How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having just finished Michael Gates Gill’s, How Starbucks Saved my Life, I wish my father were alive to benefit from this humble and insightful memoir of life lost and life regained. I discovered this wonderfully humble and charming book quite by accident browsing the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble. I am grateful that I am alive to benefit from Mr. Gill’s deep and simple wisdom.
My father, like so many men of Mr. Hall’s generation, spent their lives toiling away in the cruel, unkind machine of corporate America only to be found that upon reaching middle age, with a salary and benefit package far from cost effective, that they were unceremoniously turned out on to the street. My father spent the final decade of his life trying to climb back remaining in denial that he was no longer wanted. In the end my father succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis and died having not regained even a glimpse of the life satisfaction that we all so desperately want.
My father literally died working. His disease had progressed to the point where he was constantly on oxygen carrying a portable tank with him wherever he went and living in dread fear of getting sick. A simple common cold or a bout of the flu could be fatal and in the end that is most likely what killed him. He had been suffering from a cold the week before he died.
One afternoon my father left the job many grades below his former career and checked himself into University Hospital in Seattle. He never went home. A week later my family watched in agony as my father, who had slipped into a coma, passed from this life. Hour by hour the medical staff attending my father turned the respirator down until, no longer able to breathe, my father died. My suspicion is that dad died because he was ready to. He had gown tired of fighting life and didn’t know what else to do about it.
My father’s last years and final days have been a rather depressing cautionary tale for me. It exemplifies everything that I have come to find wrong about our society and how it operates. I knew for many years before my father got sick that I didn’t want to end up like he did. I just didn’t know what to do about it. Then along came, How Starbucks Saved my Life.”
Unlike my father, Michael Gates Gill, son of Brendan Gill (The New Yorker), was born into high society and a life of privilege. He grew up rubbing elbows with the likes of EB White, who once bent down to tell the young “Gatesy” that is was “a shame to have to grow up.” One summer the young Gatesy and friends even threw apples at Ezra Pound (if anyone deserved such treatment it would be Pound) at an exclusive lake retreat for the wealthy. From the 25+ room mansion he grew up in, to Yale, Skull and Bones, and a post graduate job at an international advertising firm, Gates had what many have come to think of as “it all.”
But, then, one day he was fired, by a young woman he had championed and mentored no less, and turned out onto the streets. Over the next decade he tried to develop a consulting business, got divorced and was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. Naturally, he no longer could afford health insurance. It was quite by chance that he stumbled into a Starbucks that happened to be hosting a hiring event.
How Starbucks Saved my Life is filled with insight and self effacing humor as Mike (as he is referred to these days) went from being a stuffy, pompous, entitled white man to a barista working with largely young African Americans.
This delightful memoir recounts how Mike learns to live like everyone else and actually comes to experience a life satisfaction and purpose he had never known in all his years growing up and as an advertising executive. As the author puts it so well, “My part time job gave me a full time life.”
How Starbucks Saved my Life, offers a remedy for the life malaise so many of us suffer in our work-a-day lives. The only question is whether the reader will take the lessons learned by Gill to heart and apply them to his or her own life before they find themselves where he did.
I also highly recommend the author’s follow-up book, How to Save Your Own Life.
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