One day, if I’m lucky, I’ll be one of those endearing/mildly annoying old men who cracks dad jokes to strangers to get a rise out of them. I know this because I do it now and I’m only 39.
One of the least-paying, yet best, jobs I ever had was at a well-loved downtown coffee shop in my hometown, called Roca Jack’s. In it’s prime, it was a two-storey joint filled with weirdos, downtownies of all types: business folks, art majors, hacky-sack kids, skaters, goths, homeless people, freaks, normies. You name it. The place stayed open late and had ambiance, live music, art hanging on the walls and so many cool people – all housed in a relatively small warehouse shop with original hardwood floors and great character. It was sort of the ideal that most coffee shops only pretend to be.
While I was among those listed above, as a patron, I didn’t join the staff until the glory days were already over. The place had changed hands a few years prior and while competition popped up here and there, the fabric was coming undone at Roca’s. I didn’t mind too much though. While the upstairs had been rented to an architectural firm, which closed itself off with a separate entrance, and while old, well-worn couches had given way to old, well-worn wooden chairs, the main floor was largely the same. There was still local art on the walls and much of the same crowd still hung out there. Not to mention, they still had the best coffee in town and possibly the best cinnamon buns in the country!
I worked there while going to university: morning shift at 6:00 AM to open, bus at 7:45 to uni for 8:00 AM class (often bringing cinnamon buns, muffins, etc. to share), classes done at 12:00, bus back downtown at 12:15, afternoon shift til 3:00… you get the picture. It was great for what it was. The guy who hired me shortly quit and I laughably found myself the “manager” within weeks. With my newfound title and status, I hired a small team to cover the shifts I couldn’t take myself and we were in business!
Because I had to be up at the crack of dawn to bus to this place, not to mention I had access to all the coffee I could drink, plus the occasional hot oatmeal and fruit from our grumpy Swiss baker (thanks Bruno), I was already wide awake by the time patrons started coming in. Now, I’ve never been a bounce-off-the-walls with energy kinda guy, by no means am I a morning person, and that certainly didn’t change just because I’d had a couple cups of freshly-brewed Sumatra Mandheling, but I was awake and trying to be a person with downtownies who – let’s say – weren’t always completely ready for basic conversation. I get it.
“Morning, how’s it going today?” I’d say, honestly asking.
“Large dark.” I’d get in stoic prose, from behind completely glossed eyes.
“That good, eh?” I’d retort.
Sometimes people would kind of snap out of it and talk it up a bit, but many just stared ahead, through me, to their eventual retirements, somewhere on the distant horizon, I suppose. I never pressed it.
One day, the espresso machine died. Not sure if you know how much a professional espresso machine costs, but let’s just say Roca’s didn’t exactly have tens of thousands of dollars saved away in its waning years and the owner wasn’t about to tank the more successful restaurant in the same strip to save the tax writeoff that was Roca Jack’s.
The place closed its doors forever. No warning. A sad day for coffee enthusiasts in town, but it did spawn some very nice successors.
Anyway, this isn’t really a story about the coffee shop. It’s about Large Darks (still not coffee). At its least, it’s just people who aren’t quite with it, in the moment. Maybe too tired or too much on their minds. I get that. Any of us can be a Large Dark. At its worst, though, there seem to be people who just don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves and are stuck on autopilot. You see this a lot in service industries: entitled people who are irritated that they have to stoop to talking to you at all and assume that because they are a potential customer, they can treat you as coldly as they wish and have no problem tearing you a new one if they perceive you as any kind of inconvenience. Ooh! I might call them Cold Large Darks. The reverse is true, as well. There are plenty of working people who won’t bother giving you the time of day and just want you to go away.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need to have a heartfelt, meaningful conversation with every person I meet. I’m just looking for the least shred of humanity in my interactions with others. This is why I crack dumb jokes at cash registers (only if they’re not busy – I’m not trying to make their day worse):
Cashier: How would you like to pay? Me: Charm and good looks, please.
Lighten up and have some fun. Show people you’re human. Maybe you’ll get a human response.