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COFFEE CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU

posted Nov 21, 2015, 10:44 AM by David Watson

It is becoming something of a truism for a book lover like me that my most satisfying finds are often in the remainder or clearance bins.  It can also, though I’ll admit, rarely, be the case that the very best writers aren’t discovered (or in this case, discover themselves) until they are getting along in years.  Coffee is occasionally involved as well, at least for me.  Let me tell you briefly, then, about one such volume and author, and the role of coffee in a story of humility and redemption.

Michael Gates Gill was a high-powered executive with a New York City Advertizing Agency, one of the largest and most successful such firms in the world.  Michael had it all, or so it would have appeared to most of us.  He grew up living in a 35 room mansion in Connecticut, the only child of well-known New Yorker writer Brendan Gill. Michael graduated from Yale, and was essentially handed the good life.  Except that he fell from grace.  Although always well-paid in his career, the combination of losing his position in his early 50’s to younger (and therefore less expensive) talent and both poor money and career management choices, meant that Michael’s resources dwindled away at a shocking rate.  Add in the complication of an affair and an accompanying surprise love child, and this upper-class gentleman suddenly found himself divorced, alone, and nearly insolvent.

            Now here’s the part about humility and redemption.  Being a fan of Starbucks coffee, Michael spent much of the last of his savings sipping lattes variously at its locations around New York City, and lamenting his lot.  Almost as something of a joke, one day a young Starbucks store manager, Crystal, asked if he would like to interview for a position as a Barista (the name used by coffeehouses for those who serve coffee).  As their chat progressed, Michael realized that not only did he truly need a job, but that the company’s benefits were excellent (health insurance being something he very much wanted to be able to provide for his unexpected “extra” child).  Crystal actually did offer him a job, which he eagerly accepted.  Michael became Mike, and embarked on a crash course in both serving coffee and being humble. 

Mike’s late-in-life education taught him, among other lessons, that: 1) there really can be dignity in cleaning toilets; 2) everyone deserves respect, and excellence and intelligence are not the sole domain of the upper caste; and 3) diversity, inclusiveness, caring, and trust can combine to create a working environment where it does not matter so much who or where you are within the hierarchy, but rather how much and how well you contribute.

Because of his experiences (which included being older and of a different race than most of his co-workers), and since at the suggestion of his daughter he had kept a journal, Mike decided at age 63 to write a book about his epiphany.  Hence, my five dollar discovery in remainders pile, titled “How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else”.  Mike never saw himself as a writer, and certainly didn’t desire to compete with his famous father.  He also never envisioned serving anything to anyone, let alone coffee to the unwashed masses.  Strangely, though, by becoming introspective concerning his own life, and more open to the value that can (and so often is) added by others who are different from us, Mike, by his own reckoning, actually became happier.

Apparently it can happen.  Just a few days ago as I sat in a Starbucks writing on my little notebook computer, I observed first-hand the impact of reaching out.  The young barista manning the register simply radiated warmth and enthusiasm, which, amazingly, each customer gave back in turn when ordering.  Being open, positive, and accepting really can make all the difference.  Michael Gates Gill knows this, but you don’t have to wait until you’re 63 to discover it—you can read his sweet, simple, and empowering book instead.

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David Watson,
Nov 23, 2015, 12:14 PM
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