August 14: The Application Process

Applying to become a barista is much like applying to college. There are the big state schools, the small liberal arts colleges; the large, international chains, and the local boutique stores. You have your top choice, the coffee shop your heart’s set on; your mom wants you to apply to at least 9 others in case “things don’t work out.” Instead of asking for a resume and a cover letter, each shop has its own highly individualized method for separating the world’s future baristas from a lower order of human existence. Some are fairly basic, asking for the online form equivalent of a cover letter and resume, and remind me of schools like Middlebury which did not require any supplemental essays. Most coffee shops, however, like most colleges, come with their own arsenal of short answer questions. These questions range from the expected, “why do you want to work at (insert name of illustrious coffee shop here)?” to the anecdotal, “describe the best tasting coffee you’ve ever had and what made it so great?” to the cerebral, “how do you define a high-end offering and why?” One place asked me to list any relevant coffee-related experiences I’d had, including “awards, training certifications or other coffee-related accolades” I’d obtained or achieved. I had to leave that section blank. Another company refused to call the people who sell and make the coffee drinks “baristas,” choosing instead to refer to them as “retail associates.”

Of all the applications I’ve gone through (I’ve applied for positions with 6 different companies so far), the application I most enjoyed completing was the one for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf goes a step beyond the short answer questions and asks you to complete two assessments. The first took me right back to junior year of high school. It gives you ten minutes to answer as many questions as possible. Though they’re not exactly the same, many of the questions bear strong resemblance to certain sections of the SAT. I’ve included some visual supplements below for those who wish to relive their glory years:

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Sadly, it has been many years since my standardized testing heyday, and the questions on the test itself were more difficult than the practice problems seemed to promise. Still, having to take a bastardized IQ test made me feel like they really were attempting to hire an elite group of baristas, that if chosen, I (and my resume) would forever more bear the mark of an elite institution.

The second test seemed to be an attempt to understand my character. It was much longer and more difficult.

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As you can see, they were not pulling their punches. I was thrilled by the challenge, but it also made me long for the much simpler character assessment I’d had to complete for a previous application with questions such as:

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I was fairly certain I nailed these questions.

I’m now waiting to hear back from my first round of applications. Some have taken the time to let me down easy in advance:

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August 10: Always Store Ground Beef Above Poultry

After an unexceptional end to a mediocre road trip (turns out planning ahead has its merits), I returned home to a purposeless existence. On my road trip with Mico, I knew what I was supposed to do each day–rock climb. Not that this was a particularly lofty purpose, but it gave shape to each day just like college had before it. Knowing I could stomach a directionless existence for only so long and that a climbing habit requires an income source, I prioritized finding a job when I got home. It’s been my dream since I was in middle school, enjoying my first cups of coffee, to work as a barista. I picture myself working in a place filled with the bitter aroma of coffee, gracefully moving around an espresso machine, handing beautiful cups of latte art to eager customers, and watching caffeinated smiles lift their lips as they walk out the door.

Turns out I didn’t even need a job in order to find a purpose. A job search in and of itself can easily take over your life. As I searched for job openings at my favorite LA coffee shops, I came across the term “ServSafe” for the first time. The ServSafe California Food Handler Certification or equivalent is required of those who aspire to handle other people’s food in a commercial setting in the state of California. Like driver’s ed, I imagine that at one time this was a course people were required to take in a classroom setting. However, in the digital era, it’s the kind of course you take online. After watching a multicultural cast of people, united by poor acting skills and a tendency toward over-enunciation, detail the finer points of “keeping food safe” for two and a half hours, you get to take a learner’s permit style test (also online).

The course was divided into five sections, and each section began with a horror story about food service gone wrong–“boy ordered chocolate pudding for desert…” During the course, I learned things I never knew and would never have anticipated ever needing to know in my life. I learned that food should not be stored between 41 and 135 degrees fahrenheit as temperatures in this range are most friendly to bacteria growth. I learned that one should always close dumpster lids after use, that proper hand washing takes approximately 20 seconds, and that poultry requires a higher cooking temperature than steak or seafood (165, 145, and 145 degrees respectively). My favorite fact, however, the one that will stick with me even though it serves little practical use in my daily life, is the proper order to store food in order to prevent cross contamination. Ideally, you have a separate cold storage container for each type of food. The course, acknowledging that this would require many fridges, gave an alternative–storing the foods in order of how high a temperature they need to be cooked at. This results in the following order from top to bottom: ready to serve foods; whole cuts of beef, fish, pork; ground meat; and poultry. I know, good stuff. The course was almost worth $15 for entertainment value alone. Below is a screen shot of one of the friends I made during this process:

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I wonder if people on the street ever recognize him, go up to him, and say “hey, you’re that super chipper guy from the ServSafe videos who uses catch phrases like ‘yikes!'” Probably not, but one can always hope.

