Its 6:45 a.m. and I pull a green apron over my head, fold it up once around my waist, and tie the long emerald strings into a tight knot at my hips.
“Welcome back to the food service industry,” I say to my reflection in the mirror. My reflection forces a smile that says ‘I love my job’, and I realize I look much too young for this. Just the other day someone mistook me for a high school grad and not a college grad.
Maybe I should get glasses to make me look older. Or fess up and actually start wearing makeup.
I hide my dark, cropped hair under a black hat bearing the symbol of Starbucks Coffee and smooth down the wrinkles in my apron.
Much to my dismay I do feel like I’m back in high school where I wore a white apron as I swept the dusty floors of a bakery. Evening light always beamed in from the West window during the end of my shift, causing a haze in the floury air and notifying me that I had been there much too long. Not only too long for my scheduled shift, but too long as a customer service rep. I couldn’t wait to be done working for the summer and finally leave my white crumb-covered apron behind as I set out for college.
But in college, an apron found me sooner than I expected, for by second semester I was working for a catering company, setting and bussing tables every weekend. As my friends planned Saturday night dates, I’d put on my freshly pressed apron and begin clothing tables with crimson cloths and setting out cups and polished silverware. Hours later I’d still be working, bussing tables with a tub and a rag and my apron smeared with every bit of food, drink and whatever else it could pick up.
When I got a job as a writing tutor I said goodbye to the aprons and only wore the pretty red one in my mom’s kitchen for holiday baking. But just weeks after I graduated from college, with a hard-earned diploma and a few thousand in debt, I was wearing an apron of blue and scooping dishes of ice cream at a frozen custard shop. I only wore this sapphire apron long enough to make a few hundred Turtle sundaes and learn how to blend three milkshakes in less than a minute.
That blue apron was worn thin; each time I pulled it off its silver hook from the back closet and tied it around my waste, I wondered how many dozens had worn it before me, had wiped their sticky hands on it, and used its corners to clean the sides of freshly packed pints of ice cream.
My apron this morning is green and brand, spanking new, but still I feel my journey has taken me nowhere.
After college I imagined I would be wearing a white collar; instead I’m pulling a black collar over the halter of a green apron. Rather than counting words in a news article, I’m counting minutes before I should brew the next pot of coffee.
Is this not what high schoolers do during summer break or even college kids during those glorious warm months away from school? If so then what am I, a college graduate who’s spent hundreds of hours studying, writing, reading, and memorizing, doing here?
Instead of taking pictures at a news conference, I’m taking orders from a never-ending line of customers, mixing syrups, steamed milk and shots of espresso instead of making documentaries of interesting people.
My heart burns with frustration like the pastry I forgot to pull from the warmer, it simmers like the tin of milk screaming beneath the steamer.
Why am I here and not there?
Taking orders and not photos
Making iced lattes and not videos
Writing dates on creamers and not news articles
“For I know the plans I have for you,” God said to a people exiled from its country. A people like the refugees I’d like to be interviewing. He knows what he has for me and for them. He’s brought me to be a barista–for now– despite my college degree and my burning desire to be elsewhere.
In light of the plans I had for myself I suppose I am in the right place; for there is nowhere better than where God has called me right now.
It’s 7:00 a.m. and I walk out of the break room with a fresh green apron on, ready to start my shift.
“Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.”