Working in a small Cafe in Greenpoint
I’ve been working at a small University in southern North Carolina for over year, and I still reflect back on my time spent working as a barista in a small cafe in Greenpoint, Brooklyn New York. It was a different life that I had then, it was one that seemed surreal now. It was actually my favorite little job up there; and I realize I wanted to write about it before the details began to slip too far from memory.
I got the job in dead of summer and always had to ride the gloriously unreliable G train up to my work destination. I remember sitting in the cafe and there were plenty of other people filing in for their five minute interviews with the owner. She and her husband had a little baby and lived upstairs, the parents also lived here. They had a small operation but wanted a friendly face who was efficient and capable… that was me. I sold her.
It was a small coffee shop and “restaurant” and “store” (hardly) on a corner in a still very polish but increasingly re-gentrified (hipsterfied, Brooklynfied) neighborhood in Greenpoint.
A happy little spot that sat above the ever-famous happenin’ Williamsburg; it still had interesting old charm from immigrants and the occasional bleed in of artistic, young generation folk living in the neighborhood below.
It was here I got my part time job working behind a counter with one other person, or generally by myself in the evenings, and the cook. Occasionally we had a delivery guy who was in his mid-40s, had a happy smile and a weathered face, who only spoke Spanish and tiny broken English verbiage here and there. I mean, a few English words at best. We would teach each other small words and play guessing games on what the other was saying in our free time.
The cook also had English as a second language; he was originally from Nigeria if I recall… and we had plenty of mis-communications in my time there as well.
I was always really good at deciphering broken English and figuring out what people were wanting, needing, trying to say… it was a game to me and one I didn’t mind playing. I built a very fun relationship out of making the cook and delivery guy (Herman!) laugh and smile.
I also realized I would be working along side the likes of a frumpy hipster girl with big glasses and long poorly dyed red hair. She had tattoos and came off as peculiar with slight attitude or aloofness. It was only later I found her to be kinder than originally thought; she’d take people’s shifts, she always tried to help at the store, and worked extra hours and helped out when she could… but we rarely got to work together.
It was my partner in barista crime, Sarah, who I worked with the most and she became my cool friend of the borough. She had a different hair color every time I saw her.. the coolest was when she had blue, that faded into an awesome gray, and she reminded me of a winter witch from a far-off forest in a hip place I’d never venture (Bushwick) then rainbow.. then blonde… then something else. She had tattoos. She would come to work with plastic hidden somewhere from her latest and greatest tattoo endeavor.
She knew my Richmond friends. We liked hardcore music. We liked goofing off and taking it easy. We liked working together. She was surprisingly nice and funny firsthand, a rarity from hardcore girls in my history. Most hardcore babes were cruel back in Richmond; but she welcomed me and took me out after work— and we grew fond of each other.
We’d visit taco stands and go to Pearly’s… we always went to Pearly’s in Bushwick. That became a thing. And I liked it; it was cool and the people there were beautiful. Nobody ever talked to me and I expected that; even came to find it comforting… the anonymity. But they all knew Sarah.
But when I was working with her at the coffee shop; people always talked to me. We had insane busy days where the phone would be ringing, orders would be flying out on Herman’s bicycle to addresses we’d have to fucking google on our phones… and all the while we’d be cold brewing coffee beans in huge vats for the next day (juggling them to the back fridge using all our strength), french pressing hot coffee, taking orders, and oh god. the espresso machine.
we did everything from scratch start to finish here; this wasn’t Starbucks and there were no automatic shut offs or pre-determined amounts.
We ground the espresso beans ourselves, precisely swiped our fingers along the portafilter——-
beans too course; the hot water would go through too quickly and the drink would taste like shit
likewise if the beans were too fine; no water would get through and the drink would taste like shit.
the beans had to be ground perfectly, packed with the right amount of pressure into the portafilter with our little fingers, couldn’t be uneven….
