Passive-Aggressive Capitalism – A Short Story

The contract job I landed in 2003 at Starbucks corporate headquarters thankfully removed the “un” from the employment I had been sinking further into for months.

Things had become desperate, so while I wasn’t thrilled about the job, I was thankful to have something. The merry-go-round of taking a cash advance on one credit card and then paying it off with a zero- to low-interest balance transfer from another had come to a lurching halt, with my last application for a new card being having been denied. I had sold everything I could sell on Craigslist. I had applied for over one hundred jobs and from those efforts had secured one in-person interview where I crashed and burned so hard that I’m sure my name is still on a “do not hire” blacklist there, and one phone interview that seemed promising but I never got a call back or had my calls to them returned. I was about two weeks away from having no capacity to pay any bill and was facing being homeless.

I got the job through a friend’s girlfriend. She worked at a temporary agency and vouched for me. I did have to go to the agency for an interview with the account representative for Starbucks, and she seemed to have a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that I was looking for entry-level contract work when my last gig had been as CEO of a 25 person high-tech startup. I spun a bullshit story about taking a break from technology and evaluating Starbucks as a future employer from the ground level.

Body shops being body shops, I had a pulse, was well-groomed, could carry a conversation, and represented that I had skills, so I was phoned back the next day and told when and where to report – 8 AM sharp at 2401 Utah Avenue South. Oh, and dress was business casual.

My business casual wardrobe was jeans with a belt, a collared shirt, and a decade-old pair of penny loafers. I figured I’d blend right in.

I had an inauspicious start before I even made it through the threshold of the building.

Their headquarters occupies a gigantic and historic brick building built in 1912 by the Union Pacific Railroad that successfully lured Sears, Roebuck and Co. to Seattle. Today the complex also includes two large parking garages. Traffic and parking is what made me late that first morning.

The house I shared with a college buddy was in North Seattle. Wedgewood to be exact, and not having commuted across the Ship Canal Bridge for eight or so years, I completely misjudged the traffic on Interstate 5. And how long it would take me to slog my way past downtown. And then navigate a course through the warehouse and industrial area, which is also bisected by a working railroad carrying commuters, travelers, freight, and garbage to points North, South and East.

I’ve always strived to be a punctual person, and when it comes to jobs and business, I try to build buffer time into my travel so I can arrive early for appointments so as not to have to feel rushed. As my buffer was chewed through stopping-and-going down I-5, twinges of anxiety began to pluck at me. Being fairly unfamiliar with the destination area, locating the correct thru street that would carry me all the way westward to where I needed to be was, to put it mildly, difficult. I became more agitated at the dwindling time, the lack of my ability to locate the correct street, and my ill preparation as I executed illegal u-turns and blew down alleys at unsafe speeds.

I thought that the dead halt I had to come to at the clanging South Lander Street railroad crossing somewhere around 8:15 AM was as bad as it was going to get, until the freight train before my eyes slowed down and then actually stopped for what seemed like an eternity before it reversed direction and then slowly chugged out of the way.

Bulleting across First Avenue, I went to turn north onto Utah Avenue towards the parking garage, only to discover it was a pedestrian promenade. Foiled, I roared around the back of the building and past the loading dock to Colorado, only to discover that it summarily ends without a dead end sign unceremoniously in an acute angle of cinderblock wall and chain link with no access to the parking garage. Frantic, I pulled the car around and zoomed back towards First, and finally found myself before the Starbucks Partner Parking garage entrance.

Whipping in to the driveway, I screeched to a stop.

It’s a cardkey-only parking garage and I most definitely did not have a cardkey for entrance.

When pushed beyond panic, a clarity can emerge from deep within the fight or flight response.

If I had had any money in the bank or not been under crushing debt or even had the slightest glimmer of another job, I would have flighted myself right back out of there home, climbed back into bed, and pulled the covers over my head.

But I was broke, over $52,000 in debt, and was seriously considering camping and scouting food banks as my next occupation.

Choking down the fearful freak-out that I was already fired for being late before even getting through the front door, I made my way back south and hunted for street parking. I’m not exactly sure where I ended up that day, but it was likely on Colorado, somewhere around Hinds. Lucky for me at the time, since that’s an industrial area, there were no timed parking restrictions.

There was a curious mix of parked vehicles in the area, ranging from empty, shiny BMWs to cluttered, rusty American sedans and semi-truck cabs and trailers. During the following months, I would play leapfrog throughout the neighborhood in my Jetta with the nicer cars as we battled for closer parking to Starbucks, and learn which local residents it was better to avoid. That first day my dash clock showed somewhere close to 8:25 and I couldn’t afford to be discriminating about parking location.

I uneasily left my car parked in front of a vacant building and near some derelict cars that looked like dumpsters, and quickly hoofed it down Utah.

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