This is my first project for English in college (as the title says).  The assignment was to observe, with field notes, a subculture on campus, interview a member of the subgroup, and integrate the field notes and interview in some way that created a complete view of that subgroup.  What the teacher didn’t say is that the next project, and possibly the two group projects after that one, will be based off of this project.  It will be interesting adjusting this to more projects since I chose a random group that has no actual link to me nor is it an interest of mine: workers at a coffee shop in a campus food court.  Oh well, it’s done now.  What do you think?

I am sitting in front of The Pulse shop in the Underground, a cafeteria in Wescoe Hall on the University of Kansas’s campus.  The room is slowly emptying of the students working and eating at the tables here, but it is still pretty packed.  The noise is low enough that people can talk, they do not have to shout over anyone, but it is definitely not quiet.  It is a little before three o’clock in the afternoon and I am waiting for Abbey to get off work.  She is a sophomore who is on the pre-nursing tract that works at The Pulse.  As I wait, I watch the counter of the coffee place.  It is time for the shifts to switch so there are a lot of people behind the counter.  A girl with a long blonde ponytail has replaced Abbey as cashier, there are two ladies in brown shirts (the rest are in green shirts), as well as an Asian girl and a guy behind the counter.  The girl with the blonde ponytail is wearing the uniform shirt, a green shirt with KUDining written on it, tucked into her jeans and a Pulse baseball hat which her ponytail is dangling out of.  Another person behind the counter wearing a green KUDining shirt is the Asian girl with a long black ponytail coming from her uniform hat and her shirt tucked into her jeans which is held on by a multicolored belt.  An Asian guy with no hair showing from his hat and his shirt tucked into dark jeans held on by a white belt is also behind the counter.  They are both working around the smoothie blenders in the middle of the back counter of the coffee shop, occasionally coming forward with finished smoothies.  Above their heads is the prominent logo of The Pulse: the words in huge circles as if they are vibrations pulsing outward.  One of the ladies in the brown KUDining shirt seems older than the other one.  The older one seems to be the shift leader of the off-going shift since she was working with Abbey while I sat with my smoothie.  She appears to be taking inventory, ducking into cupboards under the counter and checking the racks on the far left of the forward counter of straws, cup covers, and stirrers for what needs to be filled.  She crosses behind the cashier to open the refrigerator in the back right corner, revealing jugs of orange juice and milk, as the younger lady in the brown shirt makes hot drinks in front of the steam machine on the counter on the far left wall, under the orange frappe sign.  She has a tight brown bun poking out of her uniform cap and her brown shirt is tucked into light jeans.  The sound of steam often adds to the din of the room and her voice is barely discernible above the general noise in the room when she calls out orders, at least from this distance.  The other shift leader closes the door to the refrigerator, makes a note on the paper in her hand, her short brown ponytail swishing with every move of her head, and goes to check on the coffee pots in the center of the front counter.  She carefully tests each one to see the weight, than summons the Asian guy from the blender he was using behind her.  He finishes making the drink, saunters over to the far left to give it to a customer, and turns to find out what the off-going shift leader has to say. 

Glancing to my left at the sound of my name, I smile as I get out of my seat to welcome Abbey.  After the pleasantries of meeting are complete, we sit down and I start the interview.  “How long have you worked at the Pulse here in Wescoe Hall?” I ask.

“Since the beginning of last semester.”

Since it is the fall semester that would be starting the end of last January, right?  I should verify that, I think.  “Did you work through the summer, or no?”

“No, I went home for the summer.”

“Okay, did you apply specifically to this Pulse?” I ask, noticing that the older shift leader is leaving the work area pushing a small two-leveled black cart.  The Asian guy is picking up one of the coffee pots and walking the few steps behind the counter to a huge metal square-ish contraption.  He inserts the pot in one of the slots as Abbey answers.

“Actually I worked over there first,” Abby replies, pointing at the food area across the room from where we sit near the coffee shop. “Then I came over here, so, I mean, it’s all one.”

”Okay,” I reply, about to ask my question to clarify when she continues.

“I started as a cashier, I pretty much worked everywhere, like in the kitchen, cashier,..” she trails off as she thinks about all the positions available in the cafeteria area of the Underground.  Behind her the Asian guy is taking another pot from the front counter and putting it in the contraption on the back counter.

“Did you apply specifically to here or did you have to go online or…” I prompt.

