Entry #2: Wapping
Service is part of almost every job that exists on our tiny blue planet, and still, there exists a hierarchy to what is considered ‘dirty service’ and what is ‘esteemed service’. A human rights attorney? Esteemed. A criminal defense lawyer? Dirty. The real butt of the joke: who gets the bigger paycheck?
I have personally maintained my part-time job as a barista from postgraduate to struggling artist. The easiest way to tell someone where this coffee shop is is near Tower Bridge, but what Wapping is best known for is having been one of several London docks during the 18th Century. The London Docks traded luxury commodities such as ivory, coffee, wine, and tobacco. The local pub, Prospect of Whitby, is supposedly London’s oldest riverside tavern dating all the way back to 1520 and Wilton’s Music Hall? A former alehouse turned into a raucous concert hall flirting with neighboring Victorian prostitution.
In the year 2019, Wapping is homely and quiet. Its very short High Street possesses its own butcher, post office, pharmacy, and grocery shop.
Wapping is also home to luxury flats and site to big-budget film productions. With Graham Norton and Helen Mirren as local residents, it’s no surprise to find a team of stuntmen waltzing around, or casually hear about a film featuring Jeffrey Dean Morgan being shot down the road.
I am constantly meeting fantastic creative people who come to our shop to take a moment and catch their breath, drink a good cup of Joe’s and re-center. But my, oh my, is it an interesting position to be both a barista and a film graduate. People are like an open book and most, don’t think of how they treat others when they are being served.
A few weeks ago, a girl came in and ordered three oat mochas. I knew by her order that she was buying for a group of other girls who were working in a studio nearby . They were part of the make-up department. I strike up a conversation and she is friendly, telling me where she had studied to become a make-up artist. It gets a little busy, she sits down. I move quickly to finish the order and turn back to her. I am thrilled to have recognized her university and make further conversation, mentioning how I produced a short with students from the same university this year. She cuts me off, index finger in air and I can feel its invisible force press up against my lips. Without looking at me, she says, “I’m really sorry but I’ve got these emails to write”. The line has been severed - status imposed. I am taken aback, but smile, “Of course, I understand”. A few minutes pass and she leaves without so much as a thank you.
Days later Josh O’Connor walks in and orders a caramel shortbread. The coffee shop is fairly empty and I take my time to study his face, quite unsure if it really is him. Then I say, quite blankly, “You look a lot like that actor from Mrs. Durrell’s.” He smiles at me, slightly embarrassed and shrugs his shoulders, “That’s because I am.” I beam, handing him the shortbread. He laughs a little, leaves me a tip and tells me to have a lovely day. I swoon with joy. Aha, a human element restored!