Monday, May 13, 2013
The Kitchen Crowd
Up until I was in third grade, my mom taught in a handful of small towns in Alaska. I remember three of them. So when I came to Montana, I had already seen and experienced a lot of things that most kids that age couldn't dream of. Temperatures 75 degrees below zero, snow drifts the height of rooftops, dog sled races, moose, Eskimos, homes without running water, outhouses in the dead of winter, northern lights. It all made me different. Even at that young of an age, those experiences had given me a unique perspective on life. It also gave me the desire to travel and experience new things. I knew there was so much more outside my small home town and I wanted to see it all.
So for nine years, I dreamed of bigger and better places but made do with where I was. To fit in, I learned to observe people and their habits so that I became a sort of social chameleon. I could adjust my personality to adapt to a variety of different 'clicks', but to my dismay, I never felt like I truly belonged in any of them. The minute I graduated, I jumped ship and moved to Chicago in search of diversity and adventure, but most of all, to find myself and figure out where I fit in.
When I landed my job with a small IT firm and started feeling at home around computer geeks, I was thrilled. I had found a bunch of people that had probably felt like outcasts during most of their childhoods like I did. They were all quiet, intelligent people that enjoyed working diligently and undisturbed for eight hours a day.
That worked for me for about seven years. I delighted in my status as a geek and I still do. But it wasn't 100% who I was. I didn't want to go home at night and tinker with code or play video games. I didn't read comic books and I didn't aspire to build the next Facebook or Google. It occurred to me that my job was just a paycheck and that I actually didn't have as much in common with the people I worked with as I thought I did. My status quo had been fractured and I started to feel that same restless, bored, unhappy feeling that I'd grown accustomed to as a child.
When I started baking at the Farmhouse, I didn't know what to expect from my co-workers. As someone coming in with no real experience and a 'corporate' background, I really didn't think I would fit in at all. To my surprise, I was welcomed without judgement and I quickly grew to love and admire my fellow kitchen mates. In my web development work, I found coworkers with stable, normal lives, fairly devoid of excitement or adversity. In the kitchen, I found a disparate set of people with incredible life experiences.
There's Michael, the server, who is also an actor and dancer. He has wild and beautiful bushy brown hair and this crazy intensity about him. He calls Alonso 'Mi amor' and sings to the cooks when he picks up his food from the line. I'm pretty sure he's been high on a variety of illegal substances for most of his shifts. He says to me one day, very genuinely, that I'm going to have my own cooking show just like Martha Stewart. That is the last thing on earth that I want, but his faith in me is touching.
There's Brian, the line cook, who went to a good culinary school and has worked at three and four star restaurants. He says he's 'slumming it' at the Farmhouse to save up for a motorcycle. I don't think he's figured out what he wants to do with life yet. He certainly doesn't seem happy in the kitchen and he talks about becoming a dog walker or bar back. I understand his dilemma and I hope he can find something rewarding, like bread baking is for me.
There are also the incredibly hard workers like Pedro, the bus boy. He has six children and he works non-stop. He has two jobs and also works at festivals on the weekend. He'll work until 2am at the Farmhouse and then get up at 6 the next morning to work his other job. And yet, on so little sleep and so much work, he has never been unpleasant to me. He always greets me with a smile and says nice things about the bread that I bake.
There's Javier, the line cook, who always makes sure I get something to eat before my shift is over at the end of the night. He knows I like avocado, so he puts it on everything he makes for me.
There's Manuel, the dishwasher. I don't even want to think about how little money he's making. Even so, he is one of the most generous people I have met. If he has a bag of candy, or a special juice or soda, he always offers to share it with me. He is trying very hard to teach me Spanish.
The more time I spend at the Farmhouse, the more I admire the staff that keeps the cafe running. They're such a diverse group of people, and yet, I've never felt like I fit in more in any other place.