Friday, February 06, 2009

Starbucks job fantasy comes to bitter end

Mary Schmich
February 6, 2009
I don't personally know anyone who quit a good job to work at Starbucks, but I know a lot of people who've fantasized.

Was your current job too stressful? Was it eating up your life with the ferocity of a starving dog? Even if you liked your job, was it time you spent more time painting, writing, cooking, woodworking, traveling, nurturing others and at least reading "1000 Things to Do Before You Die?"

In the Starbucks fantasy, you would toss off those old shackles, slip into a green Starbucks apron and be happy ever after saying, "Room for cream?"

That American dream took a hit last week. In its latest round of bad news, Starbucks announced it was cutting 6,700 jobs worldwide and closing 300 stores. Pop, pop, pop. From the skyline of Seattle, across the Midwest plains to the shores of Tampa Bay, you could hear the fantasies burst.

Starbucks was the great American backup plan. The emergency exit. The parachute. You could tell yourself that when you were ready to bolt your job—or your employer kicked you out—you could land softly at Starbucks, padded by the promise of part-time employment, a pleasant workplace, health care and free coffee.

It would be a simpler life. You would serve, you would smile. You would perfect your cappuccino foam. When you got sick—a big piece of the fantasy—you'd be covered. No taking the job home. When you clocked out of work, your mind would clock out too.

Simplicity. Security. A little style. That was the Starbucks dream.

Michael Gates Gill fed the Starbucks fantasy in his 2007 best-seller "How Starbucks Saved My Life." He was a blueblood executive who had lost his PR job, gotten a divorce and discovered he had a brain tumor. Starbucks, the story went, healed his soul.

Gill's tale spoke to Starbucks fantasists everywhere. Happiness really did lie in climbing down the ladder of success. Tom Hanks signed on to make the movie.

In reality, life on the backside of the espresso bar might not be so rosy. It didn't matter. Fantasies don't require fact-checkers. What mattered was that a prosperous Starbucks company let people envision a simpler, happy work life.

Starbucks is still a huge company, but as it struggles, its status as a fantasy shrinks, in which case it might be good to point out all the reasons you never wanted to work there anyway. In search of some, I phoned my friend Jane Corey Holt, former Starbucks barista, store manager and sales rep.

"I can't say much that dispels the myth," she said. "You're not going to get rich, your hours are irregular and it's retail so people are grumpy and demanding."

But she liked the job's simplicity, which came with just enough intensity. Making 200 drinks an hour, she said, focuses the mind. She also liked the people, the health benefits and the free pound of coffee every week. She fantasizes sometimes about going back.

Since a fantasy is just a fantasy, there's no reason a person can't keep the Starbucks dream. But the luster is off. Now a dreamer needs a backup to the backup fantasy.

No comments:

Post a Comment