On Leaving Starbucks, Class Inequality, and Social Value

Today I got an offer to job a research lab as a paid assistant. This is incredible because it is a step toward where I hope to go in my career, they will potentially pay me a lot more than I have been paid else where, and I will be able to live a more comfortable schedule with flexible hours in a job that I enjoy. However, I cannot add this job to my current workload without shifting around things I am already doing. This past March, I had to go back to my job as a shift leader at Starbucks, because my nice job as a tutor didn’t pay enough to let me survive and I was getting tired of barely making rent and not being able to buy groceries. Despite a heavy course load, I took on the extra job at Starbucks on top of a peer mentoring job, and a tutoring job. Therefore I was officially working three jobs while maintaining full time status as a student. 

Over the final four months of my undergraduate career, I was constantly feeling like I had reached the peak of my physical and intellectual ability. If I hadn’t had to work outside of school, I would have been an excellent student. I did maintain straight A’s in my last two years at UCSC, but my mental capacity and my ability to learn were not fully utilized because I had to split my consciousness so many ways. 

If the sheer amount of hours awake and working were not challenging enough (most days I woke up at 3am, and got home after 10pm), the dissociation I had to endure while working at Starbucks fully occupied my emotional energy. To work at Starbucks in such a affluent community of entitled, arrogant, dehumanizing excuses for humans is beyond draining. I had to fully detach myself from my humanity and my self worth to even manage a straight face when talking to customers. This experience in particular is what cements the struggle of class inequality in my life. The deprivation of resources and opportunities I felt relative to the customers was daunting. Most of them were able to come to starbucks and order expensive drinks everyday. Then they would get into their expensive cars or their expensive houses and live their lives with the privilege of their class status. It is very likely they were able to make rent. It is very likely that they can go to farmers markets, or grocery stores and have the option of buying healthy, organic food. It is very likely that they don’t see the ways that I am dehumanized as a customer service representative.

I once had a customer who asked that I make her drink at 180 degrees. Starbucks policy states that our maximum temperature for making drinks is at 200 degrees. What is missing from this policy is the risk that I face making the drink. When I was in high school I was burned by coffee at Starbucks so badly that I couldn’t work for 2 weeks. I did not particularly want to make her drink at 180, so I told her I would make it extra hot for her. She caught on and asked what ‘extra hot’ meant. I told her that our espresso machines have a ‘extra hot’ setting, which steams at 165. She became irate and demanded that I make it at the temperature she asked for. When I told her that it wasn’t safe for me to handle drinks that hot, and that I had been injured when doing it before she said that she didn’t care. The just say yes policy requires that I put aside my dignity and grant any request a customer has- particularly if they are a regular customer. When I told my manager about the situation, she told me that I should apologize to the woman if I saw her again and to just say yes if it should ever happen again. 

As a poor person, I have to take that crap. I have to suppress any feelings of injustice and get through the day. As a poor person, I have to wake up earlier than the rich people, act like I’ve had enough sleep, act like I am happy to see them (despite their disregard for me as a person), and do whatever they ask. I have to smile at their sexist jokes or comments. I have to make my individuality invisible and stroke their egos. 

As a research assistant, I won’t have to do that. I will be making more money and will be shown more respect. In westernized capitalist society, my value is determined by the amount of money I have (therefore access to comfort or having my needs met) and within my community my value is determined by the respect I am shown. Based on this criteria, I have not been valuable. But maybe that will change…