Coffeehouse Stories: A splash of reality on the Hill
The woman sitting by the window is a regular. Theresa Monroe, from northern California, works at Ebenzers Coffeehouse near Union Station not because the coffee is really good, which it is, or because the music is always somehow pleasing, even if they are a bit heavy on the John Mayer.
And she’s not one of those self-employed people who absolutely has to get out of the house every now and then. In fact, she really likes to be alone, which is why she quickly grabs the seat in the quiet corner of the shop when it opens up.
She’s here because she’s got a roommate who is unemployed, a victim of the recession who spends way too much time in the apartment watching daytime television. She loves her friend, an acquaintance from college with whom she was reunited on Facebook. But having a roommate at age 25 is getting old and if she hears Dr. Phil’s cloying voice once more, she’s going to vomit.
But Theresa left her steady job as a legislative aide on the Hill to start her own consulting business—a risky, financially precarious proposition—and needs someone to split her rent.
And so the perch in the corner has become her makeshift office. But she won’t be here for long. She’s got a new client, a non-profit that provides aide to orphans in Africa, and she'll soon be hitting the road.
Actually, that’s all made up. I spent an hour or so, sitting here watching her, wondering, imagining a narrative. We all make assumptions, but in journalism it's dangerous, dishonest and downright wrong to enter a story with preconceived notions like those above. So we try to remain open-eyed, ready for surprises, and then adapt. We try to bury our own biases, and watch
our assumptions get blown up by reality. But this time, in the spirit of the Coffeehouse Newsroom experiment, I decided to paint a ridiculous version of what I thought I knew based just on quick, distant observation, hoping she would not think it creepy.
So now I’m off to get Theresa’s real story.
Except, of course, her name is not Theresa. It’s Lindsey Parker. She’s not from California, but from outside Jacksonville, Fla. And she changed seats simply because she needed an electrical outlet to charge her laptop. But otherwise I did okay. She’s 26, but just, and an Ebenezers regular. She did work on the Hill (ding ding ding!), but her boss wasn’t reelected, and now she works as an admissions officer for the University of Florida, her beloved alma mater, recruiting kids from the D.C. area.
And no, she doesn’t mind talking. And she doesn’t think my speculative caricature of her is creepy. She thinks it’s funny. She’s happy to spill. That’s the thing about Lindsey—she’s game for almost anything.
Backpacking through Europe. Sliding headfirst down the White House bowling lane as if it were a Slip 'N Slide. And when her friend asked her a year and a half ago if she wanted to make a six-hundred-mile trek across Spain in the winter, she said the same thing as when someone
asked her to try octopus for the first time.
She can say that she likes her life. But she can’t say if her life is as she imagined it would be at this point because she didn’t imagine it. She never thought she’d end up in Washington. She doesn’t have a script. And she doesn’t have assumptions about what direction her life is going to
take next, only the hope that she’ll know what to do when she gets there.
Sure, there are rough outlines. At some point she’d like to meet someone and marry. She’d like kids. And she is sure that Washington is as far north as she’ll ever live. “It’s too cold up there,” she says.
But the woman who changed her major five times, from telecommunications to English before finally settling on economics, can’t say where she’ll be in five years. Or what she’ll be doing. She wants to move forward, antennae up, receptive to whimsy, secure in her ability to manage the unforeseen.
“I’m not one of those people who will have one job for the entirety of my career,” she says. “Ideally, if I could have a career where I had some interesting experience a year at a time. Go work at the Olympics, work a ski season, then a Fortune 500 company.”
When she agreed to trek through Spain, she assumed she’d have a life-changing adventure, and see the world in some Bill Brysonian way. But one week in and she found herself wishing she had made a few more assumptions about how cold the Pyrenees could be in winter. Then she
pulled a muscle. She was tired and freezing in her fleece and rain jacket and spent one
miserable night throwing up.
Any epiphany she was supposed to be having about life and God and faith was usurped by an overwhelming desire to give up. This was not how the trip was supposed to be. Without telling
her friends, she stole away to an Internet café and secretly planned an escape to Majorca, an island in the Mediterranean.
Looking at photos of sandy beaches, she had her epiphany — a simple decision made at the moment when her expectations were upended by reality — that allowed her to continue.
“Lindsey,” she chided herself, “if you are cold, go get yourself a better coat.”
| July 28, 2010; 6:30 PM ET
Categories: Local Life, coffee house newsroom
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