When I started working at the coffee shop, the girl who was training me made sure to point out the regular customers and their regular orders. It helps, a bit, when you’re very busy, and you see someone you are familiar with come in, and you can just tack their drinks onto the end of the chain you’re making and ring them out when you get a second. The way this coffee shop operates is that one person works alone from open to close, so when it gets busy, little things like that aid you in keeping things moving along.
The coffee shop is located on a military base, so, you know, I see a lot of military people. Not just USAF, though. There’s Italians, British, Germans, and French, as well. Groups of them are really regular. Germans come in around lunch, Monday through Thursday, and they mostly drink lattes, and they take over the sitting area of the shop for 30 or 40 minutes, and it’s very reliable. A little earlier in the day, the French guys would come in. There were about 6 or 7 of them. Two would come together, and order a double espresso each. The other group would come in a bit after and order double espressos as well. All of them, double espressos, all the time.
One of them is just really friendly and chatty and was always interested to know about whoever was working there, talk about what he likes about New Mexico, how it’s different from France. He wanted to know what our husbands did and talk about what he did (a fighter pilot). And another was very big and very gruff, and he would sometimes drink 4 double espressos in a day. IN A DAY!
Anyway, these French guys, they were the first guys I got to “know” working there. I knew their drink (singular, because they all want double espressos, all the time) and they knew the exact cost, but I would always ask them what they were having, and they would pretend like they might order something else. “Oh, hmm… double espresso?” And they would put their change out on the counter and count it out together and pay in exact change every time, and I’m not communicating this well, but they’re adorable and I really enjoyed them and how reliable they are.
As you can probably tell by my awkward switching back and forth between present and past tense – because they still ARE French guys and they still DO drink double espressos – the French have left. In the last couple of days they were here, they were paying in more and more coins, trying to shed all of their American money. One said they were leaving soon, and it turned out to be within a couple of days, then they started coming in out of uniform, as they were preparing to leave, and then one by one they would tell me it was the last time they were coming in.
The big guy came in for the last time on Tuesday, and he walked in and kind of just spread out his arms, like, “Well.” And I was so bummed. I don’t even know how to explain. I put an extra shot in his cup and slipped my own $.75 into the register, which is not something I do, because I can’t be buying drinks all the time for people or I would be poor. I didn’t even tell him I did it, I just did it because I wanted to, and whether he noticed or not, who knows, because he was The Last French Guy, all of his friends had already flown out and he wasn’t hanging around in the shop like he had every single day since I started working there. I asked him if he wanted his receipt, like I always do and he always declined, and he declined this time, too. I guess he was not especially interested in making his last visit symbolic, because of course not, these guys travel a lot and this was just another coffee shop on yet another base. The really nice guy told me that one of them was going home and then deploying 15 days later, and the rest would likely be deploying in a month or so, so they are busy guys, those French Air Force guys.
It is kind of ridiculous how bummed out I have been about the fact that they’re gone. Today was the first shift I worked with No French Guys, and it wasn’t weird or notable, except that I only had to refill my espresso beans just one time instead of two or three or four. And more French guys will be coming in a month or so, and I expect my espresso sales will go back up to former levels, but they will not be the same French guys, so they will not be MY French guys, and I don’t know, I think this has given me unexpected ennui.
I remember my first non-training solo encounter with one of the French guys, and he was very nice, and when he left, he said, “Good bye, madame,” and I was so fucking charmed, I texted Noemi immediately to tell her, because, I don’t know, she’s French, they’re French, and I’m really only capable of the most basic of social connections. One of the girls I have trained recently is a lesbian and I’m surprised I haven’t texted Noemi about that, too. “Hey, I met a lesbian! You’re a lesbian!” and then the conversation would peter out from there because that’s really all there is to say about that.
But the French guys. Maybe because they were the first customers I knew? But I also know a lot of the Germans quite well – and by know, I mean, I recognize them and they recognize me (probably because I am dependably behind the counter and making coffee for them), but I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine (I mean, I assume – theirs are on their uniforms as is my own, but I haven’t registered them so I assume they are the same). And I would miss the Germans, if they left, which, you know, I don’t know if and when they will or when new Germans will rotate in. And the French guys weren’t the only customers I know. There’s a really lovely gentleman who comes in three or four times a week and he wants black iced coffee, the cup filled to the top with ice and as much coffee as I can get around the ice, and then he will put the lid on it himself, and when he sees I’m busy, he reaches around the register to lay $3.05 on it and hangs back to wait patiently. If I’m very busy, he makes sure to compliment what a great job I do, and today, he took the time to tell me that the girl I trained recently, who worked her first solo shift yesterday so I could get a day off, after only one real day of training – that girl – he took the time to tell me that she had done a wonderful job and “tell her we’re all proud of her.” How fucking adorable is that.
I love the coffee shop. I really, really do. I especially love the regular customers, because they are so regular and dependable and unfailingly kind and understanding that this coffee shop is a one lady show. When I kind of “took possession” of the coffee shop, though – it’s not mine, it’s just that as the regular part-time person now, who gets the bulk of the hours, I don’t just come in and work a shift anymore, but am now also responsible for doing all the ordered and dealing with the vendors and making sure everything is running when I am not there, so it feels like mine and my boss treats it like it is mine – when I took it, there were The French Guys, and they have been a massive part of this whole thing. And it doesn’t sound like a whole thing, because it is just a job, but what had happened was I started working at first in December, and I was also hired for another job, off base, at a coffee shop in a bookstore. I told my boss about needing to schedule around another job, and she said she’d wished she’d known I wanted to work in a coffee shop, because they needed someone in our coffee shop. Things worked out so that I didn’t take the one off base and trained to work as kind of a respite type of help in this coffee shop instead, and that started in January. By February, I was working there 2 and a half days a week by myself, and by the end of March, it was my coffee shop. It feels like a whole thing, because it happened kind of fast and now I am kind of a mini-boss of the place, like one of the “your princess is in another castle” Bowsers, and it’s nice, really. I genuinely liked coming in and working a shift at whichever restaurant I was meant to be in that day and going home, but it’s also nice to have a feeling of ownership over this little shop and my boss empowers me to really just do what needs to be done and trusts me to just Handle Things, and that’s nice, too. It’s responsibility, but not Responsibility. I guess it depends on how you look at it. It’s manageable responsibility. Comfortable responsibility. Busy and vital, but not stressful responsibility.
Right, so, when I got the coffee shop, there were The French Guys, and now there are not, and it’s so unexpectedly a thing, I just wanted to write it down. They were here and now they’re not, and I am very, very, mildly bereft.