I passed my test with flying colors and, with ServSafe’s blessing, continued on my quest to become an LA-area barista.

August 2: Forks

Nobody wanted to plan the road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. My mom was burnt out after all the planning she’d done for the family vacation to Italy earlier in the summer (and still a little pissed that, though her ingrate children had refused to help plan it, they’d still reserved the right to complain about it after the fact). My sister and I had this romantic idea that we’d just flip through Auto Club books as we drove and providence would guide us to all the life-changing tourists destinations on the west coast. The date arrived for us to leave Seattle, and we had no idea where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. After googling “best tours in Washington state,” my mom and sister settled on touring the Boeing factory. I’d forgotten I lived with two airplane aficionados. To be accurate, one airplane aficionado and one factory aficionado. Whether it’s a candy factory, a shoelace factory, or an airplane factory, my mom wants to tour it. As my mom loves to remind me, I was a kid who happily toured museums and sites of cultural interest. I’ve since grown into a young adult with a short attention span and intolerance for reading plaques. I think this transition took place during the last four years (coincidentally the four years I was at Yale). “You can pick the next place we go,” my mom and sister promised. This was more of a burden than a gift since all of us were ultimately trying to get out of planning. If you plan things in this family, you run a high risk of getting blamed. “Ok,” I said grinning, “I want to go to Forks.”

Forks, WA is a small, economically depressed town on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s economic depression has been recently somewhat alleviated by the publication of the best selling series, Twilight. Forks is the setting for these page-turning novels filled with sparkly vampires and teenage longing. After my utterance, I waited for my sister and mother to call me out, to tell me that I didn’t actually want to go to Forks, but they didn’t.

“I want to go there because it’s where Twilight’s set,” I elaborated in case they were unaware. Still no pushback. They began looking for places to stay on the Olympic Peninsual. Their reaction left me disappointed. Why bother to make ridiculous pronouncements if people behave like they’re reasonable statements? Now, before you think that I only said this to start an argument with my family members or to get the burden of planning the trip lifted from my shoulders, there was some sincerity to this statement. Mid high school, I read the entire Twilight series on a dare. A friend gave me three months to read the series, thinking I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. I read the four books in a week. I waited a month before admitting I’d finished them, lest someone suspect that I’d actually enjoyed them. 

As with many things I do, I was somewhere between seriously wanting to make the pilgrimage to the Twilight promise land and wanting to go as a joke. This is probably why those close to me have such a hard time knowing when to take me seriously.

 After the Boeing factory tour (a tour I will remember thanks to this dude my age who informed our tour group he was a future Boeing employee and seemed to have memorized the Boeing book of trivia, the same one our tour guide got all his questions from. He monopolized the question asking parts of the tour, peppering our polite, midwestern tour guide with an associates degree in criminology with technical questions about engines.) we drove 4 hours in a northwestern direction to the Olympic Peninsula. We arrived in Forks. I hopped out of the car, snapped a picture in front of the “welcome to Forks” sign, texted it to a friend, and announced I was ready to leave. It was then that my mother and sister learned why I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula. And it was then that I learned that my mother and sister thought the whole Twilight thing was a joke, that I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula because of the rainforest and hiking and nature stuff. A lot of learning went on in the span of a few minutes. We then piled back in the Subaru and drove in a strictly southern direction.

July 30: Epilogue

The trip ended at 4:30am on July 30 when I dropped Mico off at the Seattle airport. However, at the risk of being a walking cliche (a millennial who blogs), I think I’m going to keep up this blog for the time being, at least until it a) becomes too time consuming, b) is no longer fun, or c) reaches a point where it’s barring me from employment opportunities. Mico hasn’t decided if he’s going to continue posting. I think our lives would make for an interesting contrast (one of us is putting a Yale engineering degree to use in a maker’s space at our alma mater. The other is making good on the promise of a film degree, an aspiring barista living with her mom in Los Angeles. I’ll leave you to figure out who’s who). If Mico decides his blogging years are behind him, I don’t know how unsubscribing works, but I hope all you all who’ve been following this blog for the sole purpose of keeping tabs on him (with such dazzling good looks and quality personality, who can blame you?) find a way to make that happen. I bear you no hard feelings and would contemplate doing the same thing if it were not my own life.

