hello holiday!

Christmas at Starbucks

So, it might be true that I set up my Christmas tree a week before Thanksgiving this year.

And it might be true that said timing was a bit premature and insane.

But… who can really blame me?

After setting up Christmas at Starbucks earlier that week

I guess I was in the holiday spirit.

life lately


The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of obligation and exhaustion. Entering my fourth week of uncompensated overtime coupled with a cough that won’t quit I just may be reaching my breaking point. Its time to win the lottery already. I’m lucky though that I haven’t fallen into full-blown sickness – just headaches, ear-aches, flem, and crippling congestion. It could have been way worse. Now if I can just get well enough to get my flu shot I can coast through winter.

As I’ve begun another hiring spree I am finding, once again, some answers to why there are so many unemployed people in the United States – – or, at least in Durham. A combination of bad education and underwhelming work ethic leave some employers with few choices. It’s never a good sign, for instance, when someone claims to be “etail oriented”. “Detail oriened” isn’t any better – – especially when the candidate didn’t bother to capitalize their own name. But perhaps I’m being nit-picky. It’s also not impressive when someone says the reason they want to work at your store is “cause it looks real easy”. A compliment for my team, perhaps, but not a compelling reason to hire someone new.

All that as it is, I’ve also found more qualified, nice people this go-round than last. More and more folks looking for second or third jobs because the ones they already have don’t pay enough to provide for their necessities. It’s sad too because the more complicated their availability, the harder it is to secure additional employment. I can say for myself that as much as I want to work with people it is hard enough to meet everyone’s wants and needs when they have open availability. I’m not interested in adding on additional complications. Yet when you come across a single father desperate for an additional job but bound by the bus and daycare schedules (plus his existing schedule at his other job) it is hard to say no.

The process of hiring, being extremely over worked, sick, and over-exhausted has left me rather emotional too. I’m ready for a  vacation… or a month off like the French do.

life lately

Global Leadership Conference 2012

At 5:07 am this last Wednesday I was making my way to 32,000 feet, headed south bound for Houston, Texas. The 2012 Starbucks Leadership Conference drew more than 10,000 of us into town for four days of service, learning, networking, team bonding, and corporate gospel.

For the most part the conference was a glorified pep-rally. Yet the planners did a great job of structuring learning and development into the agenda.  The lab, for instance, brought the industry of coffee to life in ways most of us had never experienced. Short of enjoying a trip to origin, the lab brought us closer to the process of growing, the process of blending and roasting, and the process of marketing than anything I can imagine. My knowledge of coffee and tea is relatively extensive – I didn’t advance to my position without it. But up to now my knowledge has largely been theoretical. I’ve read about coffee; I’ve heard stories about coffee; I’ve seen pictures of coffee. This was the first time I got to see rows upon rows of baby coffee trees or dip my hands into a barrel of unroasted coffee beans and take in their aroma. It was my first experience listening for the second pop of the beans as they roasted to perfection or seeing the components of a tea blend separated out, identified, and made available to touch and smell individually. It was cool.

We also got to learn about some of the new things Starbucks is doing – – new products, new partnerships, new strategies for growth. For anyone on the inside, the momentum and movement in the company is already known and felt. In fact, there are often so many things happening on a corporate level, and happening so fast, that we don’t even have advance knowledge. Customers come in with news and information that we haven’t even heard yet. Sometimes it’s work just to keep up-to-date.

On the whole the planners did a fantastic job of coordinating and prepping the logistics of the event. They put us all up in hotels around the city – – I stayed at one of the Marriott locations. They fed us very, very well and were prepared for all sorts of dietary concerns (vegetarian, vegan, even gluten free!). Not only were we served extensive meals three times a day, they set up elaborate snack and beverage bars around the convention center in-between meals with fresh and dried fruit, nuts, popcorn, chips, coffee, tea, water, sodas, refreshers, VIA… One could not starve! The last night was party night and they set up margarita bars, a food truck rodeo (which was really, really fun!), and multiple stages featuring live music from local bands. Transportation, however, proved troublesome and problematic. Because our hotels were scattered across the sprawling city many of us faced 45 minute to an hour commutes (and for anyone familiar with Houston traffic, it goes without saying that sometimes the commute doubled!). As a result, those in my situation had to be ready and boarding the bus by 6 am and couldn’t expect to be “home” until 9, 10, even 11 at night.

