November 6, 2010

When Hard is Easy

There is something to be said for humility. How much, I'm not sure. Those who know me at all, tend to know me as a barista. There are others who do the job, of course, but few who let it define them as much as I. This has led to the feeling that I am somewhat good at the job.

In truth, if myth this is, it's one I perpetuate regularly. I believe cafe work to be, in part, performance. That is, the barista is an actor as well. And thus, if I perform well, the audience, or customer in this case, should come away impressed.

But there is something to be said for humility. And so, it is with all of my arrogance intact that I freely admit to being something other than the best barista at my own place of work. I should clarify that, in saying this, I refer only to the preparation of the drinks. But even still, that is the most important technical aspect of the job.

And in that regard, I am, at best, second best. For the past several years, I have taken my spot in front of the espresso machine, staring down rushes and pounding out orders with mechanical efficiency, but still an artistic touch. I believe that his has been the case for a reason: I am good at it.

But there is something to be said for humility.

And while I am good, there are better. Though I would have said as much before today, a clearer picture may not have been presented. Today, there was a rush, which lasted for the better part of an hour. I did not make one drink. Instead, I stood behind the register, passing orders to the right.

There, my coworker occupied the spot which I have come to think of as mine. But she did so in such a way that I was more than happy to cede the post. She finished orders as fast as I could produce them, with speed to spare. What's more, every drink looked perfect. I've no doubt they tasted perfect too. Like me, she's done this for a while. And like me, she takes pride in doing the job well. And with reason, because she does do it quite well.

Perhaps most telling, we stood, relaxed, chatting easily at the end of the rush. It was, we agreed, fun. More hours should be spent in such a state. Not hectic, mind you, but focused. There is a certain meditative quality to work, when you find the proper head-space.

Now she, though like me in some aspects, is very different in others. Notably, while I would say quite emphatically that I am pretty good at what I do, she will only begrudgingly admit it.

There is something to be said for humility. But let's say something for hubris while we're at it.

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