24 May 2012

pillow-top queen sized mattress, free

I just bought a bed. It's a queen-sized bed. The queen-sized bed came with a pillow-top mattress. Do you know what that means? It means the entire top (& the bottom too, in case you need to flip it) ... is made of pillows. It's like sleeping on a mattress of pillows.

No wait, no. It's not like that at all. It is exactly that.

But I already had a pillow-top queen sized mattress, just lying around, waiting for me to sleep upon it with the stillness of the dead. And this pillow-top queen sized mattress was up my stairs, while the new pillow-top queen sized mattress lay in wait, at the bottom. And pillow-top queen sized mattresses are cumbersome. So, while the pillow-top queen sized mattress that came with the bed was in better condition, I decided to remain with the pillow-top queen sized mattress I already had. Up the stairs. Because I mean come on now, really.

So, I ask you this, stranger: How are you sleeping these days? Are you sleeping well? Do you wake up tired? Are you filled with a nameless anxiety? Do you think to yourself, "What can I do to better the quality of the sleep that I'm not getting, that I haven't gotten, not since the womb?"? Let me tell you what you can do: You can go to the 5400 block of Harold Way, one block NORTH of Sunset, one block EAST of Western, in a truck or in a van, & you can espy a pillow-top queen sized mattress resting vertically against a tree, & you can say to this thing, this gift, this revelation: "Come with me. Let me take you home. You are mine." And then you can bring it home, & you can lay upon it, & you can close your eyes, & you can breathe. You can get back that which was once yours. You can live.

Harold Way (1 block N of Sunset), at Western. End of the cul-de-sac. Get it. Go. 

18 April 2012

one simple question

I was recently asked about my thoughts on the difference between hospitality & service. Many people consider the two interchangeable. But I see a difference in empowerment, with service being the more empowering of the two.

Q: What would you say is the difference between providing “service” and providing “hospitality”? 
Hospitality, briefly, is giving the customer exactly what she wants, when she wants it. Service is helping a guest make informed decisions — giving her the tools to discover something she will like. The difference is not so subtle. Asking someone what she wants can be dangerous ground; sometimes she doesn’t exactly know, or she may struggle articulating it. Without help, she will likely get something she doesn’t truly want, & both parties end up frustrated. Providing each guest with the amount & the kind of information that she’s looking for will lay the foundation for success. Service is empowering. Hospitality is less so.

It's a question of context. In most coffee shops in America, it is a barista's job to give you exactly what you want, how you want it, & now. That's hospitality. Meanwhile, specialty coffee shops are popping up, showcasing how delicious coffee can be on its own ... which is wonderful, but it presents a problem. How does the guest know what to expect, what she will like, if she can't have it served to her the way she is used to it being served? No vanilla syrup? Nope. But she likes vanilla, so let's start there. We will guide her toward a delicious, heaven-sent coffee that admittedly is different from a vanilla-syrup-flavored coffee. We can't guarantee that she'll love it, or that we'll change her perspective on the entire coffee industry right there on the spot. But we can guarantee that she will see the difference. Hopefully we will have guided her toward an exceptional, full-bodied, vanilla-y coffee, & hopefully — eventually — it will change her perspective on how rich & complex & nuanced coffee can taste (not to mention how it can change the world). Most of all, if we're doing our jobs right, the experience will have been so pleasant & unique, & have made her feel so listened-to & cared-for, that we will see her again. And that is service.

It is our pleasure to serve you. I hope to see you soon.

05 March 2012

coffee common at TEDActive

This past week, I had the great honor to be one of six baristas serving with Coffee Common at TED Active in Palm Springs. (Another 24 or so served in Long Beach.) It was an incredible event, one which I will not soon forget, & I hope to be able to bring some of the joy that we experienced in Palm Springs back to Primo Passo in Santa Monica.

The TED Active attendees greeted Coffee Common with openness & excitement. I say "openness" because we prepared coffee in a way many weren't used to. Our drip coffee service is familiar to those who know specialty coffee, but the TED attendees hadn't opted in. They simply walked past a kiosk that smells like coffee — like coffee with delicious, sweet, lush, cranberry-&-chocolate, or pear-&-walnut, or plum-juice-&-molasses aromas. And then we started talking.

"Hi there. [Fill water kettle, rinse filters.] The coffee we're brewing right now is El Batan, which is the name of the farm in Ecuador. [Grind beans, empty decanter, drop grinds in filter.] It's an interesting farm [pre-infuse grinds] — it was started as a women's empowerment project, first harvesting yuca & later expanding to coffee. Their relationship with Equator Coffee is also pretty special. [Begin to add remaining water, eyeing water levels.] Equator provides the farm with loans throughout the year to improve their production facilities. The farm recently built a cupping lab, which is incredibly valuable in separating out exceptional lots for sale. In turn, the farmers can improve the quality of their coffees. It's an elegant, mutually beneficial relationship, & it's the kind of relationship we're delighted to see more of in specialty coffee all over the world. Meanwhile, this particular farm has grown from five members to 22, an indicator that their empowerment project is working. Speaking of things that work [hold up filled decanter] your coffee [begin filling cups] is done. I hope you like it."

