Bad Shots

Some kids just get it.

Not me.

I was 18 and I didn’t give a fuck about nuthin cept going out at night and having fun. Afternoons I occupied space in various classrooms at my local community college. Mornings I made the minimum + tips serving lattes along with a crew of five at a busy bakery/cafe.

I was a terrible barista. Which is different from a bad barista. Bad baristas are just ignorant. They don’t know what scorched milk is, or how you can tell a bad shot from the moment you tamp it, let alone load it and pull it.

I was a terrible barista because I knew what a bad shot was, and I’d serve them anyway.

Tips were shared amongst the crew of five, and the place has a great location so it was busy as heck, so what difference did it make to me if a bad shot or a burned latte went out every now and then?

A: Not much.

This went on for a year, maybe longer. Then I got transferred. Promoted. Weekend manager at the owner’s other shop. Why me? Dunno. Might have been just to get me out of his hair, since I was a bit of a pain in the ass… (edit: still am :) )

The other shop was in the middle of nowhere. The only customers were locals. Regulars. The shift was 6AM – 6PM, solo, ten an hour plus all the tips I could rake.

With maybe fifty customers max on a quiet Saturday, I needed every one of my regulars and I needed them tipping bigtime. If I served up a burned, bad shot latte, guess what? That generous buck a day tip? Might go away. Might even go away for good. So those bad shots? I started tossing them out. Burned milk? Toss it. Redo it. Pound the milk. Hearts on the capps.

And you know what? I started noticing how people looked when I served them a great cup of coffee. They smiled. Their souls smiled. I mean, what’s a cup of coffee but a brief respite from a stressful morning? And if I made that respite into a consumable work of art… BAM. Joy.

And then something weird and totally unexpected happened.

Giving other people moments of joy kinda felt good. I mean really good. Christmas morning good.

This was but a first foot in the door towards actually giving a fuck. I was 20, meek, a sarcastic kid, afraid of the world, making $300 / week and skating by with a C average at community college. All of that would change soon…

Gary Snyder’s Things To Do Around Portland

From the longer poem Three Worlds, Three Realms, Six Roads, by Gary Snyder. Likely written in the early 50s, the period in which Snyder is portrayed in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Poem appears in the collection Mountains and Rivers Without End, which I highly recommend. Link annotations are mine. Feliz Domingo.

Go walk along the Sandy when the smelt run
Drink Buttermilk at the Buttermilk Corner.
Walking over Hawthorne Bridge the car tires sing
Take the trolley out to Sellwood when the cherries are in bloom.
Hiking the woods below Council Crest, a treehouse high in a
    Douglas fir near the medical school.
Bird watching and plant hunting on Sauvies Island in May.
Vine maple leaves in the slopes above St. John’s bridge in autumn.
Wading the Columbia out to the sandbars
Himalayan blackberries tangle at the base of the steel-high tension
    Bonneville transmission tower–your fingers stained
Get married in Vancouver, without the three-day wait.
Cash paychecks at the Pastime
Beer in Ericson’s, hamburgers at Tick Tock.
Led down narrow corridors of Court House, City Hall, the
    newspapers, the radios, the jail.

Parking in the Park blocks
Sunburned skiing
Shivering at the ocean
Standing in the rain

Five Things Netflix Could Have Done

Netflix from Wikipedia Commons

Hey Netflix.

You’re right. Six bucks a month is bupkis.

People spend $120 / month on Cable.

People spend four bucks on a cup of coffee that would cost 10 cents to make at home.

People pay more than six bucks a month in credit card interest. A *lot* more.

So you’re right.

It’s the way you did it. It screams “BIG GREEDY CORPORATION”.

Rule #1 of doing business in 2011, don’t come off like a big greedy corporation. Even if you are one. ESPECIALLY if you are one.

Five things you could have done instead of surprising your customer base with a price hike from $10 to $16 overnight:

  1. Raise it to $17 instead of $16. Then use the extra dollar to reward power users and legacy customers. (Or $18, or whatever. It is a simple statistical calculation ‘playpen’ built in Excel an hour by a stats geek. How many users you can reward versus how much more you need to charge everyone else. CEOs love to play with stuff like that)
  2. Keep price the same for existing customers, charge new accounts $20 or $25 or whatever. (Again, simple statistical calculator to figure out how much you need to charge X new customers to bring in the same revenue as charging everyone $16)
  3. Open the books. Show the world why you need to raise prices. Pioneer honesty in your industry & blow the competition out of the water.
  4. Call it a service fee. Sneaky, but… it works for banks, utilities, the cable company, etc. Or offer a credit card, then give a discount when customers pay with the card (discount equal to revenue from offering credit card, another simple statistical calculation).
  5. Raise it to $20, offer an ‘out’ to reward good customers. So if you’ve been there 2+ years, you pay the old rate. If you tweet about Netflix once a month, you pay the old rate. If you like them on Facebook… etc.

