I think the hardest thing about leaving Caribou Coffee was leaving behind the regulars that I had gotten to know well. Sure there were the ones that I that I purposely hid from in the back, but there were also the ones that I loved seeing everyday. They just had a way of making you smile or just treating you with a since of dignity that one does not always get as a barista.
In a sense, our Caribou regulars became like close friends. Only they were the type of friends you know by drink order and not by their actually name. As baristas, we watched many hours of their life in Caribou. It was like getting an inside peek into the movie of their life. We got to watch as they drank gallons of mango black tea trying to finish their masters thesis. We watched them fall in love on their first date, and cried as we watched their break up. We knew more about their lives than you would probably want your barista to know.
But my favorite regulars of all of my favorites were this endearing older gentlemen that came in every weekday morning. They were like a band of brothers laughing and aruging as they sat at the same table everyday. I like to think that I was also their favorite barista. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t working front that morning, I took care of them. Even if it was just me whispering over the headset to the new girl, “citron green tea in a mug, medium dark roast and don’t you dare put a lid on it.” I can’t put into words why these guys touched me so much, I only know that they did.
I stopped into Caribou about a month ago one morning before work. I had seen these guys in months and I wasn’t sure if they would remember me. I saw them sitting there like a perfect picture I had never left. They were all happy to see me and fussed grandfatherly. They told me that being a paralegal suited me, but that being a lawyer would suit me better. They asked if I had made a decision about law school yet, and offered me about five hundred references for when (when not if) I go to law school. I was reminded again why I was so touched by them. They were just so endearing, and they cared about an ex barista they barely knew.
One of them was named John and some of the newer baristas thought he was cranky. I guess could see how some might see him as a little cranky, but I never saw him that way. Sure he could be gruff at times, but in the way of someone who is weathered and storied not someone who is mean. Mostly he just got upset when the new people would put a lid on his coffee. I never did though so he liked me. I could always see the slight sigh of relief when he walked in and saw that I was working. I would have his order ready for him before he got to the counter and his eyes would smile like we shared a secret every time I remembered to keep his lid off. He would give me his money and then share bits and pieces of his knowledge and wisdom. I never thought much about our exchanges until one of my old coworkers showed me this picture. She told me John had passed away suddenly from a heart attack and that they tipped over his favorite chair in his memory. It just broke my heart.
I don’t think that death is something we ever get use to. Whether it be the death of a near stranger or the reminder of the death of a dear one we lost years ago, death still crashes into our hearts in a way that makes us believe something is trying to rip our hearts from us.
So for John, thank you for your smile everyday. Thank you for sharing bits and pieces of your wisdom and knowledge. Thank you for always treating me with dignity and respect. Thank you for teaching me that the way we interact with the people we see everyday matters, because our influence on the lives of those around us matters. Thank you for showing me how you saw people as people and not just a means to an end. Because you knew how easily someone can come into your life and touch it in a way that you are not the same after they have left. For John, thank you. You will be missed.