Notes from a week

Au Café

Au Café, Edouard Manet, 1874

I had no shortage of imagined disasters — some sketched out professionally, others just recreational — but in all of them, while the bombs fell or the seas rose, a jaunty couple sat together in a café sipping their espressos. Defiant.

I never imagined a world without cafés.

How can you have a world without cafés?

It is likely that half the bars, cafés, and restau­rants in the San Francisco Bay Area will go out of business in the next month.

Many of these busi­nesses had no buffer whatsoever. “Eighteen hours of cash on hand,” a friend joked about a large restau­rant in Berkeley.

Some of these busi­nesses were very profitable — not all, or even most, but some — and I’ll confess I find myself wondering where all the money went.

Have faith in matter. Backstage, behind the scrim of public life, the real economy is untouched.

Factories and fields might temporarily be more difficult to reach, but they are whole and untouched. They were full to bursting before this began, and they are full to bursting now.

Kathryn and I are ordering take-out from our all-time favorite restau­rants. Two days ago, this felt like a gesture of solidarity; today, it feels like … I don’t know — like slipping a little money into a child’s pocket as they board a train that will take them far away.

A few years ago, our favorite café closed. Its owners were tired of running it, ready for something new. They threw a party and the whole neigh­bor­hood came. Everybody got to thank them.

This crisis has over­matched the social media style of most busi­nesses, big and small. The standard hard-eyed cheer doesn’t work anymore.

Some take shelter in a stiff upper lip. “We’ll get through this!”

I’m proud of the business owners brave enough to share their shock and sadness forthrightly, even weep on camera. Who have said: this is terrifying, existential. Who have said: we were just getting started.

It’s likely you’ve sent a message to a neighbor and/or friend in the past week containing some version of the sentiment “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” That is really great!

However, there is a more effective way to establish that channel, a more potent gesture, and that is to ask for help. Counterintuitive, I know!

It can be something small. Make it up. “Do you have any arugula?”

Line in Front of the Butcher Shop

Line in Front of the Butcher Shop, Edouard Manet

March 2020, Oakland