Between the ages of 17 and 21 when I was in college at the University of California, Berkeley, I worked at a great variety of part-time jobs to support myself and pay for books and tuition. Because my class schedule changed every semester, I had to change jobs based on when I was available to work. I didn’t attend summer school so that I could work fulltime to earn enough money to get me through the fall and spring semesters.
The dozen or so jobs I had during college ranged from soda jerk to filling station attendant to restaurant bus boy, but my favorite, bar none, was as a barista in an espresso coffee shop named “Il Piccolo Espresso,” located on the street that ran south from the university’s Sather Gate (I don’t remember the street’s name), the main entrance to the campus. My job was working behind a counter making coffee from the espresso machine and serving customers. This was in the days before espresso was popular with most Americans. Italian immigrants, of which there was a large population in Berkeley, made up the majority of customers. That meant to work there, I had to speak Italian. That was one of the languages I had taught myself as a child, so I was all set.
Because I was obviously not Italian (blond-haired, blue-eye, pale skin) and because I was the only non-Italian working there, I was something of a celebrity. Americans with no Italian heritage stopped in to catch a glimpse of me. The other people working there, all Italians, and especially the shop’s owner, enjoyed my peculiar presence and pushed me forward to wait on the occasional customer who spoke French (the other language I taught myself as a child) instead of Italian.
Unfortunately, when a new semester started and I wasn’t free during peak business hours, I had to leave my job as a barista and find other work. But ever thereafter, until I joined the army and got posted to Fort Meade, Maryland, each time I visited Il Piccolo Espresso, I was welcomed with open arms.