Strangers

With my parents fresh off the plane to Scotland for their well-deserved vacation, I woke up this morning feeling hungover from work. No, not the alcohol-related sort; the kind that results after a night of racing around a two-story restaurant for over six hours, doing a job meant for two highly motivated workers, my mental to-do list being rewritten every six minutes. I felt like a player in “Waiting for Godot” while waiting 30 minutes for my tips, exhausted to the point of delirious. Needless to say, my morning necessitated taking care of myself before embarking on my only day off in a span of ten consecutive eight-hour workdays. And, with my parents on the other side of the world, it also involved household chores and creating a plan to feed myself for a week. And knowing me, a simple trip to the grocery store would not suffice: to feel physically and mentally satisfied, I’d need to think up my week’s meals, their ingredients, and then turn the kitchen into a manufacturing tornado until I’d concocted my refrigerator beets, lentil salad, bulgur, hummus, and hard-boiled eggs by hand. So anyway,

Here I was, disheveled in body and mind on a Sunday morning.

However, what I want to arrive at is the underappreciated beauty in kindness by strangers.

As living in London for five months showed me, people who know nothing about you except what they assume from your looks hold unprecedented power in shocking you with the blunt force of their (amazing) character in tiny time spans. When I began bussing at the restaurant four years ago, I was bowled over by the generosity and kindness of the owners. On my first day of bussing for a mellow brunch shift, they embraced me and my first-day nerves, instructing me to pause polishing silverware and partake in a beautiful plate of eggs benedict on a copper table next to the window. Their warmth has only continued over the past four years, delivering me to a place of busser veteranship where the chefs respect me, the owners smile and ask how I’m doing, the patrons extend humbling appreciation for my efforts. The waitstaff recognizes my meticulous nature and rewards me with unbelievably loving coworkers who tell me stories of their lives, listen to my jokes, constantly thank me for being me. The tips are usually great, too. And of course there are points of frustration- there are at every job- but I’m thankful that they are relatively sparse. There’s no way I could work in a restaurant for the rest of my life, but as a summer job, I can’t imagine a better opportunity than the one I have.

The restaurant is a committed to farm-to-table establishment, supporting local agriculture while offering incredible organic, local, grass-fed, etc. food to its customers. So, today at the market, I encountered the family who grows the spirited onions, robust peppers, and altogether lovely veggies for the restaurant. After buying some celery and turnips, I mentioned how wonderfully their produce is received at the restaurant and the 20-year-old bilingual merchant perked up. Enthusiasm spilled out of her, along with wishes to return for a shirley temple at the bar and check out the restaurant’s picture of her family posing with their mountains of veggies at the market. As I thanked her for the groceries, she relayed the conversation’s main points to her mother in Spanish and rushed to present me with a free ear of corn.

Now, it’s not like 500 extra kernels of corn will sustain me for very long. However, this token of friendship blew me away. Don’t even get me started about comparing this to a friend request on Facebook. I don’t think I’m going to forget that ear of corn for a long time.

What’s more, this is what markets are all about: getting to know your community members and support one another both economically and socially. It’s something I haven’t been able to fully understand until now, when I am the one with choices to make about how to live my life in a way that optimally benefits myself and the communities near and far from me. Of course, you don’t have to buy everything from a market; some products are less expensive or more widely available at stores. However, maintaining a habit of buying local food and wares is dear to my heart and I can’t wait to nurture this habit throughout my life.

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