John Brown works at Starbucks and enjoys fly-fishing.
In Episode #7 of Everyday Heroes: A COVID-19 Podcast, we meet John Brown. He has been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, serving coffee at a Starbucks in Broomfield, Colorado.
“Memories heal the living. We pray for the living.”
Angela: We intentionally took a break from recording episodes during the month of June, 2020. Crowds of people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd. As of July 1st, 2020, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 was almost 131,000. This is the context for our seventh episode of Everyday Heroes, a conversation with John Brown. He has been on the front lines during the whole pandemic, serving coffee at a Starbucks in Broomfield, Colorado.
Angela: I am joining here with John Brown. He's a Colorado resident who works at Starbucks, and we're here to talk today about the COVID pandemic. So thank you so much for joining us, John.
John: Oh, thank you.
Angela: How are you doing today?
John: I'm doing fantastic. I'm excited to be here.
Angela: Have you been social distancing?
John: Yeah, absolutely, in work life, everyday life… I'm trying to practice it as best as I can. Not only for my safety, but others as well.
Angela: Have you found yourself over-cleaning?
John: A hundred percent. I think that the best example of this is actually at work. We have cleaning regiments, where basically we have to… besides the basics, like, if you touch your mask or face or anything like that, you have to wash your hands. But we also have to sanitize and wash down for every 20 minutes. And just that alone makes my hands very dry after a period of time. And that was the first thing I noticed was that I washed my hands way, way more, which is pretty obvious. I'm sure most people do, but that was the biggest one.
Angela: How are you taking care of your hands?
John: A lot more lotion. I can tell you that much. I mean, using a lot more lotion, and then just making sure they're being sanitized and washed as frequently as need be. So…
Angela: I was thinking, there's only so many surfaces that I can clean in this house, and it's like, I felt like it was a losing battle.
Angela: Have you felt that way at times? And been like…
John: Oh, a hundred percent. Like for me, getting in and out of the car, I wiped down my car all the time too, door handles, everything. It feels like, you know, you're trying your best to stay on top of, but it's… it's hard. You, kind of, are always just playing catch up in a way to try to clean everything, because before this, you know, you don't really have a big understanding of how quickly, and how effectively germs can spread from surface to surface. And when a big event like this comes up, it makes it a lot more prevalent, and you realize it firsthand a lot more.
Angela: What has been some difficulties that you've experienced during this time?
John: I would say the largest thing would just be the constant feeling of change and uncertainty. Especially in the work scenario, because our store, in particular, never closed throughout COVID. So we worked the entire time. Not every Starbucks was that way, but ours was, and we would get different cleaning regiments, new information weekly, if not multiple times during the week. And it would change up how we would do things, routines and everything like that. So it was very important for us to be able to be, I guess, adaptive to those changes and almost like hyper aware. Because I mean, not only just from information from the government and everything, but the CDC… Everything was just… it was all new and changing so fast that it was kind of hard to stay on top of everything.
Angela: Do you know anyone that's passed away or been affected by this or caught it?
John: Thankfully, I do not have anyone in my first line of family or friends that have been negatively affected by it. I do know some coworkers and some people of friends that have been affected by it. And it's devastating. It's very hard to see that, especially, even though I haven't seen it firsthand, just hearing stories from them and how it's affected them. It's very heavy, and it's very challenging, and it makes everything, I think, a little bit more real. Because it's very easy, especially say for me to be an individual that is of younger age. And a lot of people are saying that, you know, we're not as aware and not as focused of the actual pandemic at itself, but when you actually see events and people that this is affecting, it makes it a lot more real and hit homes… It hits home a little closer. So…
Angela: John, out of your peers, would you say that your generation is taking it seriously?
John: The people that I'm around? Yes. Yes. I just think that generally there has been a viewpoint that not everybody has been. I think it's fair to say that a lot of the younger people might feel like, you know, it doesn't affect them. It's not a big issue for them. But at least the people that I’m involved with, and my myself, we take it very seriously, because I think the biggest thing is that… it can also be more for helping others around you rather than just yourself. So even if, you know, yes, technically we might not be as harmed by it, it still can affect many other people that we involve with every day. And that's the most important thing is to protect them as well.
Angela: And in a way, don't you think that makes it easier?
John: I mean, the biggest thing is just to kind of go with the flow of everything, and just make sure that you're doing your part in every way that you can and focusing on it, and just not letting yourself relax, if that makes sense. Because it has been going on for so long. I think some, for some people, it can be very easy to settle in and loosen up on maybe cleaning regiments or anything like that. But I think it's very important to stay on top of those things.
