August 21: In Which I Begin the Search for a New Climbing Partner

After almost two years of climbing with the same person, I’m having to find a new training partner, someone I get along with who has similar climbing goals and lives on this side of the country. I found a climbing partner once before, so I should be able to do it again, right? But it’s like every time you start a new school, you end up asking yourself, “how did I make friends last time?”

I began my search with what I thought was an easy target, my little sister, Remi. On the plus side, she lives near me (down the hall), we get along, and she has lots of free time. On the less positive side, she’s leaving in two weeks to go back to school and has only ever top roped. She claimed to prefer climbing outside to climbing inside, so I used this to leverage her into going with me. She beautifully summed up her reason for going as we walked out the door, “what else would I be doing today?” Her words reminded me of the woman in The Breakfast Club who attends detention out of boredom.

With our terrified mother’s blessing, we drove to Malibu Creek State Park. This was my first time climbing outside in LA. I got us lost a total of four times on our way to the crag known as “Stumbling Blocks,” so our approach ended up taking an hour and a half. The first time we got lost (when I parked at the wrong intersection in my effort to avoid paying the $12 fee for a day pass), we followed a trail through some bushes and arrived at a parking lot filled with people and suitcases. They were lining up in front of other people with clipboards. It looked like some kind of summer camp check-in except for the fact that none of these people were children, and they were all dressed in expensive, urban-looking clothing. The people with clipboards were wearing shirts that said “Camp Mars.” Other people in Camp Mars shirts were tooling around in golf carts, speaking into walkie talkies. I thought that it might be a film set for a movie where they figure out how to grow plants on Mars and use this technology to exactly replicate the biome of Southern California. Then rich people with floral-printed roller bags start going to the planet for vacation.

An internet search many hours later proved me wrong. Apparently, Camp Mars is an event hosted by the band 30 Seconds to Mars for their fans. Fans over the age of 18 can pay $1,000 for the “tree huggin’ package” aka the privilege of spending two nights and three days camping in a tent (it’s bring your own tent, FYI). For those less into roughing it (or who don’t own tents), $2,500 will get them two nights spent in a yurt with AC and shared bathrooms. Days at Camp Mars are filled with activities like yoga and rock climbing, and evenings are spent making s’mores and attending concerts. Los Angeles is a truly amazing place.

The final part of the Stumbling Blocks approach involves an easy traverse along the edge of a deep green pool. It’s really stunning to walk up the dry creek bed and arrive at this large body of water (large by LA standards. In Louisiana, I doubt it qualifies as a puddle). When Remi and I arrived, people were gathered on the banks, laughing and jumping in the water. I was sweaty and ready to join them, until I spotted a curtain of lime green algae floating off shore. I then reflected on the fact that we’d just walked up a dry creek bed to reach this mysterious pool of water, so it clearly wasn’t draining anywhere. If other people are anything like me, the water’s probably half urea by now (perhaps the reason behind its pleasing green color).

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When we arrived at the crag, I gave Remi a brief tutorial on lead belaying. Instead of taking in rope, you’re feeding it out, never take your brake hand off the rope, etc. I think she absorbed it all and displayed good belaying technique, but I could never be sure because I couldn’t watch her while I was climbing. As a result, I was never fully at ease. Remi doesn’t know how to lead climb, so I would put up a route, and she would follow on top rope. She’d clean the climb if the method for cleaning the anchor was simple. If it required rappelling, I’d go up a second time. I was pretty beat by the end of the day, but happy that I’d had the chance to go outside and climb. As we walked back to the car, Remi announced that she preferred climbing indoors because outside “takes too much time–you have to drive and hike to the wall, and then you have to set everything up!” This was the beginning and end of our short time as climbing partners.