That's a new experience for a lot of people. And most of them (even if they walked up just wanting a damned cup of coffee, milk & sugar if you please, or even if they weren't looking to get a coffee at all) stuck around to listen. That openness is exactly why Coffee Common came to TED. The TED attendees traveled great distances at no small expense for the opportunity to have their minds blown wide open. They were receptive to new ways of doing things, to creative problem solving, to dynamic & sustainable business practices, & to things that are excellent. And Coffee Common is excellent.

this is where the learning is

It was truly remarkable. It felt like we were giving tiny TED talks, ourselves. Much shorter than the allotted twenty minutes, the topic of our TED talks was this: Right here in your hands is a cup of something beautiful. It's beautiful because it's sustainable, it's beautiful because it's delicious, & it's beautiful because it's attainable. You can seek out this beauty at a coffee bar in your city, or you can brew this beauty at home. Lastly, it's beautiful because, at significant volume, it can change the world. And that, friends, is an idea worth spreading, indeed.

spectrum sculpture, TED long beach

This is a sculpture at TED Long Beach. Thousands of differently-colored strings, stretching between two stairwells. As originally installed, each thread was pulled tightly in order to make a nice straight line. But there are thousands of strings. It created enough tensile force to compromise the structural integrity of the stairwell (so they loosened the strings). Though the whole structural-integrity-compromising thing wasn't intentional, I read the phenomenon as a metaphor for the immense power behind a group of people with a common goal.

18 February 2012

clipless is neither clip nor less — discuss

The funny thing about riding clipless, which I have only recently started to do so don't be too impressed, is how much easier it is. It's what riding with toe cages wants to be but can never achieve. At the moment, I'm riding clipless on a single-speed freewheel bike. But I CANNOT WAIT to ride clipless fixed. It's the logical extension of the fixed-gear promise: using every ounce of power I've got, during every part of the pedal stroke.

Meanwhile, my fears of falling helpless to the pavement, mangled under the wheels of a bus, were unfounded. (Having said that, I've adopted the habit of wearing my helmet at all times, not just on long trips, not just at night. I'm riding faster. The stakes are higher.) Though I was very used to the backwards-&-out gesture of bailing out of toe baskets, clipless' sideways gesture soon became intuitive. I was warned by several people that I was going to fall, probably at a traffic light, probably in front of a crowd of people who would point & laugh at me. So far, I haven't fallen. I'd love to think I'm just awesome, but I credit trying really hard & having just enough pride to do whatever it takes to not fall. And ballet.

In ballet, as in life, you must tell your muscles when to remember & when to forget. In order to really learn something — to learn a new step or to better perform a step you already know — you have to lock in the new feeling of the new thing & recognize it, instantly & forever (until you learn an even better way to do it), as "right". It means remembering to THINK about something that had been intuitive til then. Within my first twenty minutes riding on the road (not my first twenty minutes with the pedals on the bike*, mind you), I could reliably clip in within the first or second pedal stroke. My feet had figured out where they needed to go, & they went there without me having to think about it too much. I still have to think about it. But not too much.

* The absolute first twenty minutes with the pedals on the bike were spent not on the street but on my dear friend's driveway, one foot on a curb & the other practicing clipping in & clipping out, clipping in & clipping out. Then, the other side. I'm incredibly grateful for the loan of the pedals themselves, but this time spent locking in that muscle memory was super important toward the goal of me maintaining my dignity on the road later on. I highly recommend it. Thank you, sir. You are the best.

prolificism ... -ing

For the past couple of weeks, we've been in a holding pattern with Primo Passo. We're finally completing construction, at which point (& only at which point) I can jump back in there & continue training with our staff. Which is to say: Since February 3rd or thereabouts, I've spent my time doing pretty much the exact opposite of what I've done for the past three years.

· Worked on my feet/worked at a computer.
· Brewed coffee for other people/brewed just for lil ol' me.
· Communicated in person with colleagues & staff/wrote the shit out of shit.

While on the one hand, it's been an odd hurry-up-&-wait situation, it's also been amazing. The bulk of my time has been spent writing training documents. I wish I could give them out to everyone I know, because honestly it's been really fun writing them. And I'm also writing a book.