Angela: Definitely. I'm curious to know, did your employer tell you the thought process behind keeping your store open the whole time?
John: So yes and no. So like I said at the very beginning, when everything started to take place, there was a lot of uncertainty, even with the company itself, which is a hundred percent reasonable. We were trying to figure out the best plan to move forward. Because we didn't know exactly how long it was going to take. We didn't know how it was going to develop. So a lot of uncertainty. So, essentially what our story did, because we are a lobby store and a drive-through store, we pretty much immediately closed down our lobby and went to a drive-through only. And then we had various specific regiments on changing what we call plays, and it's essentially where certain employees are positioned and the stations they work at. They got shifted around as well to minimize the amount of people being in contact with others and trying to make that as clean as possible. So it was a mixture of trying to not only see where this is going to… or where it's going to evolve into and then how to best adapt to that, to still be a support and be there for people overall. So…
Angela: Have you noticed a decline in business at all, or has it increased, would you say, or stayed relatively the same?
John: When the quarantine and everything first got implemented, business went down a lot. It was very, very slow, and when we just had our drive through, it was very slow. More recently, it has slowly started to increase. And now, I think it's not necessarily at the same level as it was last year in terms of customers that come through, but one thing that we're noticing is the actual party size of the people that are coming in is bigger. So what we're seeing is a lot more families coming in. It's a lot more groups that are trying to get out of the house, having, you know… They might be going for a drive and want to get some drinks for the road. Things like that. Basically give them a little bit of escape from everything that's going on. So as of now, it's starting to pick back up and get a little bit back more to normal.
Angela: How would you say that your… What are your thoughts and feelings about the recent spike in cases in the U.S.?
John: So, I mean, I personally thought it was kind of to be expected when we start to slowly decrease some of the requirements like quarantine, ending and things like that. So I did think there was going to be another spike. Thankfully, in Colorado, we're not nearly as bad as other states, so I'm very blessed about that, but I do still find myself kind of still going along the lines of some of the quarantine standards of I'm not personally going out, unless I absolutely have to. Just because I know that it's still, it's still an option to happen. It's still a threat out there, per se. So, I think it just kind of depends on the individual, but for me it hasn't changed much since when it first happened.
Angela: When you're seeing these people come into Starbucks in groups, are they usually wearing masks?
John: Most of the, most of the customers are really good. You know, if they're in their cars, a lot of people won't be wearing masks, which is understandable, but I'd probably say 99% of the people that we interact with are practicing social distancing and wearing masks and doing their part as well at our store. But particularly, we also, you know, have the plexiglass setups. We had our restrooms closed for the longest time. So we're also doing implementations to help. Actually, one that we just started doing yesterday is we have trays now, that we're handing drinks to people in the drive-through. So, we're trying to minimize touch and spread that way, as well.
Angela: Have you been told of any future plans with Starbucks and opening more stores or any speculation about that?
John: Not enough that I'm comfortable talking about. Just because I personally don't have enough information on it. Like I said, a lot of it, we're kind of getting updated as soon as we know, but it's not a guarantee, just because we don't know exactly what it's going to look like in two to three months. So it's a lot more of kind of taking it almost week by week, and seeing how things adapt, seeing how things evolve and moving in that direction.
Angela: How are you coping with the stress of all of it, and all the things that have been happening for June, and where we are in the year?
John: I mean, it's a lot. I personally view myself as being very blessed to be able to still have a job and work, because I know I do not have the stressor of having to worry about making ends meet because I got laid off. So, I'm very blessed with that. And I know that there are a lot of people that aren't as fortunate. So for me, I've been very happy to be able to do my part and still serve people. So for me, I viewed it more as a working opportunity and more of a positive mindset that I'm in the position I'm in, and I'm going to make the best of it. Because I know other people are not fortunate enough with that aspect, and I shouldn't be taking it for granted.
Angela: Awesome. In what ways have you made the best of it?