“I just went into that office,” she replies, pointing down the hallway that has the restrooms and a number of other doors before leading to the classroom part of the building, “and got an application.”

“I’m rather curious how the application process works, if it’s all connected-” I start as the Asian guy watches the coffee pots.

“Like KUDining?” she interrupts, raising her voice slightly to speak over the sound of the blender as the Asian girl makes a smoothie.

“Yes,” I reply as the sound of the blender dies away.

“I think mostly you just go into, like, one place, like, if you want to go to the dorms you just go to the dorms.”  While she speaks, the smoothie is being poured from the blender jug to a medium sized cardboard vender’s cup and the Asian guy watches the coffee brewing.

“Okay.”  I reply as the Asian girl puts the blender jug in the sink behind the cashier.  “Why did you choose to work in the Underground instead of anywhere else on campus?” I ask watching out of the corner of my eye as the Asian girl walks from the sink near the back right corner to the drink pick up area in the front left corner of The Pulse work area.

“Both my brothers worked here and they graduated last year so they kinda got me the job,” she replies, ending in a chuckle.

“Nice,” I comment as she continues over my words.

“So that was the deciding factor, yeah.  They just kinda told me about it so I applied.”  As she talks I notice the Asian girl starting a new drink while another customer orders at the register.

 “Okay,” I reply, that question answered. Looking at the next question, I switch topics.  “Is this your first job or did you have something in high school?” I ask.  The cashier pulls a clear plastic cup out from under the counter and writes on it with a permanent marker.

“Oh no, I had, like, three jobs in high school.”

“How does working at the Underground compare to, and specifically the Pulse, compare to some of your other jobs?”  I ask that as the girl with the long blonde hair leaves the register, puts a squeeze of something from a bottle between the ice machine and the smoothie blenders in the cup, and walks the cup to the line of waiting cups by the hot drink area.

“Um, it’s a lot-I worked at a restaurant at home and it’s a lot busier, like coffee, because, I don’t know, people are always on the go.  So you have to make it fast, as opposed to a restaurant where everyone is sitting down and relaxing.  It’s just mostly the case.”  As she speaks the cashier returns to the register to take the next order and the shift leader with the short brown ponytail returns with her cart.  The top layer of the cart has a bag of powder, a package of napkins, a package of straws, and a shaker for what looks like a spice, maybe cinnamon.  The bottom layer has two jugs of orange juice and a few quarts of milk.

“I was sitting here for nearly an hour and a half and you guys had maybe five minutes that didn’t have someone ordering,” I comment as she nods at me in agreement and the shift leader starts putting her stock away.  The jugs go in the refrigerator.

“Yeah, it’s insane, yeah.”  The straw and napkin containers go behind their bins.

“It seems like everyone has their own place over there, like the coffee place, your place was the cashier, and there was also the smoothie area,” I say, motioning to the work area as the short haired shift leader puts the spice and powder in a cabinet under the counter.

“Yeah”

“Is that generally how it is on all the shifts or just with this leader?” I ask as the shift leader says something to the Asian girl before going to speak with the Asian guy while they both watch the coffee brew.

“Yeah, when it’s busy we just go with it. Like, we always have one person on cashier, and then two or one person on hot drinks, then smoothies.  Just like, sometimes there’s a floating person, but if smoothies get busy they help there.”  Right now the smoothies area is not busy so the Asian girl starts putting away the straws and napkins while the younger shift leader stays busy with the hot drinks, the cashier waits at the register while a customer debates what to order, and the Asian guy watches the coffee pots, nodding every once in a while to indicate he is listening to the tips the older shift leader is explaining to him.

“Is there a hierarchy of who, like how difficult the jobs are or is it just the decision of the shift leader?”

“Well, usually the hot drinks are harder to make than smoothies.  So people start out on smoothies.  So the newer people today are on smoothies, and then they just kinda work their way up.  Cashier is really anyone who has experience.”

I had noticed that the Asian guy they put on smoothies in the last half hour seemed less hurried than the other workers while the girl that was also on smoothies seemed to get a lot of instructions.  That seemed to mesh with the idea that they are both still learning the job.  Obviously the guy is just learning how to brew the coffee pots.  “Okay, is it hard to get into that groove of working together, not bumping into each other all the time?”

