I work in a coffee shop in downtown Santa Cruz. We have many customers and passersby who are not well. My coworkers call these people “crazy.” And other things I won’t repeat. And it is painful.
THEY ARE NOT CRAZY.
They are not well. They have had rough lives. They have done too many drugs. They have mental illnesses. They’re actually really nice people if you can get past the paranoia and fuck-off front they put up. I know. I did it today.
Her name was Laura. She came in with a formerly homeless man who bought her a cup of coffee. She was needy and loud. She asked for the bathroom code and I gave it to her. (My coworkers would not have done so.) Ten minutes later, she was still in there. I knocked and she yelled at me angrily. When she came out she approached the first person she saw, assuming they had knocked, and got in their face about it. They brushed it off, thankfully. I got her attention and told her that her coffee was ready and gave her ice water. She proceeded to ask for a cup of ice. She migrated outside, and then back in.
Several hours later, she was asking for the bathroom code again and my coworker was not giving it to her. He directed her to the register, where she bought another cup of coffee and got the code. About thirty minutes later, she was talking loudly to no one in particular, and a customer approached me asking that she be kicked out. Reluctantly, I found my supervisor and passed on the message. She employed another coworker to ask her to leave, who was, frustratingly, gleeful about his mission.
When I left work today, she was still wandering around the building. I smiled at her and said, “have a nice day,” and she smiled back and said, “you too.”
That is not crazy. I am kicking myself for not approaching her myself and seeing if I could quiet her down before it escalated to her being asked to leave. She wasn’t dangerous.
It frustrates me that our businesses cater to the well-minded. That an apparent mental illness makes one ill-suited for quality customer service. No. We’re not social workers. I know that. But we’re humans. We all have our demons. Can’t we give each other a little grace?