Monday, November 07, 2005

Hot coffee

One summer I worked as a documentation specialist for a consulting firm hired to create new Medicaid software for the state of Kansas. We were working for the large insurance company that would actually be using the software once it was completed. The company had several huge buildings, all connected by underground tunnels. Each floor of these buildings had a large coffee station with two industrial-sized coffee machines capable of making gallons of strong hot coffee. The company had one employee in each building who, I think, spent most of the day tending these machines.

The ritual started about 9:30 in the morning, when a woman would come to our floor and start the machine brewing. The pot would finish in time for morning break, when this same woman would return to remove the covering from the spout so we could serve ourselves. She would appear just about the time the machine stopped hissing and spitting. Once she had done this, heads would start popping up from cubicles and a line would form behind the "regular" pot. Programmers definitely seemed to prefer caffeinated over decaffeinated coffee.

The work could be tedious. I spent weeks creating the dictionary for the database, describing each field a user would encounter. The scalding dark coffee broke the monotony of the morning. Holding the flimsy Styrofoam cup with both hands and sipping the rejuvenating liquid was deeply pleasurable.

Coffee was served for only about 30 minutes. By 10:30, this same woman returned to empty the vats down the drain, clean the strainers, and wipe down the stainless steel counter.

Lunch was another opportunity for indulgence. Precisely at noon, the group of people I ate with would file down a surprisingly long hallway that tunneled under the parking lot and took us to the cafeteria. Here they served a feast of inexpensive, starchy comfort food, as well as many fresh vegetables and meat. They had taco salads, baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli, homemade soup and bread, macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers and french fries, French dip sandwiches. The kind of food that makes you feel well nourished and happy. Coffee and tea were free.

We would return to our cubicles completely sated and sleepy.

Just in time to save us from an afternoon of lethargy, the coffee woman would reappear around 2:00 and start the pots rumbling again.

Even though my current job tends to be interesting, I still treasure making a pot of coffee when I arrive to work each morning - and again in the afternoon. Freshly brewed coffee lifts you up and makes you feel as if you will be able to handle the obstacles of the day. Many coworkers drink tea - and a nice cup of freshly brewed tea also provides a lift to the spirits. For me, however, rich fresh coffee has no equal.

I wonder if people are becoming more sensitive to caffeine - I notice that only a few coworkers drink coffee regularly - and even fewer have a cup in the afternoon. I have a feeling, however, that at that big insurance company in Kansas, the sound of the coffee lady filling up the pots still provides an emotional lift to the hundreds of people who work in those grids of cubicles.

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