John: So at Starbucks, our main goal is to try to essentially create a third home, or a third place, as we like to call it. And it's essentially a place where you can go outside of home, outside of work, and relax, reset. It's a place where you can just kind of be yourself, a hundred percent. So what we've done is we've really strived to make sure that, especially during these times, more than ever, that we're creating that third place, that third home for customers and people, because like I said earlier, a lot of the times when people are coming to us now, it's because they want to get out of the house. They want to do something different, but places aren't open. So, by us allowing to be as positive on the window, have genuine connections with people, and really show that we truly care about them, we're able to positively affect others. And that's a great benefit for me personally, just being able to help others in any way I can, even if it's just a cup of coffee and a smile. It can go a long way for certain people. And if you're having a really rough day, it can make the difference. So that's how I always view it, and before every shift, that's the mindset I take into it.
Angela: Nice. So describe to me how you think the general public is reacting to this, since you're dealing with them every day that you're working.
John: I think it's a… it's a complete spectrum. You have people on one side that are a hundred percent okay with it, and they don't see that it's a big issue. On the other end, we have people that are very, very scared, intimidated by it. Rightfully so. So we really do get a mixture of everybody, and every extreme, and everybody in between. And being able to realize that, and I guess more stress on the side that people are not comfortable with interacting with others is the safest bet. And by doing that, you can then basically kind of meet the needs of everybody.
Angela: Do you think that having Starbucks there is helping people?
John: I would say so. We have gotten so many… and this is one thing that I personally was not expecting, is our customer clientele. The people that come to our stores have been fantastic. The support that we've gotten from them alone, and just the amount of thank you’s for us staying open, was something I didn't ever really expect. Because it's very easy for us to look at it as, “Oh, it's just a cup of coffee, or cup of coffee. It's… I'm not doing anything larger, essential, compared to other frontline responders. But it is really cool to see how positive of an impact it can have on people. I've had regulars that come through three to four times a day, just to get out of the house and have a conversation with another human. And that makes their day; it literally is what drives them. And that is so rewarding, and so awesome to be a part of, that it's fantastic.
Angela: What else would you like to share with us about your experience, before, and recently, and what you're hoping for, in the coming months?
John: So I would say the biggest thing is I think it was very… one of my greatest takeaways from this is how much community, and how much kind of coming together, can make a difference. Instead of, you know, say my fellow coworkers coming in, and not wanting to work, or being upset that we have to work at these times, we really kind of joined together and said, “Hey, we're going to do something positive with this,” and we made a big impact on our customers. Then the customers come back and tell us that it made an impact. It makes us feel great, and it just… it keeps building off each other. So it's really cool to see in a time of uncertainty, chaos, and just fear, that little things go a long way. And if you stick to the core of human nature, and being there for one another, having community, and having self-respect for one another, it's incredibly powerful, and something that I think a lot of people might underestimate.
John: And that's been shown before COVID, and especially during it. And I guess, to answer the later part of your question of going towards the future, is just keeping an open mind. And the biggest thing we have to do right now is to just keep putting one step in front of the other. I think that's sometimes all we can do, especially in times like this, where we're not exactly sure what's going to take place a month from now, or two months from now. So just being able to be adaptable and adjust and… just do our best day to day to make it as good as possible.
Angela: What are your thoughts about how it's become politicized? It's almost like it's…
John: I personally don't think it should be viewed that way. So I, a lot of times, just tend to pull myself back from even getting into a lot of that, the viewpoints.
John: Because I view it completely separate, and I just try to keep them separate for the most part as well. I have my views and beliefs, and I'm going to keep it that way.
Angela: What else would you like us to know? Or what would you like to share with us? I mean, more stuff…
John: I don't know. I mean, my greatest thanks and gratitude goes out to all the first responders, of course, that had to deal frontline with everything. Because working at a coffee shop, in my personal opinion, holds no weight to the people that are actually working front line, with COVID now, and when it was starting, and when we have current spikes. So my thanks and gratitude goes out to all of them. And just that everyone needs to kind of do their part. And even if you might not like certain rules or regulations about it, it's not always about you; it's about others. And that's what I think is the most important thing to realize. We kind of have to come together, as a whole, to be able to effectively take this down in the most efficient way as possible, I guess.
Angela: That's perfect. Thank you so much.
John: Absolutely. It was my pleasure. I enjoyed it.
Credits EVERYDAY HEROES: A COVID-19 Podcast. Featuring Angela Rothermel and guest. Produced by Michael T. Starks. Editing Services by Brian Torres, Irlend Productions Independent, LLC. All Images and Footage used with Permission & Licensing, Provided by Adobe Stock and Pixabay.com. "Say a Prayer for the Living" Music, Lyrics & Performed by Michael T. Starks. Special Thanks to Karilyn T. Starks. Ionogen Media, LLC Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.