Melissa Walker
Morning barista at Victrola, 411 15th Ave E, 325-6520.

How do you remember your regular customers' drinks every morning?

"I don't know--I remember their drinks quite easily, before I remember their names. A small percentage get thrown off by me predicting what they will drink, and [feel like they] must order the exact same drink every time."

Tell me about the occupational hazards in your line of work.

"Like with any job requiring repetitive motion, eventually, carpal tunnel. But pulling coffee is unique in that we baristas are just out there, totally accessible to the public, more so than other service jobs. People come in every day, day after day. Getting coffee is so regular and such a fixed part of people's routines, I think that the person who makes your coffee drink becomes an intimate in a way a waiter might not be. Everybody has something that they need--sometimes that's for me to be an espresso robot, sometimes I am maybe the first or only person they speak with that day.

"Maybe it's something to do with the comfort of consumption--this psychologist told me that people regress to childhood needs when they deal with ordering and consuming food--but, like [with] a lot of jobs in the service industry, you've got to deal with whatever the customer projects on you with a smile, or at least figure out what kind of 'process' they need.

"Hey! I know it's just coffee, but I'm dealing with people first thing in the morning. And that can have its hazards."

Do you get asked out a lot?

"I'm not answering that question."

What if I asked you out?

"Look, here we are, having lunch."

Wow, I've crossed some social/emotional boundary. Do you become friendly with customers?

"I'm lucky I work at Victrola. It's a nice community, it really is. I enjoy the regulars, the people who are friendly and respectful... not all coffee shops or cafés have the same vibe or crowd. [If I worked at a different café,] I wouldn't feel so positive about getting friendly--it wouldn't be possible elsewhere."

How did you get into, uh, barista-ing?

"I cut my waitressing teeth on the 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. shift at an all-night diner in Champagne, Illinois, where all these bitchy, drunk, obnoxious guys would go after dancing at the gay disco. I was 18 and miserable. A friend opened up a coffee shop, and I started working nights. Nights are a free-for-all. There are generally no bosses, the tips are bad because everybody's a poor college student--it was not fun for me. I'm too anal retentive to deal with that kind of chaos. So I switched to early mornings. I honed my sassiness, developing a tired, deadpan sarcasm; that seemed to make people feel special. It may have been inappropriate, but I got huge tips. People in Illinois are like that."

Interview by Rachel Kessler