“Um, kind of, I mean I bumped into a lot of people today.”  She continues after an embarrassed chuckle: “um, I don’t know.  It’s kind of easier now, like, that I know-Like when I first started I didn’t know where to stand or whatever but now it’s easier.  It takes time,” she ends with another self-conscious chuckle.

“Yeah, I worked at Dairy Queen and we were always bumping into each other.”  At the counter the Asian girl starts on a double smoothie order for a couple of friends.  They talk to each other while texting on their cell phones.  The older shift leader is talking to the younger shift leader as the last of the current line of hot drinks is handed out.

“Yeah,” Abby agrees before continuing with a nod toward the Pulse counter, “that’s a small space to have so many people working in.”

“What do you think is probably the busiest time of the day?” I ask.

“I work the morning shift on Tuesday so that’s probably the busiest.  From, like, eight to eleven it gets really busy. And it’s always busy right after classes get out like at two and stuff.”

“So when all the people are just waking up?” I comment with a chuckle of my own as the older shift leader leaves the workspace with a quick wave to the workers as another line of customers walks up.

“Yeah the other day the line was all the way out the door and I was like, ‘Get me out of here,'” she ends with another chuckle.  “So, yeah.”

“Um,” I hesitate, glancing at my note cards for the next question as the girls behind the counter are kept busy by the drinks and the guy is still watching the coffee brew.  “Does everyone seem to get along or is it more of a keep-your-mouth-shut-and-get-the-job done workplace?”

“No, most people work well together,” she starts before I am done with my sentence, “I mean, compared to some other places that I’ve seen, like, the people that employ my friends.  You can really talk to anyone here, like my crew lead, she’s really awesome.  She’s, like, if we’re not busy we’ll just joke around.  So, it’s nice to have that relationship with your boss.”

“Sounds fun.  Do any of you hang outside of work or are there any get-to-know-each-other events or not really?”

“I don’t, I know people over on, like, the Underground side, and they do more.  Like, I used to hang out with them, but not as much anymore and I’m not working as much as I did last semester so it’s kinda hard to become close.”  As she speaks a girl with a drink half gone walks up to the pick-up area of the counter and tries to get the shift leader’s attention.

“Okay, and how long are shifts usually?” I ask as the shift leader hands out the drink she just finished.

“You chose your own schedule, so whenever you want to come in, like between classes, after classes.  This semester I’m working longer shifts and less days so I only work Monday through Wednesday, and I just had a five hour shift.  So, I mean, you kinda just make your own hours.  Management is pretty good at working with you.”  The shift leader tastes the customer’s drink, says something, and drops the half full cup down the trash receptacle behind the straw bin.

“Nice.  Okay, next question: how difficult is it to have a job, how much does it interfere with your schooling?” I ask as the shift leader gets to work on another drink, the unhappy customer still waiting.

“Um, more than I thought it would, but, like, I mean, it’s just really a time management thing.  You have to learn how to do that.  Last semester was my first time doing job and college and it was kind of hard to get used to, but now I think I got it down, except that I have harder classes this semester so that sucks.”

“Yeah, harder classes are a pain,” I comment as she chuckles.  “Would you say it’s hard to learn the drinks or drinks are -“

“They’re really pretty easy.  Plus for the smoothies we have cards that say how to make them, kind of cheat sheets.  Pretty much for all the drinks there are cards so they aren’t too hard.”

“Those come in handy,” I say with a chuckle as I remember how often I needed the cards at Dairy Queen to learn the Blizzards when I worked there.  The unhappy customer receives a full drink and walks off.

“I’m always looking at them,” Abby says with another chuckle.  By now the Asian guy is helping in the smoothie area but I can tell most of his attention is on the coffee brewing while the line of customers grows.

“Um, what’s a typical routine for work?  I noticed your shift leader refilled everything getting off shift.”

“Yeah, we have lists, opening lists the openers will go through and you’ll sign off your name for everything you do.  Then closing lists, we close at five or five-thirty so you have to start the closing list at like one-thirty to make sure everything gets done.”

“That’s always fun,” I comment sarcastically, remembering some late nights closing at Dairy Queen, where the official closing time was ten at night in the winter.

“Yeah,” she says with another chuckle.  “I always try to avoid that.  It’s not fun.”