NO TAPPING like some used to do with the tamper— no, it was an even press with perfect amount of pressure, tapping created small cracks in your perfectly pressed espresso.
people who tapped (“for excess”) got on my nerves.
you’d flip it to make sure that shit stayed in place
then pop it in and run the hot water of the espresso machine through, counting the perfect time, then cutting it off.
I recall one time I didn’t have the portafilter secured in place and scalding hot water, coffee grounds, and general shit went spewing everywhere. I screamed and ducked for cover.
That was a scene.
I pretended it was the machine’s fault.
There were coffee snobs that would come in there and make their critiques from time to time; some were good, some were bad. I mighta listened, I mighta been having a bad day, I mighta hated them, I mighta enjoyed their knowledge and put it to good use, I mighta something.
Then there were the juices; we fresh pressed vegetables and fruits into the gnarliest juicer machine ever. I hated it and loved it. It took so long, when we were busy I wanted to fly across the counter and choke someone for ordering a complicated fucking 7 dollar stupid vegetable drink. Cleaning that sucker at the end of a shift was brutal too. Beet juice stained our clothes, veggie fibers collected all over and we’d scoop that shit out, I winced every time; it was kinda gross and never got easier. Before I left, I added a juice recipe to the hand-written list created for customers to choose from.. mine was the hang-over cure. I wonder if it’s still up there or not?
There were plenty of evenings where I had to work the entire store alone; the cook only did his chores and kept his side of things clean. We didn’t really work together but maintained the store as a whole and finished our duties….
I would always walk back to the G train stop and wait..and wait… and wait for that fucking train to pick me up at the end. It took forever.
But I liked how low-key it all was, in retrospect. I like that I met plenty of cool customers along the way; and that neighborhood was generous in tipping. I heard about the tattoo shop I’d eventually get some work done in because they would put in orders to us from time to time.
I would always be tryin to figure out what the fuck hat to wear while I worked in order to look like a decently styled human being… later I began to wear backwards baseball caps and looked like a 16 year old cool kid; in my mind anyway. Whatever worked.
I wish I had the time and energy to put in the thought to make this more meaningful and interesting instead of a resume of job duties..
but I know it will give tiny hints and clues to me to recall the moments I had and make me remember the times I had here.
The little gate. Pulling down all the gates/bars over the windows when we closed at night because it was New York and shit had to go on lock down. The cute candy bars we had on display. The coffee varieties in their little jars that you could scoop yourself and buy. All the shit we’d always run out of ;) The owner’s little old parents coming down in the evening, the dad always “stealing” an ice cream bar when his wife didn’t know (he’d ask, but he shouldn’t be eating it according to her, haha) ;) and the hot summer days drinking fucking amazing cold-brew iced coffee (which I have not had since leaving NYC) and chugging leftover fresh smoothies or juices (sorry not sorry) and putting a funky Pandora music station on my phone then placing it into a ceramic coffee mug to project the noise louder so we’d have tunes while we worked.
Shit was cool. We got paid in cash.
I felt like a young nobody but I also felt like it didn’t fucking matter and I was having fun like a young nobody should…. no regrets.
Jun 29, 2012 Met in person Couchsurfing Friend,
Just a few words for this amazing and friendly girl….We love you! My friend and I spent 3 great days in Brookling with Kat and Solo..her dog..really he is the best dog in New York..I hope he miss us as we miss him! it was a really nice experience.It was our first time like couchsurfers and it couldn´t be better! We are so grateful with you guys.She spent three days showing us the city as we were two new york citizens.
We really miss you Kat,take care Solo! Un beso muy grande!
Jul 5, 2012 Met in person Couchsurfing Friend, Surfed 3 days
I can’t imagine a better way to meet NY.
For 3 days we lived like real newyorker’s doing brunch, spending the afternoon at Central Park, meeting cool bars, seen a indy concert surrounded by the upper class… and also see all the turistic places of Manhattan without even took a map!
Thanks Kat you are awesome, a person that easily can pulls on your heart strings hehehe
I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness.
I'm as calm as a fruit stand in New York, and maybe as strange.
RVA <-> BK.
Kat Goes to Brooklyn
Todo el granizo el rompecorazones.