I just finished the book, 'How Starbucks Saved My Life', by Michael Gates Gill. It's a coming of middle age story about a guy who crashed from riches to rags, untimately landing standing behind a Starbucks counter. I expected it to be a cheesy read, and it probably won't win a Pulitzer anytime soon, but I actually found it hard to put down. The protagonistic in this autobiography is a big shot ad executive who, at sixty, finds himself victim of something I've had first hand experience with, downsizing. At the same time, his wife leaves him after discovering he's about to become a daddy with another mommy. And to round off the misery, he learns he has a brain tumor. And he's broke.
While sipping a latte in a Starbucks one day in Bronxville, NY, he meets the manager as she's conducting a little job fair for the store. Kiddingly, she says to him, 'You want a job?'. Seriously, he answers, 'Yes.'
From there the story takes us through his first challenging days and months behind the counter of an always bustling NYC Starbucks. He describes the physical and psychological challenges of a sixty year old white guy with an Ivy League education just trying to survive in a very visible entry level job. I certainly can relate to the intimidation factor of working in retail. Before I started this ice cream gig, I'd never worked a day in retail, to quote a Barenaked Ladies song. It's scary at first. As it was that first day for this guy in a Starbucks. He tells how good he got at cleaning bathrooms and how relieved to be doing that rather than going to the front line, which of course, eventually did happen. Just like anyone venturing outside their comfort zone, he survived, and eventually learned to really enjoy it - chatting with the regular customers, making people happy, and putting out a friendly face for his new employer.
Parts of the book read like a Starbucks infomercial, but all big company/chain bashing aside, it does sound like they treat their employees well. Health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and general respect for employees as well as 'guests' are emphasized throughout this 'finding contentment despite losing everything and having to work for tips in a coffee shop' tale.
I recently read that Tom Hanks has signed up to make 'How Starbucks Saved My Life' into a movie. It's an unlikely story about figuring out what's really important in life. It's about taking the breaks you get and making the most of them, even if they may seem 'beneath you'. It's about taking responsibility for your lot, accepting it without drowning in a puddle of self-pity, and moving forward, even if it means one latte at a time. What's not to like about a story like that.
From the intro to chapter four (also published on the side of a venti Americano coffee cup) -
"Let go your sadness, give up the fight, follow your madness and take flight...take flight."
-lyric by Seal.