 

August 18: No Reply

Sent my sister an email with the subject line “hi” and had her send me one back to make sure my email address was working. It had been days and, after applying for jobs with 7 coffee companies (if you break it down by individual stores, it was more like 10 or 11 job openings) and 1 climbing gym, I’d received nothing beyond a few automated “your application has been received” emails. I knew going into this that it probably wouldn’t be as easy as handing over my resume and getting hired on the spot. I knew that a Yale degree wouldn’t impress someone looking to hire a barista, that if anything, my degree would make it seem like I was less serious about learning the barista arts. I knew all of this intellectually, but I don’t think it prepared me for the utter radio silence that followed my applications.

After about a week of nothing which felt much, much longer to my unemployed brain, I opened my inbox Tuesday morning to find I’d received a single email calling me in for an interview with Urth Caffe, a local chain devoted to organic, responsibly sourced coffee, tea, food, etc. “Do you have any questions?” the woman on the phone, who I spoke with to set up the interview, asked. “Uh,” I said, “Is there a dress code?” She assured me that casual attire was fine.

Hair washed (yes, you read that correctly), sporting a pair of dark jeans and a respectable sweater (black because I thought it made me look slightly edgier, and because it’s never a bad idea to do a subtle homage to Steve Jobs), I made my way to Urth Caffe’s downtown headquarters. The address took me to streets lined with warehouses on the south side of downtown LA. I got to the door a few minutes before 9am, joining a small group that had gathered outside the door. Urth Caffe was doing what they termed an open house interview. You could show up anytime between 9 and 10:30 am. They said to except a 45 minute wait. I thought I could get around this by being one of the first people there. My early bird companions consisted of a boy who looked even younger than me (not helped by his skinny frame and the backpack he was wearing) and a man who looked to be in his early 30s and was wearing slacks and a button down. The boy, in his hand, held an Urth Caffe to go cup. “Suck-up,” I thought, bitterly wishing it had occurred to me to rep my love for the product.

At that moment, a large man in a large teal shirt joined our group. He addressed his remarks to the man in slacks, who had an air of authority, likely because he was wearing slacks. The man in teal wanted to know if he had parked in the correct location. The man in slacks didn’t know because, in spite of what his clothes seemed to indicate, he was not in charge. We were joined by a man with torn jeans and blue dreads of a slightly more purple blue than the man in teal’s shirt. We stood in silence until the doors for Urth Caffe were thrown open. Everyone jockeyed for position in line. I ended up near the back by the kid with the backpack. One by one, we entered the building, signed in, and were ushered to a holding area with folding chairs. It was 10am before the first person was called in for an interview, and nearly 10:30 by the time I went into the small, brightly lit room where three managers were waiting.

Two of them sat in silence during the interview, and I wasn’t entirely sure they were paying attention. The third, the man, began his line of questioning, “You went to Yale?”

“Yes.”

“What are your longterm plans?” Jeeze, it’s like this guy was peering into the depths of my soul and drawing inspiration from my insecurities.

“Uh, I don’t really know right now.”

He asked a couple more questions about my availability, and then it was over. It had been less than five minutes. On my way out, I asked when I’d know if I got the job. He said I’d receive an email by 5pm that day if they wanted to bring me back for the second round of interviews.

I did not hear from them by 5pm that day. The day after, I kind of hoped I’d get a “whoops, sorry we didn’t send this sooner, but we still want to interview you!” email. After about three days, I gave up on that fantasy.

In the days following my Urth Caffe rejection, I got an email from Peet’s saying they’d like to interview me, and an email from the climbing gym. I responded with my availability, but have yet to hear back. I’m glad La La Land didn’t win best picture, but I’m also glad it exists because the film’s given me a way to conceptualize my situation. For those who’ve seen the movie, you know the montage where Emma Stone’s going out to all those auditions, and people aren’t even looking at her? I feel like that, expect that I’m auditioning for the job Emma Stone already has when the movie begins; I’m trying to get the job she has to make ends meet while she tries to realize her dreams. What I’m trying to say is that La La Land glosses over how she got her barista job to begin with, but there’s probably another movie in that story. Maybe it’ll be the prequel.

 

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.