Written by Abi Humber Tuesday, 13 September 2011 16:32
The past four months, I’ve poured my blood, sweat and tears into the Caribou Coffee in Chicago’s East Lakeview neighborhood.
Of course, I’m exaggerating a baby bit—I’ve never actually cried at work. I have bled, though. I have to take out my facial piercings during my shift (boo corporate America!), and once one of my eyebrow rings wouldn’t come out, even after much pinching and pulling. That sucker is so stubborn. But I digress.
East Lakeview is colloquially known as “Boystown” because of its heavy gay population. The eclectic personality of the neighborhood makes for interesting encounters with customers, to say the least.
We have a whole slew of regular customers whose company I have grown to genuinely enjoy. Regulars are the greatest. For the most part, they tip well, are super friendly, and actually care about my life outside of the service industry. I love when a regular comes in; our few minutes of small talk and banter break up an otherwise monotonous shift of washing dishes and pouring coffee.
First, there’s Bob. There are actually like five Regular Bobs, but this is Minnesota Bob. Well into his 70s, Minnesota Bob is usually our first customer in the morning. He drinks his small, dark roast coffee (complete with an eco-friendly, reusable Minnesota Twins cup sleeve), reads the newspaper, talks about how much he hates the Cubs, and always leaves the sports section for my athletics-obsessed store manager, Jason.
Next in the store are the retired Russian men who speak with really heavy accents. Most of them order small, light roast coffees. When they order, it sounds like they’re saying “Smowloight”…the poor ‘Bou Babies—my affectionate nickname for our hurricane of new hires—have had great difficulty understanding the Russians, and I like to watch the Babies flounder in confusion before just laughing and grabbing the coffee myself.
Then, there are the porn stars. Yes, I’m serious. They tip well. And are super muscley.
There’s the guy who orders a small coffee in a large cup and goes to town at the mixing station, using half the container of half-and-half and pouring sugar into his cup for like 25 seconds.
There’s Steve, a lawyer who tips us $5 every single morning. His wife, Connie, always orders the same thing—her small, nonfat, dry cappuccino is now known as the Connieccino. Sometimes they bring their black lab puppy, Waveland, and let us play with him. This is obviously a highlight of my week because I stinkin’ love puppies.
Another morning regular is Calhoun. He’s one of my absolute favorite customers. He has a star tattoo on his neck, has great taste in music (The Head and the Heart—check them out), and works on his thesis for hours every day. I think he’s a fancy writer or in grad school or something. We became Facebook friends just this morning, so I’m sure that after a sufficient amount of creeping, I will know exactly what he’s doing with his life these days.
And then there’s Greg. Greg and I have a love/hate relationship. Well, mostly love. The “hate” part comes from the fact that he is incredibly sassy and often makes slightly negative, mostly humorous comments about my neon fingernails (“It looks like there’s a fungus among us, honey.”), mussed bed head (“Sweetheart, if you weren’t so naturally pretty we’d have a real issue with your hair-care.”) and posture (“Don’t stand with your hands on your hips, it makes you look cheap!”).
This morning, I asked some of the regulars what they thought I should write about in this week’s column. While each of their suggestions was interesting and probably worth exploring, I couldn’t seem to get my mind off of the people themselves. That’s really what is at the core of this piece—a fascination with these wildly different people from all sorts of backgrounds, who somehow all end up at the same Caribou every morning.
They make my life beautiful.