A quick brainstorm over a macchiato at Stumptown. Probably coming up with 50 of these and narrowing down would be the best idea. Have a highly compensated executive you trust lead it. She has final say over the top three to present to the Board. Each of the three ‘winning’ ideas is presented by the person who came up with it. The Board votes, it’s decided, we go make it happen.

Summertime Blues

4th of July at ‘The Farm’. Kitsap Peninsula. Twenty miles as the bird flies from Seattle, a million miles away as bellyache wriggles. The bellyache being everything stressful and binding. Necessities of our chosen fields, sure. But even as a fella who’s enthusiastic as hell at 5 AM on Monday, there is nonetheless nothing like the joy of relaxing on a Holiday weekend.

Laugh Last Summer Northwest

(Wallace Stevens, Gregory Corso, Botticelli, thank a vet, sunny day Sinclair Inlet, etc)

Summer comes last
to these conifer lands
limping in long after Botticelli
painted out for the day
soused at noon on Soave
has slipped off to sleep on his terrace
in the paltry arms of a Caprese venus.

We laugh best, spitting
Rainier pits and slugging
Olympic snow glistens in the distance;
Bumbler bee buzzes in the lavenders
on this day before The Fourth
in these conifer lands.


No, I’m not giving up on the phone. I, mean, I need it to text. Texting is the perfect answer to most situations that require a one-off response. “Be there in 10 mins”, “Website is back up”, “Hey can u pickup paper towels and beer”, etc etc. Awesome tool.

Need it for the Net, too. How else is a guy to know if that Pho place he’s hunting is on 87th or 88th ave without Google Maps? Or if that important email has come in. Or the score of the game when we’re at the beach.

And I don’t hate talking on the phone. Contrary to popular belief amongst my friends, I can enjoy a good call. Yes it’s a very poor proxy for face-to-face. But sometimes it’s the only viable option. Like, when you’re in Beijing and I’m in Portland. Or we’re a mile away from each other in LA at 3PM.


See, there was a time when being on the phone, yakking randomly with your colleagues or friends while ordering coffee, or shopping at the store, or driving around in your car, it was novel. Totally cool.

Guess what? That was the 90s. This is the Naughties.

Lately I get the sense that being on the phone anywhere and everywhere is, well, it’s pretty passé. Often rude to the people around you. Not to mention occasionally hazardous. I’m not going to spout nonsense like Your Dharma is the now and living in the Now is the only way, so stop being on the phucking fone and be here now. But, yeah, kinda.

So I asked myself, “Self, how many times, in the last five years, have you placed or taken an unscheduled call while out roaming around where the conversation and/or result wouldn’t have been better if the call had waited until you were back at your home or office, with your notes handy, your email searchable and sendable, your task list tickable?”

The answer: Not that many.

Like maybe two. In five years.

What I did about it:

  • Drop expensive AT&T phone service
  • Get Verizon MiFi device for internet anywhere
  • Transfer phone # to Google Voice, make & take calls through the computer
  • Get a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for emergencies and those two calls every five years

What I ended up with:

  • Internet anywhere for my iPhone and all my computers
  • Texting, Google maps, everything I used to have on the iPhone *except* ability to take & make calls
  • 2 more devices to carry around
  • $60 extra in my pocket every month
  • Smiles from baristas, fellow drivers, people on the sidewalk, etc

The $700 / year is negligible. The behavior change is what sealed the deal. Out with the extraneous temptation to yak anywhere and everywhere. Oh, and the ability to have 4G speed on all of my computers wherever I take them is pretty awesome too.

Wish me luck in my phoneless adventure. And if you do call and get my voicemail, well I’m away from my desk. Expect a text or an email in reply. Probably a lot faster than I ever called anyone back in my phone-y past.

(Like James, Jonny sucks at answering the phone anyway)