Top 3 Things to Look Forward to in a Post-Pandemic World: Our Spring Awakening

After months of hibernation It feels as if we are all emerging from our caves into the light of a bright new morning. Ever so slowly things have begun to open up and awaken. Live music, and small gatherings have formed once more. People are daring to live publicly again. The miracle of science is saving us in real time, and we are here to bear witness. The CDC says that those of us who are vaccinated can begin interacting without wearing masks.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to throw my mask into the air a la Mary Tyler Moore, but I am feeling the freedom in that possibility. Spring always signifies rebirth, but this year summer feels like a revelation. While the path ahead is far from certain, there is light shining down on us showing us that we can find a way through this. We are the survivors of a global trauma. We are the ones that have endured. What a miraculous time to be alive.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to throw my mask into the air a la Mary Tyler Moore, but I am feeling the freedom in that possibility.

So here we all are then, ready to dive in and live our best post-pandemic lives, right? Plenty of people have already written about how they aren’t ready to be around civilized society again. I feel the opposite. This weekend I saw folks out and about without masks for the first time in months. It felt revolutionary to be able to see the bottom half of people’s faces again.

I’m through being stuck at home with piles of laundry and no foreseeable exit strategy. I want community. I’m ready for my children to play with other kids. I want my new normal. I am excited to be a part of something once more and ready for the world to show me its stuff.

So Here’s my Summer List of what I have Missed and What I am Most Looking Forward to in Post-Pandemic Life.

1) Travel

I deeply love to travel. Part of my overwhelming anxiety during the pandemic stemmed from the closing of our borders. Suddenly I felt trapped inside my four walls, just me and the babies most days staring at each other and avoiding CNN. But now the road beckons again. Will I be able to go anywhere exotic? New Jersey in August is on the itinerary so no, the answer is a resounding no. Still, I am excited at the possibility of going anywhere that isn’t my house. And the girls will get to see their grandparents and such, which brings me to the next thing I am most looking forward to: Family.

2) Family

Many of us have been separated from our loved ones for over a year. I have close friends with families overseas in Europe who are aching to once again be reunited with their relatives. People have family members in assisted living facilities that they have not been able to visit with in many months. If fortune favors, all of these folks will be able to reunite this summer. Hopefully with much joy and hugging, something else I am deeply looking forward to. I know that not everyone is comfortable with public displays of affection, but I myself, am eagerly anticipating throwing my arms around many of my longtime friends, whether they like it or not. I’m going to make it weird. That’s how much I’ve missed people. Which brings me to the last thing I am most looking forward to in post-pandemic life, fellowship.

3) Fellowship

Some people hear the word and immediately it brings to mind religious connotations. For me it is about a community working in service with other people towards a common end. People sharing a common interest and uniting in that pursuit. I am fortunate enough to have a job each summer working at a music camp in Maine. People come from all across the country to teach music to kids for  six weeks each summer. Some faculty have been there for decades. Last summer was the first that the camp didn’t operate as normal in 85 years. This year the camp is coming back, with strict COVID safety protocols in place of course. I feel so lucky to be a part of that camp community and can’t wait to greet my friends from far and wide and welcome them back to Maine.

There is much to look forward to this summer. All indications are that this June, July, August of 2021 are going to be lit (insert fire emoji here.) Do the kids still say that? I guess they will let me know in a few weeks. My arms and my heart will be open and ready for travel, family, hugs, and fellowship this summer. I hope that your adventures await as well. Strap the kids in and get going. We have a lot of living to do.

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From Broadway to Barista and Back

I used to love waiting tables in New York City. I kid you not. I had a few restaurant jobs that were really great over the years, with solid management teams in good houses. I have always enjoyed customer service, and I appreciated meeting all of the thousands of different characters that drifted in and out of my worldview from behind the apron. Of course you always remember the jerks. They left an impression. But the majority of people are not terrible, and they make for really interesting observation material. Society at large makes for a good character study.

A few weeks ago I started a weekend job at the bakery coffee shop in my small town in Maine. It’s a chance for me to get out of the house away from the babies, to make a little money, and to converse with some grownups. I go in at 7AM and stay until early afternoon greeting the tourists and giving an extra nod to the locals. I stand out among the other baristas, who are all high school age girls. I am the old mother of two who is often mistaken for the owner. People look to me as if I have some sort of authority. Even the other girls do it. After all, I am the grown up. They are just barely out of childhood and still making their way through these waters. Then there is me, all birthing hips and boobs standing next to these baby waifs. Still, we are all together learning as we go. 

Real picture of me and one of the high schoolers I work with at the coffee shop.
Real picture of me and one of the high schoolers I work with.

It is busy now that the weather is warming and people are venturing out from their homes again. We have a steady stream of people throughout the morning and they all want their pastries, and smoothies, and sandwiches, and espressos promptly served to them. They have no idea who I am or what my story is, and why would they care? Our relationship is transactional. They need something and I can provide the service.

Service is the key word there. It’s not just food and beverage that someone ladles out when they are working in F&B. They are providing a moment of recognition, a moment where attention must be paid. It’s a brief interlude of courtesy. There is a greeting, a welcome offered, and then a service is provided. It’s such a simple moment repeated hundreds of times during the day, but it is never exactly the same. That is, if you are doing it right. If you are present and performing to the best of your ability. Every interaction is a unique chance to do something well. There is psychology at work here. Every customer needs something different. Some of them want you to make conversation, and some want a wide berth. 

It’s knowing how to quickly read a person’s body language and emotional cues and deciphering what sort of care they need. That’s the key to good service. 

I believe very much in the value of taking pride in your work. If I am steaming the milk, I make it extra frothy. If I’m melting the cheese on the english muffins, you’d better believe that cheese is super melty. I have been onstage at the Tony Awards, and I have made you your latte. Both of these things have been true in this lifetime. I find value in all my work because I do it with integrity. Even if I am heating up your croissanwich, I am doing it to the best of my ability and with an open heart. There is value in service to others. We forget to appreciate that. I know that I do.

I do my best to satisfy the customer. Some people you can never please. They come in determined to have a bad experience. There’s nothing you can do to appease such people, and one thing I have passed down to my teenage barista squad is the value in taking the loss and the benefit in letting said grouchy people go. Arguing with them is a waste of time. There are some customer service battles that are not worth going to war over, I promise you. The customer is not always right. That’s some nonsense.  

Morning is tricky. Some people look at you like you are holding their fix. They show up bleary-eyed, hair still wet from the shower. They avert their gaze like vampires squinting away at sunlight. You have what they need. Take all the money. Give them their caffeine and do away with the chit chat.

Then there are the crazy people. You get them too. The guy who buys four beverages from the cooler and then stuffs them into his sack of newspapers. The older gentleman who always gruffly asks for a receipt and counts every single penny of his change. He comes in. There are all types, all ages and genders. The kids who are meeting up in town to skateboard and come in begging for water. The elderly woman who asked for the cookie to be cut in half and then insisted on leaving the other half “for someone else.” She’s there too.  

Maybe some of the customers speculate about me as well. It is a very small town and people do love to chat. No matter, I suppose. I’m there because I missed being with other people. The quarantine robbed us all of so much time. I guess I’m just trying to make up for some of that. It’s not Broadway, and it’s not forever. But for now I am happy to give you a smile and help you start your day. These days I am taking joy in the little moments. I hope you are too.