Here’s where the first day of the rest of my life begins. Calm and composed, I dropped Mico off at the airport and spent the next half hour driving into downtown Seattle, sobbing. I’m not sure of it’s safe to drive while crying that hard, but luckily it was 4:45am on a Sunday, so not too many people were on the road. I was crying for a number of reasons. I was going to miss Mico, of course, and likely wouldn’t see him for a long time. But it went beyond that. Mico boarding that flight marked the severence of my final tie to college. With the end of this trip and his return to Yale, I could no longer pretend that I would find myself in the same situation in a month’s time–boarding a flight to JFK–that this was only a short vacation from the life I had built over the course of the last four years. I was pretty dry eyed during graduation; the finality of my sentence to life as an adult hit home in this moment.

I consoled myself by spending the next five hours blogging about the end of our trip in Starbucks Heaven–the largest Starbucks I have ever seen. For reasons I never found out, it had three separate espresso bars and an enormous gift shop. The staff members spoke to you of their products in soothing tones using words like “floral,” “bright,” and “awesome.” The awesomeness of the beverages was reflected in prices printed neatly on the steel gray menu cards they passed me. I got a 12oz cup of coffee for over $7.

Hopped up on caffeine, I collected my mother and sister at the airport. I was excited to see them, especially because it meant I’d finally have the opportunity to show (disgust) my mother with my hygiene habits over the past two months. Camping with little access to showers had given me the perfect chance to experimented with what happens when you go 55 days without shaving your armpits and without washing your hair. My mom is accepting of many things (during my teenage years, she routinely offered to raise the products of any unplanned pregnancies I might have), but she has made no secret of her opinions concerning women and shaving. She once told me that it looked like there were little ants crawling all over my legs after I participated in “no shave November.” I’d never in my life had this much hair under my arms, since I’d started shaving as soon as the first hairs started growing in and my elementary school friends started making fun of them. So I guess, I was more or less excited to goad my mother with my relatively hairy, unwashed body. Her reaction did not disappoint. She was appalled that I hadn’t been washing my hair, and nearly puked in the street when she saw what my sister poetically referred to as the “dead animals” under my arms. My sister was almost equally appalled, but to her credit, gave my mom a lecture about how the idea that women should have hairless bodies was an image promoted by razor companies during the 40s when they needed a new market with the men away at war. Both agreed that the hair needed to be washed immediately. Below is a video of my hair the following morning (still unwashed). I’m kind of starting to think it has the potential to look good.

Day 55 (July 29): Home Stretch

We climbed the morning of July 28. I got in some final moments of self-berating and crying, and sent a 5.11b on my third go. Mico attempted a “top 100” 5.13a titled “Ibiza.” My theory is that there are more than 100 climbs that round out the top 100, a rating the guidebook uses in place of five stars. They make an effort to spread the “top 100” throughout climbing areas in Squamish, and preference climbs that are “unique” for the area. Like the word “interesting,” “unique” is a rather bland word that can mean a good deal of other words. Sometimes unique means good or special, but just as often unique can mean atypical or strange.

We drove back to Seattle, stopping in Vancouver for ice cream and dosas. The ice cream place, La Casa Gelato, serves 238 flavors of ice creams and sorbets. They serve everything from the mundane–chocolate, mint chip, vanilla–to the utterly bizarre–garlic, spicy mango, cherry cotton candy. I sampled what amounted to many scoops worth of sorbet. Then, drowning in a sea of ice cream choices, I played it safe and paired an iced coffee sorbet with a chocolate one. Mico boldly paired spicy mango with cannoli ice cream, a combo he maintains he does not regret.

