During my co-op, I was living in Port Clyde on the Saint George peninsula managing the general store there. This position was my first experience in a management role which was a really awesome and shocking experience for me. I’ve worked in many different jobs, and I’ve always been somewhat critical of management even joking with one of the shift supervisors about how she’s allowed to ask me do things. As it turns out, I also struggle with asking for help in completing projects. However, the experience that lived with me was the intersection of a variety of cultures.
What was really awesome about my job was that many of the employees were foreign exchange students from China, Turkey, and Romania who were in the United States practicing their English. Much of my prior experience with co-ops was related to education, and one wouldn’t expect management to be an educational experience. However, I found myself in somewhat of and educational role. While the exchange students had incredible English skills (I am always impressed by people who speak multiple languages, and many of them were learning English as a third or fourth language.), there were quite a few times when they needed American customs explained, a lesser known word defined, or on a few occasions, help with written material. I got the opportunity to help students learn English by communicating in English.
Being Maine, the fishing industry was very much alive. I’d see a lot of Lobster fishermen come through the store each day picking up their morning coffee before going out on the boat to work. These fishermen were often somewhat gruff and, to put it delicately, had a distinctive scent. These people often got breakfast and not much more.
The tourist culture in Maine created an interesting situation for many of the young people. There were many jobs available that needed local people to fill them. However, there weren’t many people that actually lived in this part of Maine and even fewer that weren’t so wealthy that they would never want to be a cashier or stock person at a store or work as fisherman or a barista. I grew up in Ohio where there are plenty of people who want jobs but not many entry level jobs for teenagers. So, while I am used to people getting their first job at 17 or 18, most of the kids in Maine started working as early as 14. To be honest, these 14 year old kids were much more mature than what I was used to 14 year olds acting like.
The rest of Maine consisted of the wealthy divided into three groups. There were the boaters who came into the port on their boats fueling up and getting supplies for them to use while they sailed down the coast. These people were fairly low maintenance as they chose to live on boats for long periods where they weren’t able to shower and had limited electric capabilities. Then, there were the people staying in the hotels for short periods of time. These people were upper middle class. While they had the money to go on vacation, they were not so wealthy that they could go on vacation for long periods of time. Those people were the ones who had Summer homes. One woman said to me “I figured that since I was there every Summer, I might as well buy the home.” To be honest, I’m not sure how these people could afford to live the way that they lived.
As the assistant manager at the store, I came across all of these people and watched how differently they reacted to prices (which were admittedly high but not as profitable as many assumed) and to the exchange students. From a distance, I observed how people reacted to exchange students. Many of them chose to talk to them about immigration policy and the political situation of China and their trips to Beijing.
My job provided me with a lens to see the ways in which people communicated and interacted with each other.
This past quarter, I co-oped in Fairborn at Reza’s Roast, a small coffee roaster that is locally owned by Audria Ali-Maki. I was in charge of roasting, packaging, brewing, and cleaning up the spills of coffee. Each day (Monday through Saturday) I would get into work and start by brewing three pots of coffee. Then, I’d do whatever needed to be done for the day. Often that would include making sure that the roaster was filled with packaged coffee. If it wasn’t, I would fill a scoop with 13 ounces of coffee to make sure we didn’t short the customers with the rounding. Then, I’d put a label on a paper bag, and put the coffee in the bag. Finally, I’d use the heat press to seal the bag. It was very important that I start my day by immediately turning the bag sealer on as it takes a few minutes to heat and customers frequently need coffee to be resealed after being ground. After the coffee was put into the bag, I would put a date sticker on the bottom of the bag. Coffee would be thrown away two weeks after the roast date because freshness is important to quality.
Often, I’d get a chance to roast coffee (see a video of coffee roasting here). This was my favorite part of my job. I would roast 6-30 pounds of coffee at a time. There were many different roast profiles that I used to roast coffee. The different roasts changed the flavor of the beans in different ways. The roaster had a built-in computer that controlled moisture and monitored temperature. However, it was up to me to adjust the burner to roast the coffee at higher and lower temperatures. I took pride in how well I was able to keep this on track. After the coffee was roasted, it was placed into buckets overnight to release gas before being packaged the following day.
I was enrolled in “Work 341: Sound, Sight, And The Phenomenology Of Place” during my co-op. It really had me think about what it meant to be in the place where I was. I had two different work environments. My normal place was where the coffee was roasted, but I also visited Antioch frequently during my job. I won’t focus too much on Antioch because it was not where I normally was and it is very familiar to most people reading this. However, I want to point out the similarity in sounds. In both places, I played NPR on the radio. It makes me think about how sound impacts place, and how sound can connect two places.
Reflecting on my workplace, it was very clean. There were Persian rugs, a new counter that was installed while I was there, and a marbled floor that could easily hide small coffee stains. My boss had a self-admitted problem with moving furniture constantly, and customers took notice. New customers always mentioned how nice it looked though. It was inside of a sandpaper factory, but it didn’t appear that way. I think that made a huge difference to people. It looked like a real store mixed in with a comfortable living area. For many customers, it was inviting, clean, and pretty.
The sound of NPR mixed with the beeping of the bag sealer, the crackling sound of the coffee beans as they come out of the roaster was a distinguishing feature of the roastery. You can hear it on my map of greater Dayton featuring some of my favorite places in the area. However, what I will always remember is the smells of my job. It isn’t possible to record these scents, and this class did not focus on scent, but it is still important to my workplace. The earthy scent of green coffee beans could be an air freshener. After roasting, it always smelled like amazing coffee. Every time I smell blueberries, I think of the coffee that I messed up.
It is my opinion that place is more than sight and sound. There is scent too. There is the feel of the place. Some things about a place cannot be described, but they are there. You cannot experience places without going there.