I didn’t go for the food and I sure as hell didn’t go for the service. Most of the girls tending the bar acted like they’d never poured a beer before. God help them with a portafilter. Ordering was an exercise in patience and persistence. Given the obvious lack of experience, the hiring manager must have been focused on other qualities.
Roza was the lone exception to general incompetence. She operated with confidence that only comes through familiarity. Red hair and tattoos flaring, both hands worked independently at once while she held a conversation in front of her and flashed with her eyes that she’d be right over. The cafe fell into rhythm during her shifts. Orders arrived on time. Glasses were never found empty. Strangers talked to each other.
Her youth was even more obvious than her experience. I’d stumbled into a rare environment where the youngest was also the most street smart and battle-tested. As my face became familiar through repeat visits, she’d start to linger a little longer by the space where I sat and worked. Professional interactions gradually morphed into casual conversations.
“There’s no peace and quiet in my apartment anymore,” she started one afternoon shortly after locating me at my usual spot.
“My roommates had a party and broke my bedroom door.”
“What a bunch of animals.”
“They’re crazy. And half of them stay up all night. I’ll probably just sleep with earplugs in.”
She made the drink she knew I wanted and sat it in front of me. I let the conversation trail off while my eyes wandered. A box packed with small rectangular cards stacked upright sat a few inches away, just behind the bar. I extended a finger toward them and tapped the surface as if a nudge might cause them to spring to life.
“What’s this? Do bartenders carry business cards now?”
She slid them away playfully and put on a stern facade, “Employees only.”
“Fine, fine. Don’t let me steal your secrets.”
My eyes darted to fresh ink on her left arm.
“That must be new.”
“Mia Farrow,” she said proudly. “Everyone says I look like her.”