We  got an exclusive night at the ball park complete with karaoke, photo-booths, and a night of free-all-you-can-eat ball park food (which I have to say wasn’t my favorite dinner) and were welcomed heartily to Sambuca and the House of Blues.

And a Starbucks convention wouldn’t be complete without a coffee tasting… so we had three! Two in Toyota Center amongst 10,000 other partners and one in the lab from the new verismo machine.

In addition to everything else, each partner had at least 4 hours of community service scheduled during their stay. Collectively we helped build parks, refurbish houses, plant flowers, build and paint birdhouses and wildlife enclosures, assemble hygiene kits for the homeless, write and decorate holiday cards, paint artwork, facilitate a food shelter, and more.

Most of the speeches at the general assemblies were just ra-ra-company but there were a few speeches that were incredibly good and made up for the others we had to bear. Nancy Koehn, a Harvard professor and historian, gave a great speech on leadership through the story of Ernest Shackleton. Even though she has published this story and its message for leaders before, I was honored to hear her speak because she is so animated and funny and just fantastic. Reverend Calvin Butts III gave a sensational speech on what it means to lead in our world today and motivated the crowd to see ourselves as leaders in the world at large, not just in our stores. I was skeptical and quite surprised when he was introduced to the stage. A reverend? I thought. Why is a non-religious company bringing a baptist preacher from Harlem to the stage? Less than a minute in and I was completely overcome. Not only was he engaging and inspirational and funny, his prose was poetic and his message went far beyond anything corporate or coffee related. His speech was powerful, it was political, it was social, it was real. He was really amazing. And, of course, Howard Schultz gave a great speech about social commitment and responsibility. I will say this about the company I work for: I believe Howard Schultz is sincere, genuine, and has a good heart. You see it in his actions, you hear it in his speeches, you read it in his books, and when you talk to him you know. I have my doubts about a lot of the others, from all levels in fact. But at the very top of the pyramid there is an eye for good. {That being said, why he why revered like a rockstar and hounded like a celebrity throughout the entire weekend, I will never understand. What is the obsession with getting a photograph with him or an autograph? I don’t see the point.}

It was no surprise to me that there was a large percentage of the assemblage that was insincere and, well, comprised of jerks. Maya Angelou once said you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. So true. And, this last week I learned you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle waiting in line, walking in a crowd, and arriving late to the airport. It was no small irony to me that three days into a conference in which our egos were perpetually rubbed and we were being told over and over again how wonderful and considerate and socially aware we were, that more than 2 people were literally trampled to the ground as others pushed their way through Toyota Center frantically racing for a front row seat so that they could hear more lectures on the virtues of our company and its management team. Yes. Soo considerate we all are. And, of course, how it warmed my spirit to hear managers from across the country cuss out a poor, minimum-wage bus driver for doing his job well and following directions. It’s a longer story than I really want to go into. But, honestly, wtf. The whole message, the whole point of this thing was completely lost on some ’em. But who knows… maybe they’re good at selling coffee.

The most valuable thing that has come from my time in Houston is the enriched relationship I now share with fellow managers in my district. We discovered that despite our deep differences, we have more in common than we’d ever realized and many of us are up against similar frustrations, challenges, and day-to-day crises. Coming home we have a newly enriched support system and empathy for one another.

Despite the propaganda/brainwashing element of it all, I learned more than I’d anticipated and had more fun than expected too, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to be home.


dramatic macaroni and cheese

Yeah, so, today was crappy.

Woken up at dawn

from my best night of sleep in as long as I can remember

(despite the fact that I wasn’t into bed until after 2 am)

because the third-in at the shop was delayed indefinitely.

Long morning followed by an even longer “productivity session”

 – payroll, scheduling, labor analysis, food analysis, store reports, weekly recaps, email, store orders… –

punctuated by a 24 hour resignation notice via text message.

(Which is a lot like being broken up with on a post-it.)


