Guest Commentary

Don't blame the barista for your worries and declining finances

To all the people who still come to the World Famous Coffee Emporium (WFCE) at which I work: Please do not blame the barista for the bailout. It is not my fault.

I understand that your stock portfolio is worth half of what it used to be, and that your soccer-star son may need to improve his grades and apply for college scholarships. This is stressful.

However, it is also stressful when you buy a half-caf hazelnut vanilla soy five-shot latte with carmel drizzle and no foam, and then hand it back to me because you have mistaken the bubble on top for foam.

That latte costs almost what I earn in an hour. In Pima County, in 2007, the median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $7.17, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce.

Every hour I work--and, honestly, I really like my job--I will serve people like you who are stressed about personal finances. I will try not to notice the Hummer you are driving and the D&G sunglasses you are wearing. I won't do this because of the other people for whom I make drinks. These people come in daily and have gone from a large latte to a medium. They say thanks, and mean it, and ask about my day. They park their construction trucks in the lot and come inside, because they don't have a job that day, so they might as well stop in and chat.

Those people are sometimes going to get an accidental large, because I, oops, mismarked the cup. And to the regulars who come in wearing shirts with the logos of retailers who will soon be obsolete, you may find that I forgot to press the "soy charge" button on the register. Double oops.

If, however, you ask why our drinks cost so much, while answering your cell phone and handing me $50 for your extra-large eggnog chai with cinnamon, I may subject you to a dissertation on the labor involved in simply getting beans into a grinder. You will hear about coffee berries ripening on the bushes in Africa, the clean water the WFCE builds for the farmers, and the laborious drying, washing and roasting processes. You will learn that by buying coffee, you are supporting small villages where the children walk barefoot to school and don't go to school during the harvest, because they have to work.

But at least they have jobs. The number of unemployed people in the Tucson area jumped from 16,300 to 27,000 between April and July.

Why will I, with a smile, tell you about Africa, Latin America and local labor statistics when you are clearly so busy and stressed? Because you need a wake-up, and not the kind provided by sugar and caffeine. You need to look around at the world and at the barista behind the counter, and learn a little compassion and courtesy.

If you talk to me, I might be able to help. I can't fix Wall Street, but I can make you an excellent cappuccino. I'd be happy to. And if you tell me that you just ordered 13 different drinks at the drive-through, during our morning rush, because you are on your way to an emergency meeting at your brokerage and are bringing drinks to your co-workers, I might just give you a free muffin. But if you complain about our plummeting stock price, I will tell you that I recently heard we are in a recession, and advise you to "buy low, sell high."

Of course, those of us behind the counter knew about the recession months ago, when the tips receded by about 30 percent. Apparently, no one on Capital Hill or Wall Street relies on tips to put gas in their car, so they were unaware of the situation until recently.

In October 2007, in the Tucson metropolitan area, there were 28,300 workers in food/drinks services. A year later, there were 27,600. There are 535 members of Congress, and none of them consulted me about the bailout.

So here is a large, black cup of coffee, on me. Consider it a wake-up.

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