Thursday, July 16, 2009

Popcorn, Macchiatos and a Trip Back in Time

Summer 1986.
The local Cineplex.
Manchester, Connecticut.

I am 21.

It’s the summer before my senior year in college, and I’m working hard to make enough money to cover tuition in the upcoming year.

I am working seven days a week. Yes, seven.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., I trek over to a D&L Department store, where I straighten racks of clothes and ring up sales in the infant department.

Then I rush home between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to change into black stirrup pants, a white shirt, a navy blue vest and black ballet flats – my uniform for the concession stand at the local Cineplex.

I work from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., sometimes to 2 a.m., shoveling popcorn.

On the seventh day, my day off, I work in the obituary department as an “intern” at the local newspaper.

That summer, I have a total of one day off to myself – on the 4th of July. Other than that, I am folding infant clothing, writing about dead people … and shoveling popcorn, shoveling popcorn, shoveling popcorn.

It is the popcorn thing that I can live without.

When I first took the job, I thought it would be a lot of fun to work in a movie theater. As an employee, I could see any movie I wanted for free, plus … I just love the atmosphere of theaters, especially the aroma of buttered popcorn. I soon learn, though, that the smell of butter permeates my hair, my clothes. I rip them off as if they’re burning my skin when I get home and jump into a hot shower before greeting my pillow. I can’t ever escape the smell of the popcorn, always in the pores of my skin, always lurking in the strands of my thick hair, no matter how many times I wash.

But this actually isn’t the part of the job I hate the most.

What I really hate … is the attitude of most customers.

They are rude. They are condescending. They look down at me and bark the order for their popcorn, then shove their wadded dollars into my waiting hand. Some actually snap their fingers for change as I count backwards in my head to make sure it’s correct.

I soon learn that I can please all customers by doing one thing that none of the other popcorn shovelers are doing – I coat the bottom of the cup with butter, fill it halfway with popcorn, coat the middle with butter, fill it the rest of the way with popcorn, then coat the top with butter. People watch me at work. They jump lines. They wait in my much longer line because they know they’ll get this special treatment.

And they are nice.

They are always nice. They offer me tips. They smile. They are patient for their money.

I learn another thing from this summer … I hate being treated like a servant. I will do anything so that people will not treat me that way. I hate feeling like a lesser person, like someone whose worth is measured by how much butter they are willing to spread on a cup of popcorn.

I hate it.

Last Sunday.
The Global Café Coffee Shop.
Quest Community Church.
Lexington, Kentucky.

It’s been 23 years since I have filled the role of “servant.” I have purposely avoided any type of job that would put me in that position again, because the memory has been that bad.

But lately, I have noticed at Quest that people who work in the coffee shop have a unique opportunity to spread joy. They are all volunteers. They happily serve up lattes and smoothies to waiting lines of people – some of whom haven’t darkened the doorway of a church for years.

At Quest, people are welcome to bring their coffee or smoothie into the service. The place is set up … well … like a movie theater, with movie-theater-quality seating and even cup holders. I noticed early on when we first started attending Quest that newcomers immediately relaxed when they were grasping their coffee cups. They smiled when they were offered free drinks in the Global Café, just for coming to church. They smiled even bigger when they realized they could bring that drink right into the sanctuary and sip it as the service progressed.

I also liked that in the coffee shop, the baristas could learn the names of the newcomers. Just like in Starbucks, they wrote the name of each customer on the cups, then called them by name when the order was ready. Bam – instant introduction, instant connection, instant friendliness, instant warmth.

The more we attended Quest, the more I wanted to be one of those coffee people.

When I shared this with Brent, he literally scratched his head. “But why?” he asked. “Those people work really hard behind that counter. Why would you want to do that?”

I thought about it. “Well,” I answered, “I feel like I have this gift for being hospitable and making people feel warm and welcome. It’s just my thing. The coffee shop is perfect for me.”

So last week, I started my training as an official Global Café coffee girl barista.

And you won’t believe what happened while I was there.

Tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story … and to learn about the important lesson that pierced my heart.

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