I am the border of two realities, nostalgic for a childhood from a quickly bygone era.
I don’t think G and I were even halfway through our New Zealand wanderings before we were plotting our next adventure. Machu Picchu itself took some time to land on, … Continue reading decisions
For me, writing a public blog like this allows me not to live as a disassociated documentarian as you’re often warned about, but an active participant in the world around me.
You may have heard by now the sad news: As of November 1, May’s Cafe and the Wedge Downtown will be naught but a beautiful memory. Just as I accepted that I was going to be here for two years, reality burst my glorious bubble. I knew I would leave some day, but I expected it to be on my terms. May’s was always just supposed to be there, with or without me.
I transferred to the University of Iowa as a junior. I was lonely, lost, and doubting that I would ever make a home in this city of 100,000 citizens and students.
This is my fourth August in this city, and I would consider myself as local as one can be without actually being born here.
I’ve watched Greta grow from a freshman to a senior. Watched the benches in the ped mall be painted and repainted. Listened to the debate about the validity of tree scarves when there are so many homeless people without. I’ve taken pictures with Herky, applauded local theater troupes, attended folk concerts, volunteered at the ReStore. The faces of Iowa City started to change: a mass of strangers became a blend of friends. I thesised, I graduated, and I became one of the rare ones to stay in this transient town.
Through the last four years, classes have changed, friends have moved, priorities have shifted, my address changed. The only constant: 136 South Dubuque Street. A little coffee shop in the middle of the ped mall: patron, barista, manager.
136 South Dubuque Street.
Capanna taught me to make coffee.
May’s Cafe taught me to appreciate it.
Capanna taught me to hide my clumsiness.
May’s Cafe taught me to (mostly) overcome it.
Capanna taught me to build relationships with people I saw for 45 seconds every day.
May’s Cafe taught me to keep a smile on my face when people were treating me like subhuman for the third day in a row.
(By the way, the regular patronage of 136 South Dubuque is unreal. People are so genuine, so kind. 98% of our customers are either neutral or fantastic. We are human beings at my shop.)
Capanna taught me to problem solve for myself.
May’s Cafe taught me to troubleshoot for other people.
Capanna taught me to listen to people smarter than myself.
May’s Cafe taught me how to search out the answers when all the smarter people had left.
136 South Dubuque Street.
I’ve poured my soul into this shop. As a full time student, I would work here 20-30 hours a week, then study or hang out with friends another 10-15 hours. I was proud to be part of the transition team from Capanna to May’s, loving the people of Iowa City and glad that I could stay with my regulars. It gave me such joy to return after my internship and continue the craftsmanship I had quickly grown to love.
The fours supervisors started running the cafe last November when our manager moved to Minneapolis. By March, Claire and I were co-managing, and in July I was holding the position alone. It startled me to watch myself grow – do I really have it down to an exact time how long it takes to do first day training? Did we really just develop and implement a new menu? Did we really just participate in (and host!) latte art competitions? Is this really my team? Did this new girl really just analyze her shot and tell me what was wrong with it and how she thought she could fix it? These beautiful baristas, excited and passionate about their job? Is this still the culture, where the staff comes to hang out for hours on their day off just because they enjoy it so much?
And then there was Steve. Boss Man, as I call him. Muffin Man, as Hiba did. “Good”, as all called him. I have worked for many people. Bad bosses, good bosses, and Steve. The man who believed in me. The man who introduced himself to everyone working for him, and made sure he knew their name and personally asked them questions so he would know their story, too. The man who believed in investing in his employees. The man who spentevery. single. day. at his store on the floor. If something broke beyond my expertise, I would just walk up to him and say, “Steve, help.” If I was running low on something, or needed new equipment, I would just shoot him an email and a week later it would magically appear on my shelves. The man who told a coworker who needed extra cash, “Yeah, I wasn’t planning on being open the day after Christmas, but if you want to, go ahead and open the cafe for a while. We might sell a couple of coffees.” The man who would buy a slice of cake for you on your birthday if you wandered into the shop, and if you were going through a family crisis would make sure that you got a hug and definitely didn’t pay for that breakfast sandwich – it was on him. The man who knew the name of just about every regular customer in the shop – who was surprised that he hadn’t heard about our latest “Snickerdoodle Lady” before she gave us a thank you note. The man who poured blood, sweat, and tears into his shop, trying his best to make it a good business and a good place to work.
I once was chatting with a stranger and mentioned I worked at May’s Cafe. “Oh no,” he interceded. “another Disciple of Steve. I hear people come back for his parties that worked for him in the ’90s! Steve, the great and wonderful.”
Not long ago, a worker from the Wedge was getting a different job. When I jokingly protested, he laughed it off. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll see me again. No one ever actually leaves the Orbit of Steve.”
I am so, so blessed to have worked for that man. I do hope everyone someday gets a chance to work for a Steve.
