Coffee Horror Story

My first job out of college was interesting, but like so many things in life, there were good things and bad.

I was on a small team colloquially known as “fly and fix”. If there was a problem with one of our computer systems that could not be handled by the local technicians and experts, my boss was expected to show up and fix it. I was being trained, along with another young man, to do the same sort of thing. When he flew in, he didn’t leave until it as fixed, and worked around the clock to solve the problem. He had a long history with the company’s mainframe computers, and was an expert troubleshooter. When I joined him, he was transitioning to being expert in the company’s new line of powerful desktop computers.

Because of this odd and demanding constraints, he worked out of his home at a time where that was very rare. His basement was stocked with several of the new computers, every manual created on the system, and every possible peripheral. These computers generated so much heat that he had an air conditioning unit installed just for the basement. So for the first eighteen months of the job, I reported to this guy’s house for work, and sat in his basement studying manuals.

I was able to dress casually, kind of rare for the day, and I brought a suit in case we had to visit a client. Three times I had to rush home to pack for a week. So the good part was dressing casually, not being in an office, and the excitement of rushing out to solve a problem. I also enjoyed learning the computer systems. That was the good.

The bad was being in a basement with two geeky men talking computers. Another bad part was traveling at odd times, long car trips, flights to weird places, and eating in lousy fast food restaurants on a daily basis. I would spend 18 to 20 hours with the same guys, talking about very little except the problem at hand. For my boss, this was the pinnacle of his career, and he loved every minute, especially the fast food; not so much for me.

But the absolute worst was the coffee situation. When we were in his basement, the coffee was in the kitchen, courtesy of Mr. Coffee. He had an odd policy about coffee, and would brew only weak coffee. He would then immediately turn off the burner. If you wanted hot coffee before that pot was empty, you had to warm it in the microwave. I hated that coffee.

Eventually, I hated that job. I hated that basement, and I kind of hated those computers. They led me down a technological dead end. All the things I learned from that of value were entirely tangential from the systems.

So what did I learn? That coffee is meant to be fresh. Oxidation begins soon after brewing, and no microwave can reverse that tragedy. For some people, their job is their life, and these people can be difficult coworkers. And that no matter how bad the coffee at a greasy spoon in Jackson, Missouri, reheated coffee, at least for me, will always be worse.