I imagine there are lots of people like me who learn things the heard way and whine out loud all over the place when things get hard, who start things like cafes and then holler up and down the street for help when they’re out of ideas, resources, energy, batteries…
And then there are people like Sarah. Well, maybe there aren’t, but there’s at least one person like Sarah.
When I met Sarah, I thought, “Hey, I want to be friends with her,” but you know, that’s not easy when you’re all grown up. I mean, how do we say “Can you come out and play?”
I was glad that she came over for wine and cheese on the porch in the freezing cold weather last fall. You know that’s not about the wine. Or the cheese. I was double glad one day at the Hub when her husband said, “Sarah might be interested in working with you at the cafe.” And so she was.
Sarah has this amazing way of working autonomously while somehow also checking in on my obsessions; “Is this how we spread our cream cheese here?” she asks and I wonder what makes her think I am THAT particular, as I glance over her way. “Well, no,” I say, “how ’bout like this,” realizing that maybe I am that particular. And apparently that’s OK with Sarah.
Sarah also takes responsibility for things like the monthly artists, the musicians and the high-up things. “Do you need a tall friend right about now?” she asks as I drag a stool around the cafe, never having felt so short in my life. She writes cheerful messages on the sandwich board and she engages with people in a way that I think is important. Anybody can learn how to make a cappuccino, but the right attitude is hard to teach. Or learn.
After about a month in business as I was struggling to pay for things, like Sarah, she approached me after her shift, after everyone had left. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said, and my lungs seized – Oh my God! Sarah’s leaving – I thought.
“I think we should lower my pay until things pick up,” she said. “Ok,” I replied, a little too stunned for much else.
Then, as I muddled through a month without Sarah while she had to deal with real troubles – life and death troubles – I began to feel like a widow, who first stops cooking meals, then stops shopping, then stops cleaning up, then stops having people over… “Oh, I don’t need to put all that away, it’s just me coming back in the morning” I would tell myself.
When Sarah came back, we started a money conversation, one that isn’t exactly finished yet. About how to pay her. There’s rent, there’s food and there’s her pay, except that there isn’t enough for all three. So I probed around the edges to see at what point she might cut back her hours to like, zero. And I self-consciously advertised that my bling shoes and fru-fru purse were not new; that I am not spending money, that it’s all going into the cafe.
When someone is so understated and they say ‘ouch’, you know that they really mean it. So when Sarah said, “I really think it’s important to get the sign up as soon as possible,” I knew she really meant it, but how? The only thing I could think of was to ask the sign guy to do it for an I*OWE*U. But Sarah-who-isn’t-exactly-getting-paid-yet had another plan. She is putting her tips towards a sign for the cafe. And she’s having a contest for the logo.
I tried to explain to Sarah why it’s so important to have her here; it’s not just about help; it’s not about help who puts up with not getting paid, or reaches tall things or programs the music or donates the fridge or any of those other great things, but because I value her opinion, her input, her values, and if she believes in the cafe, then I believe in the cafe.
“People don’t really need coffee,” she answered. What?! I thought, uncomprehending, alarmed at the dangerous territory we were now getting into. “People don’t really need the world’s best hot chocolate or great bagels,” she said. My heart was racing by this point, what could it mean?
“People need people, and I believe in the cafe as a place for them to meet, I believe in the community. I’m doing this for the community,” she said.
So guess what? “Working at the cafe” IS the grown up version of “Can you come out to play”.