One year ago, as every good prospective student tends to do, I did my research on Swarthmore. With the power of Google and US News and World Report on my side, I uncovered the names of famous alumni and Big Chair lore. As I prepared to attend to the overwhelmingly dorkily-nicknamed Smartmouth College, I read articles about its rankings and student life until the word “Sharples” remained permanently branded into my brain. I pored over letters and emails lovingly signed “Jim Bock ’90” on my new .edu email address and prayed to god that I wouldn’t have to live in the mysterious rat-ridden dungeon that is Willets Basement.
Despite my noble volume of research, however, there remained one notable aspect of Swarthmore’s student culture that remained shrouded to me until the third week of classes, when I began to barista for the Crumb(uh) Cafe. It was there in the Crumb Cafe room, amidst the nonstop whirring of the milkshake machine and the tender bubbling of our sole electric kettle, that I learned about an unspoken yet deeply-present campus craze: Swatties’ love for milkshakes.
I worked my first shift at the Crumb Cafe on September 20, and despite the reassuring tones of my manager and coworkers as they told me not to panic, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of dread in the pit of my soul as I watched milkshake orders endlessly pile up next to the cash register.
Chocolate with whipped cream. Vanilla. Vanilla with Oreos. Chocolate with blackberry syrup. Chocolate and Vanilla with chocolate chips and whipped cream. Vanilla with soy and mango syrup.
The orders kept on coming on the devilish-green, little slips of paper, and I had no choice but to keep on rolling with the punches and scoop ice cream as fast as my admittedly underdeveloped hand muscles would let me. There’s something truly, irrevocably magical about when people come up to the counter to tell you that they haven’t gotten the milkshake that they ordered an hour and a half ago, and their order isn’t even close to the top of the stack. When I applied to barista after having formerly worked at a smoothie place for two days before they fired me, I assumed that my job would require me to become a human milkshake generator, devoid of emotion, for three hours every Thursday night. I was, more or less, expecting a challenge. No one ever bothered, however, to warn me about the Stickiness.
At first, I could manage the Stickiness. The small smears of melted ice cream on my forearms were washable, and the drops of syrup that occasionally fell onto our steel countertops could be easily wiped up with a dampened rag. Stickiness, however, comes in layers. The superficial Stickiness lasts for an hour or so, and then comes the profound Stickiness. This is the Stickiness that permeates into every layer of your being, every layer of your consciousness. This is the Stickiness that you stop noticing after a while because if everything is sticky, then is anything really sticky at all? This is the Stickiness that eventually comes to define you.
In working at the Crumb Cafe, I’ve learned that no matter how sticky you are, it’s always possible to be stickier. No matter how many milkshake orders you have backed up, it’s always possible to be more backed up on milkshake orders. With the utmost sincerity, I doubt there will ever be a happy medium between the godforsaken demand for milkshakes at Swat and the number of milkshakes that it is physically possible to produce with current Crumb Cafe resources. The limit to Swatties’ love for milkshakes as x approaches infinity simply doesn’t exist.
With this article, I by no means intend to discourage you from ordering what is likely your beverage of choice at the Crumb Cafe. But please, the next time you feel inclined to complain about the fact that it took over an hour to receive your milkshake, close your eyes, look deeply within yourself, and imagine what it’s like to be that sticky.