I Would Walk With My People If I Could Find Them
I’d like to say working at Diesel Cafe was my first real job out of college. That makes a tidier story. But it was actually my second.
After undergrad, I’d just got out of a serious relationship (that neither of us really wanted to end), and failed to get into the grad school I wanted. I figured I would take a year off and reapply with my fingers crossed.
In the meantime, I moved to Somerville and started looking for new work. I found a job at a call center. I sat in a cube for eight to eleven hours, speaking to people who were, by and large, not very happy to be on the phone with me.
It paid well, but it was very lonely work. I worried I would be stuck in that job forever, working next to people I would never really know. And what if I didn’t get into grad school again the next year? What if I had missed my shot–not just at the career I wanted, but my shot at being happy?
I was listening to a lot of Third Eye Blind at the time, and this line stood out to me: “I would walk with my people if I could find them.” But what if I never found them?
I started looking for new work almost immediately.
After four months at the call center, I interviewed to work at Diesel Cafe. When Parky and Tucker offered me a job, I was delighted; I remember being impressed by how energetic all my new coworkers were, and how friendly.
I knew still hoped I’d be starting grad school the next year, so I asked for the opening shift as soon I could. My thought was that I just had to survive another year, send out another round of applications, and survive.
But I did a lot more than survive. Working at Diesel wasn’t just better than sitting in a call center. It was a lot fun.
Some of my fondest memories are from this time. I’d get to work before the sun was up and set out the pastries. Julia, my manager, would put on “Hold On” by The Alabama Shakes most mornings as the early-morning regulars came in. She taught me how to test the espresso–a process that involved, if the grind wasn’t set right at first, drinking quitea bit of espresso. (Needless to say, my tolerance for caffeine developed pretty quickly.)
I learned a lot about coffee, it’s true, but what I really learned about was work. After a year that seemed to be full of failure—a failed relationship, failed applications–I was with a community of people who were all working on something. We supported each other.
Parky and Tucker themselves were working to open another location (which would become Forge). Tim was working to become a nurse. Plenty of my coworkers were working artists, or working their way through school.
The thing was, we all knew what everyone else was working on, the successes and the failures we endured. And we cared. And I don’t think it was simple dumb luck that the cafe was full of interested, compassionate people who got along with each other. I think it’s something about Diesel Cafe itself, the place and the community, that fosters that kind of caring. I can’t say what that thing is, but I know the world could use a whole lot more of it.
What I learned from Diesel was this: work doesn’t have to be lonely. If you’re with the right people, and you know them and they know you, it can even be fun. Even when you’re not at your best.
Maybe that sounds obvious, but when I was twenty-one and full of fear that I’d somehow exploded any hope of my future, and that I was a complete fuck-up, it was important for me to see that you could be a work in progress and people wouldn’t throw you out because of it.
I didn’t work at Diesel very long. I got into grad school, and shortly after that I started teaching. Around three years after I started at Diesel, I switched to teaching full time.
But most days, I still work in Diesel. Between lessons, when I have essays to grade or lesson plans to write, I’ll get a cup of coffee and a Monkey Wrench with mustard, and I’ll set down to get some work done.
Now I’m thirty, and I’m still a work in progress. But I don’t worry about that the way I did in my twenties. I see the folks working at Diesel–both behind the bar and out in the café–all with, one assumes, their own hopes and dreams and ambitions, and their own people. And I feel a little better about our world.
Because of Diesel, I know that work doesn’t need to be lonely. Life doesn’t have to be a call center where no one knows your name. Even when you’re not succeeding, when you’re hurting and afraid, you can walk with your people. You can find them. And sometimes, you find them when you aren’t even looking.