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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 2.15.04 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 2.16.43 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 2.18.45 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 2.34.00 PM.png

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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.04.50 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.05.24 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.10.26 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.05.37 PM.png

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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 11.32.06 AM.png

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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 9.58.45 AM.png

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.

 
 
 

Days 30-32: Eating as a Full-Time Occupation

Turns out a life that consists mostly of rock climbing, hiking, and sleeping on the ground promotes weight loss. Over the course of the past month, we each lost 5-10lbs. Boy were we about to make up for lost calories. After driving for basically a day with a 3 hour nap break, we arrived at Grace’s house in a lovely suburb of Seattle. In preparation for meeting her family, I brushed my hair (more akin to preening at this point) and clipped my fingernails. We arrived on the fourth of July (day 30 of our trip) and were welcomed with a washing machine, hot showers, bowls of orzo salad, and freshly baked brownies. Thus began a life of leisure and extremely large quantities of food (mostly in the form of snacks from Trader Joe’s). We walked around Pike Place and ate food (steamed pork buns, cherries, and tamales); we drove to the beach, spent 30 seconds in the water, and ate food (mangos, cherries, figs, and peaches); we walked to the park, played spades and a weird twist on the drinking game cricket involving frisbees and water, and ate food (sesame sticks and peanut butter pretzels). We ate food as we watched Mean Girls (Mico’s first time. He didn’t enjoy it because it reminded him too much of high school) and Pulp Fiction (he enjoyed this much more). We got Vietnamese food before attending a Seattle Mariners game, and we got ramen after we went climbing at a local gym. We were having such a good time hanging with Grace and Sylvan and eating that we ended up spending an extra day in Seattle. We skipped town early on day 33 of our trip and, sporting a new 10lbs of training weight around our middles, headed up to Squamish, so Mico could begin work on The Opal.

 
 
 

Day 12: Our First Day of Climbing

Some people (our parents) have pointed out that this is a blog about our CLIMBING trip but there is no evidence of us actually climbing. You caught us. We have a confession to make. The reason there are on videos of us climbing is not out of concern for safety; it’s not because we feel the need to leave a brake hand on the rope while the other is leading a difficult pitch or because we think it’s a valuable use of man power to have one person spotting the other on a boulder problem. No. As many of you have probably already guessed, the reason that we don’t have footage of us climbing is because we have not been doing any climbing. It’s an emperor’s new clothes type deal. It sounds really badass to say that we’re going on this awesome climbing trip, and at the end of the day it’s all about image and personal branding. We’re realizing that our fans are too clever, so the videos below are to throw you off the scent. We paid some very convincing stunt doubles to climb a V6- and a V11. I’ll let you guess which stunt double was climbing which climb.