were clear. She happily handed over a roll of T.P., asking only that Dane take it with him and stop leaving more personal deposits on the floor for us to clean up. He wanted to hang around and express gratitude; Janet assured him it wasn’t necessary. As Dane made his way out, the lumps finally stopped rolling down his leg. Still, he left a good-sized liquid trail almost to the door.

Understand, cleaning crews cost money. If you’re not a multi-million dollar store (and to make millions of dollars a year in coffee is a lot a lattes), then you don’t get one. Therefore, at Starbucks throughout the land, the hands that scrub the toilets and pick gum out of urinals are the same hands that make your macchiatos (side note: I once hung signs in our bathrooms expressing this and they got a whole lot cleaner. When touring corporate big wigs saw the sign, they told me to take it down. Doubtless, their offices have cleaning crews).

To recap, we had four piles of fun on the floor and one good-sized trail to the door. We also had five first aid kits. Kits with a package for cleaning up biologically hazardous materials. Five kits of something that we had not needed in the twenty-four-plus months I’d been doing the job. Five kits that we received only through miscommunication and Corporate Hairball business-as-usual. Five kits which had finished arriving that very week.

Five bio-hazard kits, five craptastrophes. Coincidence, or providence?

We sprang into action. By we, I mean mostly me and Janet. As managers, we were expected to do that kind of stuff. There are managers who become managers so they can order others to do stuff like that for them; they’re called assholes. I’m just an asshole sometimes, but I’m not a major asshole, and Janet wasn’t even remotely an asshole, so we just did it. Also, I can only breathe out of one nostril. My sense of smell isn’t so great, so I’m ideal for that kind of stuff. We had the place clean and ready for customers again in no time.

My friend Amanda was working there at the time. When we tell the story, she says, “I thought, ‘Unless they want to be cleaning up shit and vomit, I better stay on this side of the bar.’”

I’m struck at how often Amanda and I relate this story to the general merriment of others. If the point of having so many kits available was to clean up after Dane, maybe the point of having Amanda and I working on the same night was so we would always be able to spread laughter when we come together, and share the time we saw God’s design.

You might not understand it when you’re elbows-deep, but give it time. There is a plan for the mess you’re going through.

1 comment:

  1. you aint kiddin.

    I know that story because Stacie told me it so many years ago. I'll never forget it and have retold it a few times. Beth probably even knows it.