“She’s here” Robin, the store owner announces about the manager, Tsarah’s, arrival.
“She’s queer,” D adds on.
“… And you better get used to it,” Robin finishes in his raised, flamboyant voice, smiling brightly.
Eight to four this week I’m serving up coffee and breakfast food. There is are so many gay, lesbian and transgender people who come into the cafe, the Purple Sweet Potato. In reality, there are probably many queer people who come into every coffee shop I’ve ever worked at, but it is really apparent at at this cafe. Having queer owners, managers and most of the staff being queer makes it comfortable for customers to be as openly gay as they want. In addition, this neighborhood used to be known as the “gay district” in Kansas City, and has a rich history of activism and identity politics.
There are dinosaur figurines greeting you upon entry, grocery shelves full of onions, potatoes and pineapples and rainbow light bulbs strung along windows. The stucco walls are painted grey, yellow and red, with a big menu scrawled across a white board.
“Capitalism is rampant. I’m doing what I have to to survive,” D answers a customer asking if she enjoys working.
“Same” Tsarah agrees from behind her in the kitchen.
Working at a cafe again is practice in pulling the story out. Each customer that approaches the register, I get to try to find the information hidden within them.
“Has anyone been following the assault on the trans woman in Rio?” Robins asks the kitchen.
Later Robin smiles and jokes, “I’m the most manly of everyone here.”
A little while later I receive a call from one of our most loyal customers: Blind Guy.
“I’m calling in so that I have a reason to get out on this rainy day. Can you save me a bowl of the vegetable soup? Don’t be afraid to sell it. I had it yesterday, and it has flavor. It’s not your mother’s vegetable soup. Peace out.”
Blind Guy comes in a little while later, and orders salt and pepper chips in addition to his soup. Generally we invite people to pick their own type of chips out of the box, but D grabs Blind Guy’s chips and hands them to him.
“Put them back in the mix and we’ll see how long it takes me to find it,” Blind Guy laughs with blind humor.
He begins talking to D about one of his favorite subjects, marijuana.
“They have legal cannabis out there? Legal is a good problem to have…”
At 1:30 everyday, Terrance the mailman comes in with a song,
“HELLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” the mailman croons for the whole cafe to hear, and the kitchen staff join in. He hands us the mail, and tells us he’ll see us tomorrow when we’ll repeat the encounter.
Big, wide eyes approach the register with long hair down his back. His name is Broco (short for Broccoli) and he’s got his eyes on Malcolm behind the counter.
“Malcolm was my friend’s older brother. He was always really cool though, he would smoke weed with us…”
Malcolm points over my shoulder, indicating to me that, “Tina over there is a medium, she talks to spirits.”
An hour before closing time, Blind Guy yells out to D, “D, what time is it?
“IIIIIIITTTTS the HOUUUUURRRR of POOOOWWEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR,” D belts as is her daily routine.
In the rain and mud outside in the storage shed. I hear a voice calling, and soon see Blind Guy walking with his stick, calling out. He hears someone, and thinks it is D.
“It’s Cecelia!” I tell him.
At 3 pm we close down the cafe, with one of the kitchen staff yelling, “86 Purple Sweet Potato!” as is tradition. 86 in restaurant speak means you don’t want an ingredient, or you’re out of an ingredient, or you’re done for the day.
Later, when we’re closing down the cafe with another one of our bosses, Aimee, D tells Aimee that if she didn’t have to come in today, she would have already finished the paper by now, and be quite stoned.
“Well. Now you have a little bit more money to get a little more stoned tomorrow,” Aimee tells her. Aimee starts talking about the Vagina Monologues performance she is going to tonight, Lucy finishes mopping the kitchen, and we all head home.