We read about the early east coast rap scene and the evolution of sampling on my cellular device as we drove down to Seattle. On arrival, we were greeted by the entire Suzuki family. Though it was pretty late, everyone was wide awake because they’d recently returned from Japan. We had a lovely breakfast with bacon and coffee, and cleaned the car in the morning. In the afternoon, we went raspberry picking with the boys while Chiaki and Keiichiro finalized the purchase of their ridiculously discounted minivan. Though Keiichiro works for Amazon, his true passion is haggling with car dealers. His face lit up when he talked about the prospect of spending an entire Saturday at the dealership. He says his goal is to reduce the dealer to tears. In the evening, we had an indoor barbecue and played Settlers of Catan. Mico is incredibly kind and attentive when he interacts with old people, children, and dogs. However, this did not stop him from mercilessly taking advantage of the boys while we played Settlers. After a late night nerf gun fight, we went to bed so we could get a few hours of sleep before our 4am airport trip.

 
 
 

Day 53 (July 27): A Change of Pace

Post-Opal, we were ready for a change of pace. We briefly discussed booking it to Smith in Oregon to finish out the trip, but quickly realized most of our time would be spent driving. The best we could do was drive north half an hour to the Cheakamus area. Unlike most of the climbing near the Chief in Squamish, Cheakamus consists almost entirely of sport routes. Mico was able to revisit and ultimately send a 5.13 he’d tried on a previous trip. I proved to myself that, while I can usually do all the moves on a 5.12a climb, I’m still not a 5.12a climber. We met a local named Dale, a large, barrel-chested dude who, in peak condition had climbed 5.12 while weighing somewhere between 215 and 230 lbs. For me, a woman built more for rugby than rock climbing, this was inspirational. I’d thought that all people who climbed 5.12 and above were of a naturally stringy build.

That night, our final camping dinner, we tried to finish most of our food, but failed when it came to consuming a tin of canned mushrooms and bamboo shoots, our two worst food purchases the entire trip. They were slimy and chewy in all the wrong ways. Would not recommend to a friend, or even a recent acquaintance. We spent the evening talking about friendship and fears. Though I’d joked about some of my fears in the past, I think this was the first time Mico realized they were serious concerns, that I am someone who will joke about the things that cause me the most pain. Perhaps this is an indication that I need to reevaluate the way I express myself if I want to be understood by those close to me.

Day 52 (July 26): In Which We Prove Unsuccessful at the Basic Task of Giving Up

You thought we were done with The Opal, didn’t you? Actually, to your credit, you probably didn’t. You’re a smart reader, and, if you’re reading this, there’s a 99.9% chance you know one of us personally and a 75% chance you’re a member of one of our nuclear families. For a while, though, I think we’d convinced ourselves that we were done. I was still entertained by the first three pitches of The Opal, mostly because I was laboring under the idea that through enough repetition I would eventually send the second pitch (the 5.12a layback). The moves that had seemed impossible when I first began now felt doable, though they still involved a large amount of sweating, no matter the external temperature. I was at a point where I was only falling twice on the pitch (usually once from fatigue and once due to inattention). This probably had a bit to do with improved technique and familiarizing myself with the pitch, and a lot to do with the fact that we’d tied off the second rope at the top of the third pitch, so I was no longer climbing with a rope in my pack. Mico was bored of climbing the first three pitches now that he was sending all three consistently, but was still struggling with the fourth pitch. We were running out of time in Squamish, and there were many other rocks to be climbed; why continue beating our hands against a wall?

On some level, it’s the kind of people we are. The ability to beat your hands and head against a wall for a sustained period of time and enjoy it is an ability that proves quite useful in the Ivy League. I think we also felt that, while we’d given it a good go the last time, conditions had been less than ideal. Hopefully, the time we’d taken off had given the wall time to dry. There was no rain in the forecast, so our only limiting factor was daylight. We also realized that the grant Mico’d received to climb The Opal required action shots of him on the wall. We didn’t have anything that fit this description, so we were going back up The Opal whether we liked it or not.

The days off had not made The Opal any drier. If anything, the wall was even wetter than the day we’d climbed it in the rain. How this sorcery was possible was entirely beyond me. Maybe the water had pooled at the top and slowly seeped down the climb over the course of the week. The black algae coating the wall had rehydrated, and was now thick, spongey, and very slippery under foot. The night before, Mico had asked me if I wanted to lead the first pitch. I said “yes” without hesitation, which seemed to surprise him. One of my goals for the trip was becoming comfortable enough placing trad gear that I’d be willing to fall on it. With 4 days left in the trip, I decided that now was the moment to become comfortable. What was the worst that could happen? Probably death. Or maybe life-altering injury. Below is the tearful goodbye I recorded for my parents.

