Pre-pandemic, I found myself over-committed constantly. As one of a handful of pianists in our community, it wasn’t hard to do. It was something I was “working on”, but whenever I shed a responsibility that wasn’t giving me joy, I found myself picking up another one to fill the void. I would often find out the hard way that time is like a currency; there is a finite amount to spend, and if you spend it all on work, hobbies and side-hustles, your home life goes into overdraft pretty quickly. It wasn’t good for me, my girlfriend Faith (now my wife, somehow), or our pets.
Enter 2020 and the pandemic. In a matter of days, all of my commitments outside of work became dangerous and illegal activities (not as cool as it sounds). Choirs, church services, rehearsals, meetings, concerts, all cancelled. I’d like to write more about how arts organizations have suffered throughout the pandemic, but that will be for another day. In the meantime, support local artists and go to concerts when they return!
It may be “too soon” or even a bit taboo, but this complete liberation from responsibility was one of the best things that happened to me in the last few years. While the world was falling apart, my wife and I also were moving into our first place together; all that was left was my retail job (thankfully) and setting up our home, and it felt great! Imagine: going to one place to work for a set number of hours, coming home, using your free time to maintain your house and relax, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour. These are the things of suburban dreams, and they were finally mine!
One year later, and things are a little different. Being an essential worker has been tough. The consistency is still nice, but now I see some of the value in keeping busy outside of work: you don’t become your job. I felt like a full-time retail worker and a part-time human. Things changed in September 2021: Rabbit Dash Coffee House, where my wife, Faith, is a manager, was in need of staff. Faith has worked there since 2018, so I was no stranger to her fellow employees or their products. Faith thought that, with a bit of training, I could pick up a few shifts to fill in the gaps. I was excited for a change, but I had no idea the joy that this change would bring.
Coming from retail, I couldn’t believe how different working at Rabbit Dash felt. Time always flies by. Customers look for conversation instead of avoiding it. Making drinks is so much more rewarding than simply selling products. If you order anything besides brewed coffee or tea, your drink requires a great deal of dexterity, measuring, thought and instinct to make, all in the span of a minute or two. That process is what is so fascinating to me. It’s an act of spontaneous creation, a custom-made experience. You can’t doubt the authenticity of it, because it’s made right in front of you.
Another surprisingly memorable thing about this job is the smells. This may seem obvious; who doesn’t like the smell of freshly ground coffee? But there is so much more. Brewing coffee, pulling an espresso shot, steaming milk, making chai lattes and hot chocolates: all these things have instantly recognizable smells. That’s not to mention all of the amazing smells that come out of the kitchen: muffins, brownies, bacon, waffles. It never stops! It’s one thing to pop in as a customer and get a whiff of something good. However, to be there all day, experiencing this constantly evolving smell-scape, is always worth the price of admission.
This starry-eyed account may seem too good to be true and, to be fair, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of working here on a long weekend in the middle of summer. If I’m still needed by then, my feelings towards this place may have shifted. For now, I think this was exactly the change I needed. It’s meaningful work, but it’s still creative and engaging.
This is not an advice column but I feel like such a personal account needs a takeaway of some sort. Here’s a few that you can choose from: “Don’t quit your day job, in case of a pandemic!” -- “Over-committed? Just wait it out. Something devastating will happen and all of your responsibilities will disappear!” -- “Sick of your job? Go smell a coffee shop!”
In all seriousness, I think what I have learned is that balance is the key. Doing it all wasn’t suiting me, nor was putting all I had into one thing. Finding a diversion every now and then, a breath of fresh (caffeinated) air, was what I needed to spark some excitement in life again.
Come say hi to me on Thursday mornings at Rabbit Dash! I’ll be wearing a toque because I was too tired to do something with my hair and a plaid shirt, because that’s what “cool baristas” wear, right?