This is not a post where I bemoan people’s inability to foam my milk properly or how I miss access to free coffee. This is not that post.
Coffee shops are warm in the winter and (sometimes) cool in the summer. They are busy and you don’t have to get past a host to get to a seat if they have seating. The drinks are typically cheap, as is the food. The workers are underpaid, exhausted, and sick of having to give fucks that they don’t have. It is, ostensibly, the perfect place for homeless people to hunker down and have a moment.
This is something I struggled with when I was a barista and faced again this morning when I went to get coffee. There is the good, kind part of your heart that whispers in your ear – they just need a place to sit, there aren’t that many people in here right now, give them a few minutes, as long as they buy something it’s fine, they just want to use the bathroom, be nice, be kind, do the right thing, help out this poor human being. And then there is the cold, hard, practical truth – most times they are drunk, sometimes they have mental issues, often times they steal from you, they take baths in the bathroom sink or shoot up drugs or shit in the middle of the floor, they get angry and scream and yell when you ask them to leave, they smell and put off customers who will actually buy more than the cheapest item on the menu, your boss doesn’t like them and yells at you when you let them in.
I haven’t been able to really balance out this equation in my brain yet, but I can tell you that it sucks for the baristas. This morning the manager of the coffee shop I went to had to call the cops to remove a homeless person from the store. When she told him she had called the cops (he came in with a coffee from another establishment, sat down without buying anything and has been problematic in the past) he started yelling at her. He called her a bitch and told her she should go suck a dick. I was gearing myself up to say something, when he shoved his way out the door. I hesitated before helping her and it made me sad with myself. How many times had I wanted a customer to help me out? How many times had I been near tears with my heart racing and shaking with adrenaline and no one did anything? I had become one of those shrinking people I had complained about bitterly during my tenure at the coffee shop.
I scraped up my voice, tipped, and told the manager that I was sorry she had to go through that, but she had done a good job and I thought she had handled the whole situation admirably. She was touched that I had said anything and she, and the other baristas, explained he came in often and they called the cops often, but he was always gone by the time the cops showed up.
I understand that mentally unstable, angry, or drunk people are scary, but that barista who is standing their ground and calmly telling them to get out is probably scared too. Don’t say anything to the person being kicked out if you think it might make the situation worse or escalate it to a point of danger, but please don’t leave that poor, underpaid, stressed out, and exhausted barista alone.
An Ex Barista
P.S. – Tip your baristas, it allows them to pay rent and buy groceries and take care of their children.