More scheduling, this time more like frantic shifting/tweaking/begging/pleading/texting/calling

plus a couple of tears, not because I’m sad so much as I’m just tired.

Tired of peoples’ shit.

It was one one of those days though

that went well beyond the realm of the human.

If it could go wrong, it did.

Both blenders broke.

Ran out of the most popular syrup.

Keyboard mysteriously missing two keys.

A store starting the day with 9 people –

now with 1 in the ER, 1 in a car wreck, 1 shipped off to bootcamp early, 1 on the way out of town.

(that last one would be me,

conveniently scheduled to be out-of-state

the week that everyone’s shit is apparently due to hit the fan)

Totally awesome.

The cherry, really, on the top of this mune-day

is round two of intellectually-dwarfed customers

who believe in their core, with their gut, in the essence of their being

that nonfat milk has 0 calories.

I’m going to be honest here,

I had a moment

a crisis of doubt





and I broke down.

This is the second time in less than a month, after all.

I picked up a gallon of skim milk and I read the label

(not to the customer, I do have scruples, but just to myself

to be sure, without a doubt, that I was not crazy).

I’m not sure how this misguided notion that ‘nonfat’ = 0 calories

got into the ether and invaded the minds of seemingly normal adults

but in the event the contagion has spread, allow me to set the record straight:

Anyway. Yeah. So today was crappy.

And I have discovered that my stress tolerance is diminishing. Rapidly.

I’m experiencing physical discomfort, knots in my back, and difficulty breathing.

Basically, living the dream.

And so it was

that I decided I could not survive the day

in fact, I could not survive another hour

without macaroni and cheese.

Homemade, indulgent, dare I say hedonistic macaroni and cheese.

And though it may not look like much, rest assured this is the best

most delicious, most decadent, most dramatic

gluten free macaroni and cheese casserole that has ever graced the Earth.

And a little something funny while the noodles boil:


the thing about working retail…

The thing about working retail is… well, you realize people suck.

In the clothing/department store scene one is repeatedly faced with questions about human behavior. Like, why would someone go into a dressing room with 38 different items, proceed to remove each one from its hanger, throw them all up in the air, and then exit the dressing room somehow leaving 42 different items of clothing laying around, some inside out, some on the floor, some bunched up on the bench, etc…? Why would they do that? Or, where is the brat stealing earrings leaving the little cardboard holders stuffed into the mirror edge or in random pants’ pockets around the store? Who are they and can I please have a word with their mother? And, what makes this person think they can return a sweater with stinky pit stains just because the tags are still on it?

In the grocery store scene one cannot help but garner frustration as they find random food items scattered around the store in places they do not belong. Why, why would someone leave a box of popsicles on a random shelf in the cereal isle? Don’t they know count chocula  cannot be trusted near triple rockets? Don’t they know the triple rockets are going to melt? And why is a rotisserie chicken sitting on a shelf of men’s deodorant? Who does this?

At Starbucks there are the people who have an aneurism if left too much room for cream in their coffee or, as the case may be, too little. One must wonder how it is that this young woman can order the same simple drink every single morning, every single week and yet still does not know how to ask for what she wants. Who is it that keeps dumping a gallon of hot liquid into the trash causing the bags to weaken and tear and drool all over the floor? And what cave did this man crawl out of that left him under the impression that Starbucks is a sit-down establishment in which a waitress will take your order, serve you, and finally deliver a bill? Does he not see the line forming at the registers? Does he not understand the movement of the masses starting at the entrance, progressing to the registers, meandering to the hand-off plane, and finally making their way full-circle back to the entrance whereby they leave the premises with drink-in-hand?

Of course, its the one in 300 that truly test the hourly-wage retail worker’s composure. Most of the customers are courteous and pleasant enough. Yet, like a mean insult, that single instance tends to carry as much weight as the 299 others.

For myself, it has only been in the last few months that my patience has really worn thin. Maybe the reserve would deepen a bit if a few days could pass before confronted with the next irritatingly unaware and inconsiderate customer with a chip on their shoulder. But somehow they just keep strolling in, day by day and I’m left with my mother’s voice in the back of my head, “don’t underestimate whats out there loose”.