I'm inspired by my mother, who is engaged in a writing project of her own & which I can't wait to/am scared to read. And I'm inspired by the fact that every time I talk about the events between 1998 & 2008, it sounds like I'm lying. So I'd better write down as much as I can before I forget it all & I have to make the details up, because then I really WILL be lying. (Or I'll just call it fiction, in a sort of reverse James Frey-type situation. Will people be mad?)

Also, I suspect I won't have as much time to sit & craft words soon. So I better get as much of the lyi-- I mean, as much of the book-writing done now, while I can. This is my logic.

29 January 2012

hello, & goodbye, & hello again

Hi. I'm leaving Intelligentsia.

If you had asked me a month ago when I would leave Intelligentsia, I would've told you to shut your face. I would've told you that I'm happy & that I have no reason to leave — that I've enjoyed a startling pace of personal & professional development under the guidance of the four managers (!) & the five educators (!!!) with whom I've worked. I'd tell you that I've had the distinct privilege to go to El Salvador to visit coffee farms & mills to see how it all begins. I'd tell you that I've carved out a truly satisfying niche in the company, & I'd tell you that it would have to be something really big for me to go. All of this is true.

This is really big.

Two friends of mine, fans of Intelligentsia & life-long coffee aficionados, have approached me about helping them build a new coffee company from the ground up. Like at Intelligentsia, they will be serving rarified beans in a world-class coffee bar armed to the teeth with the best equipment. Unlike at Intelligentsia, my title will be somewhat loose. I will have the opportunity to craft my own position over time, using my experience in coffee, my years in advertising & marketing, & my love for teaching & engaging with the public. It's not the title that appeals to me (we haven't yet nailed one down). What appeals to me is the opportunity to use everything I've got — everything. Big. Like this guy's beard.

It's called Primo Passo Coffee Company — primo passo means "first step" in Italian, as it's my two new colleagues' first foray into being coffee professionals after years of being avid enthusiasts (& years of doing research). It's in Santa Monica, on Montana & 7th. We're not yet open, but we will be opening very soon. I hope you stop in to say "hello" when we do. Meanwhile, my last day at Intelligentsia Pasadena is Thursday February 2nd. I'll miss you.

... Unless you're on the west side, in which case I won't miss you at all. We can totally get Santouka, like, ALL OF THE TIME.

14 January 2012

major minor adjustments

About a week ago, as Tren Way was riding with gggwqqquuuijjjjjjjjjjjjjjkor8dnjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj                                       jjjjjjjjo905tju66666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666665 l.

Sorry. Heidi Cat sat on the keyboard.

Where was I.... Last week, as we were scouting Borfo's cOld Pasadena Ride, my pal Stevo mentioned that my saddle might be a little high. The general rule of thumb is, when your foot is on the downstroke, your leg should be very slightly bent. But my legs hyperextend — when it felt like my legs were straight, in fact they were bowed slightly in the opposite direction. When it felt like my legs were a little bit bent, they were merely straight, & my lil legs didn't have the full amount of leverage at their disposal. Stevo suggested I lower my saddle just slightly, maybe half an inch.

I lowered it half an inch. My legs felt comically bent. So I raised it back up about 1/8 inch (for a net drop of 3/8 inch). I could tell immediately that I had greater leverage (my bike felt more maneuverable & also lighter). But I felt like I had less muscular strength to call upon. I found myself sliding back in my saddle to get that former amount of leg-stretch, because that's where my muscle-power was, which is kinda funny if you think about it. But I'm forcing myself to sit right, & my muscles are adjusting. It reminds me of some advice from a mechanic at BikeRoWave: If you don't adjust your bike to fit your body, your body will adjust to fit your bike. The mechanic meant it as a warning, but I feel that my body had already (badly) adjusted & that now it's in the process of adjusting in good ways. It feels like existing muscles are shifting to a different part of my legs. I'm not experiencing the soreness one gets from building new muscle. I'm experiencing old muscles figuring out where to go to access their power. It feels strange, but it's starting to feel really good.

All this got me to thinking. I know a fair amount about bikes — I'm not a mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, but I've been riding nearly every day for almost seven years. With the help of the mechanics at various co-ops, I've taken apart & re-assembled every bike I've ever owned, right down to the ball bearings. And I STILL missed the outward clues to a really obvious, major problem. This, while knowing full well about the hyperextension thing — it's considered beautiful in ballet, though it poses its own, different issues for dancers. A little critical distance can be good, to see what I'm too close to see. And it also got me to thinking about adjustments, in general. My seat post wasn't outrageously high for me, but a very small adjustment made a very big difference. It's one of the things I love best about bikes — every single time I ride is an opportunity to assess how things are going & to see what I can improve (in my bike or in my person). This is true of every sport, & ballet too (which is like a sport). But it's especially true with bikes, as there are so many variables to adjust. It's a linear sport — you're always moving forward. Figuratively, too.