Mico also documented what, at any moment, could have been my last moment.

And below that is a video of me decidedly not dead at the top of the first pitch.

The only thing that died on the pitch was Mico’s yellow Metolius cam, a piece which I’d tried to eliminate earlier in the trip by getting it very stuck in the rock. I was foiled that time by Mico who managed to extract it. This time, however, there was nothing to be done. I’d placed the yellow Metolius right before I attempted to pull the corner, the crux move for me on the pitch. I hastily stuffed it at an awkward angle and prayed it would hold as I threw my left hand out for a jug sidepull around the corner. My left hand came an inch short of the jug I was aiming for, and I fell. The force of the fall jerked the piece to the side, bending some of the wires. When Mico pull the cam out of the rock, all the lobes were fixed at slightly different angles. Through this experience I learned that 1) trad gear allows for some margin of idiocy when placing, 2) a nut would have been more appropriate in that situation and likely would have survived the force of my fall better, and 3) a yellow Metolius cam retails for roughly $60.

The next couple pitches were a battle against the black algae. Both Mico and I fell on the second pitch, so by the time we got to the bottom of the fourth pitch, it was clear Mico was going for the summit, rather than the send. You can see the opening moves of the second pitch here.

After a few attempts, Mico finally succeeded in stringing together the lower crux sequence of the fourth pitch. His arms were shaking. He looked ready to peel off the wall at any moment as he climbed, but he was able to push through the muscle fatigue of 52 days on the road, keeping his hands and feet on the wall in an amazing display of willpower. He came up short of the hold at the top of the second crux, and had to repeat the moves a few times before sticking it. Having completed the two cruxes, though not in sequence, he made it to the top of the fourth pitch and, for the first time, set up a belay station. It was now my turn to climb to the top of the fourth pitch. I was excited to cover new ground, but also anxious because I’d be aiding my way to the top (pulling on draws and other gear attached to the wall in order to skip moves that were too difficult) while climbing with the heaviest pack I’d ever had (rope plus two liters of water plus all our food for the day). Moves on the pitch that I’d completed with relative ease in the past were now a struggle. I aided whenever I could, but sometimes the draws were too far apart and I had to pull on the thin, sharp holds that gave the pitch its grade. I fell a lot and cried in frustration, feeling weak and useless. In these moments, I was reacquainted with the fact that The Opal would have been a lot easier for Mico if he’d had a stronger partner. I reached the top of the pitch exhausted, with obvious tear tracks on my cheeks.
“Are you okay to continue?” Mico wanted to know. No, I thought. No, I do not want to limp through another two pitches at my max (5.12a and 5.11d). I can’t. I want to go back to the car and wallow in self pity. I said none of this because getting to the top of The Opal was Mico’s goal. He’d been so patient this trip, climbing 5.6 multipitch trad routes so I could practice gear placement, giving me long belays as I freaked out on 5.9 trad or fell repeatedly on 5.12c top rope. I’d held him back in many ways on this trip, but getting to the top of The Opal from here was within my power, so I said, “yes.”

The next two pitches were scary runout sport climbs, a mix of face and slab. Mico did not send them cleanly, and through this experience learned that one should not leave the last two pitches of a route unclimbed until the last day. I aided and cried my way through the last two pitches. As I pulled draws, I marveled at the 20ft spacing between bolts and Mico’s courage. By the time I reached the top of the climb, feet numb with pain, dripping a mixure of sweat and tears, I’d decided that I was not cut out for rock climbing. I don’t know what Mico felt in those moments at the top. Maybe some sense of accomplishment, some disappointment too. He says it’ll be a while before he’s ready to try and climb The Opal again. His main concern at the top was whether our 70m rope would allow us to reach the bottom of the 6th pitch (we left the second rope at the top of the 4th expecting that we only had 35m repels ahead). We were climbing on his new bipattern rope and had crossed over from one pattern to the other while on the 6th pitch, an indication that it was longer than 35m. Thankfully, rope stretch allowed us to make it. This was the first time I was fully able to appreciate the use of stopper knots.

The rest of the rappel was uneventful. Mico reclimbed the fourth pitch while I took photos. We walked down the south gully for the final time that trip on tired, shaky legs.