“What do you like best about working at the Pulse now?” I ask, noting that we are almost through the questions I have.  The whirl of the blender over the ebb and flow of noise in the room indicates that the Asian girl is still working on smoothies but a glance confirms that the guy has gone back to watching the coffee.

“Probably just that it’s fast paced so it goes by a lot faster than whenever I was at the Underground, just standing around and, like, I don’t know.  There wasn’t a lot to do and then people, like, managers would yell at you, like, ‘you need to work’ and so I’d wipe the same counter again since there was nothing to do.  So, I don’t know, just staying busy.”

“Okay, makes sense.  What is probably the worst thing about working at the Pulse? Closing?”

“Um, yeah, closing is pretty annoying and they’re really bad here about communicating schedules so there’s always some miscommunications, like what I just experienced.  I don’t know, other than that it’s really not that bad.  They’re starting to crack down on dress code.  Like they just started making us have to wear hats and tuck in our shirts and things like that.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that stuff like that tends to come and go,” I say, thinking about my last job.  “They get tough for a month then ignore it for three months.”

“Yeah, even my brothers, they worked here for like three years and they said they’d never heard of management cracking down like this.  I don’t know what it is but…”

“Yeah, I’ve had that on a few jobs,” I say.  “What’s probably your favorite drink?”

“Um, for me personally, I like smoothies mostly.  Lately I’ve been getting the Strawberry Oasis and I add peanut butter in it.”

“Very nice!”

“I don’t know, I like coffee but I don’t know, I don’t like to buy it,” she says with a chuckle.

“It does add up,” I agree before going to the next question.  “What do you think is your favorite work experience, like your favorite-“

“Favorite shift?”

“Um okay, I was more thinking about your favorite one event or something that happened because you worked here.”  As she talks, the Asian girl delivers a drink, says something to the shift leader who is still working on hot drinks for the dwindling line, and leaves the work area to walk toward the food area behind me.

“I don’t know. I guess that last year I got to work with my brothers and I really liked that and, I’m trying to think of one event.  A lot of the days kinda blend together,” she says with a nervous chuckle.

“True, so there’s not really anything really amazing that has happened, just kind of come to work?”

“I wouldn’t really think anything monumental has happened on the job,” she replies as she searches her memories for anything that qualifies.  “I don’t know,” she says with another self-conscious chuckle.

“What about something really bad like a really bad spill or something, fire alarm or something.”

“Um, I’m trying to think.  I can’t think of anything.”

“Well, that’s probably good,” I comment as the Asian girl returns with a clear jug of ice.

“Yeah, I guess that is good. Yeah, most of my days have been pretty average.”

“Would you say there’s any lingo you guys have?” I ask as the Asian girl struggles to put the ice in a container under the counter that held the blenders.  There was a break in orders so the cashier helps her align the containers correctly.

“Um, mostly just coffee lingo. I mean you pick up on it pretty fast, like a breve is using half and half in a drink and there’s um, I think about cafe aulait is just coffee and steamed milk.  I don’t know, it’s just little things like that, it’s not like we’re speaking another language.”

“Yeah, well, I do have a question.  I call it the steamer-” motioning to the machine the girl in the brown shirt is still in front of.

“Yeah, steaming the milk, yeah.”

“It seems there’s a special technique with that, or not really?”

“Um, not really, there’s just like little rules you have to follow so you don’t, like, break it, not like ‘break it’ but so it stays running the way it does.  You have to always turn on the wand before you put it in the milk so, like, I don’t know.  You have to turn it on, then you can steam it. And then you steam it to the temperature, and then afterwards you have to turn it on and wipe it off so the milk doesn’t stay stuck on the wand.”

“I notice your shift leader just had the new guy rebrew the coffee in the front pots.  Does he have to stand there and watch them each brew?” I ask, noticing him taking one of the pots out of the contraption and putting it on the front counter.

“No, he’s new, but no, he doesn’t have to watch it.  We do have to rebrew the pots every two hours, or if the pot gets empty before the two hours.”

“Okay, I think that’s all my questions.  Thank you for your time,” I say, before standing up.  I notice the guy is putting another of the pots in the contraption, brewing the last two pots of the four up front.

The Pulse sounds like a pretty good place for a college kid to work, I think as I walk past the shop for the door outside.  Flexible hours, friendly coworkers, easy things to memorize with cards for the harder things, and fast paced so the hours don’t seem long.  I will definitely have to keep it in mind when looking for a job.