Featured Experience: Differences to Rub Off

By Dahlia Zail and Dahlia Zail

Jaw-droppingly long lines flowed to the snack bar window of the Parkside Cafe, and by two o’clock I was sweating. I was on ice cream duty, responsible for all the smoothies, ice creams, and shakes that people ordered. Every time I finished a stack of orders, I would look to my left, and a new, even bigger stack would be staring at me. Everyone was working hard, taking orders, flipping burgers, and the room felt like it was on fire. Everything was fast paced, exciting, and ultimately exhausting.

But these things brought us — the other cashier, the three cooks, and I — together. We were a team. I learned to collaborate with people, no matter our differences. Three out of five of the people in the snack bar spoke almost no English. We communicated through choppy Spanglish, hand motions, and smiles. And at the end of the day, regardless of how few words we had shared, I felt like I was really a part of something.

One day around 10 a.m. I was working in the coffee cart, about to pass out. I had been working for four hours with almost no food and a lukewarm bottle of water as my energy. Just as I was about to start tearing up with exhaustion, I looked to my left and one of my co-workers was there, pulling pastries out of the case and handing them to eager customers. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, as the weight was lifted off my shoulders, all thanks to him.

It was the hard tasks that united us. When someone messed up an order, the adrenaline we all felt from rushing to address the situation spread like a wildfire through our bodies. At the risk of sounding cliché, the experience flipped my perspective around. All of the sudden I was being treated like an adult, having adult interactions. I was forced to think about my actions and words because at work there was no one to take the blame for my mistakes.

One of my closest friends at the Parkside was a middle-aged guy who bussed tables in the restaurant. Every day he travelled early in the morning from San Rafael to Bolinas, where he would spend his entire day working as a tree trimmer. He would then come to the Parkside and work from 5 p.m. until closing and then drive back to San Rafael.

It took me a few weeks for the feeling of shame about our differences to rub off. My mind would swirl: Are they going to hate me? Do they think I’m just taking this job “for fun”?

Yet it was the differences between my coworkers and me that ultimately led to a deeper kind of friendship, one where we could learn from each other, but also one where all outside problems could be forgotten, and the only things to share and talk about were things happening in the moment, or the positive things in our lives.