I’ve spent a lot of time weeping since we got the news. I weep, not because I’m afraid, but because I’m grieving. I know people will be okay. My staff could easily jump to another of the half a dozen coffee shops around downtown, and Steve (!) is personally asking if people have another job they can go to or if they need help. I know Steve will be okay. I know I will be okay. But still I grieve. May’s is me and I am May’s. May’s is every one of my baristas. May’s is every one of my regulars. May’s is Linda-large-latte-no-foam. May’s is Danny-70-30-house. May’s is Abbie-iced-cafe-miel-and-a-warmed-up-muffin. May’s is Jake-triple-americano. May’s is soaking children trotting before their mother to the restroom. May’s is the weekly cappuccino and scrabble meeting. May’s is a daily game of speed chess. May’s is finding the small table or the one with the coffee mug painting. May’s is dissertations and bible studies. May’s is conference attendees and permanent business folk. May’s is different students every semester. May’s is a bottomless cup of incredible coffee. May’s is you, Iowa City. May’s is me.
I stayed in this town after I graduated.
I stayed for Steve. I stayed for May’s. I stayed for home.
I literally have no idea where I’m going now. I doubt I will stay in Iowa City. I doubt I will stay in the midwest. The future is wide open. Usually that would be a beautiful thought, but today I just look at it. I turn it over in my mind and I put it back on the shelf. Because today, I’m still grieving the loss of my 136 South Dubuque Street.
Just over six months ago, I shook hands with Sally Mason and turned the tassel at my commencement ceremony. Here is an obviously classy picture of Michelle and I to show our excitement with our empty folders.
Just about three months ago, that empty folder finally was filled with my diploma and certificate.
In between these two events, I used another very important document. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t go back to Europe until I saw either California or New York – it was a shame that I knew another continent better than my own country. I’ve kept that promise… I just went to New Zealand instead.
In the four months since returning from a month wandering around Narnia, I’ve been doing a lot of coffee-things. Trying out the new position of manager at my coffee shop: admin work, fixing broken machinery, training staff and trying to learn more myself, geeking out at roasteries, writing a new menu, getting cafe crushes when I travel.
Oh, yeah, I’ve been traveling, too. Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin. I may not have made it to the coasts yet, but I’m finally learning my own Midwest through weekend excursions.
And learning, lots of learning. Audiobooks when I’m in the car, print books when I’m in the library, even trying my hand at learning how to code when I’m on my computer. Note, I said trying. Regardless, I’m tickled to have the mental energy to learn about things just because.
Life’s kinda cool, you know?
December 21, 2012
Back when the rapture was set to occur, a couple of my friends happily informed themselves throughout the day that they were still there, despite the fact that if the rapture were to occur, they’d both be gone.
If the Mayans knew any better than your average Oreo cookie, the world should be in utter turmoil right now.
Along THAT line of thought, have you ever pondered the difference between “uh oh” and “oops”? “Oops” is the far more serious of the two. If someone says “uh oh,” the situation is probably bad, but not necessarily. If they say “oops,” it’s a gonner.
Anyway. All this end of the world talk, combined with the end of the year, my birthday drawing close, etc… It’s a good time to think. It’s a good time to remember. It’s a good time to forgive.
Not that there is necessarily a bad time to do that.
But as I’m curled up in my sister’s residence, gearing up to see Mannheim Steamroller tomorrow, I smile.
It’s been a great semester. Ruined GPA, healed soul. New friendships, new experiences. Peace and contentment.
We even get a white Christmas this year!
…provided that the apocalypse doesn’t happen and melt it all. Just hold out until after Christmas, giant volcanos!
January 18, 2013
One form of loneliness is to have a memory and no one to share it with. -Phyllis Rose
As I was watching a clip satirizing experiences on public transit, I was struck by a sudden sense of sadness… because I was entertained by the video. In my wanderings around Europe, I have lived through many similar situations, but nearly all of them have been alone.
I have shared some of my more dramatic mishaps with friends and family, and on occasion will share a less exciting one that relates to my current situation.
But this second hand experience does not compete.
When I first went abroad, I was with a girl named Jordyn. Now, we hadn’t interacted much prior to our trip to Poland, and after a few months, our paths diverged again. But one of the most beautiful things that Jordyn and I had was that a year, two years later, we were able to sit down and talk. We shared memories, dusted off old jokes, looked at pictures and reminisced.
A similar situation happened this last spring break, when my fellow RYE student Amanda and I were back in Nitra, four years after we had lived there. We retraced our steps, visited our old haunts, made new memories in this place we’d once called home.
Every movement we make leaves a trace of ourselves.
I have no problems traveling alone.
But it does leave one… lonely.
No one with whom to recollect the Munich train station when we made a fifteen minute change to go to Rome.
No one with whom to share the excitement of the Parisian train station when it appears in Hugo.
No one with whom to laugh about accidentally riding to the end of the line in Amsterdam and being kindly mocked (and then helped) by the tram drivers.
No one that strolled through airports all over Europe, getting stamps in passports, buying a beer simply because that was the only word you KNEW was the same so that you could use wifi at a pub in Croatia, begrudgingly taking a taxi, then realizing how impossible it would have been to walk this time.
Memories litter my soul.
My words, written across emails and journals, scraps of paper and facebook posts. Sometimes I am afraid that those words are the only thing convincing me that it was all real.
So as my retro suitcase sits unused in my closet, I shrug my shoulders.
It is rather lonely, but I still wouldn’t trade it for the world.