• Miss Noelle

Iced Chai @ Preservation Coffee and Tea: A Glance Back at Bohemia through a Corporate Culture Film

Delicious. Infuriating. Sprinkled with an exciting combination of hope for the future and self-loathing.

Growing up in the counter-culture that is live theatre for young adults, I remember being terrified that someday I would "go corporate." I swore I'd never get a job wherein I had to wear high heels, or carry a portfolio, or have a 401k. I just wanted to sit on windowsills and swing my legs like a child, and experiment playfully with different personality types until I found my amalgam of them, and write off any sort of business acumen as "selling out."

20 years later, I end up in Modesto to talk to other arts educators, excited to dip my toes in these networking waters and dressed the part, but I am early. I swing down a side street, clip-clopping on my high heels, and see a coffee shop; no, scratch that, not just A coffee shop, THE coffee shop. The motherland. My people. Preservation, selling local art off its walls, giving out quick-decomposing straws, featuring a menu item called "barista's choice," and where only about 15% of its patrons were wearing shoes. Guitar-strummers, out of work writers, one guy obviously napping in his salad, another shouting into an old cell phone with his bare feet on the table, folded into a yoga pose. A combination of beaded curtains and artisan-style handmade chairs, the air conditioning off for "energy efficiency" and the smell of cold-brew and patchouli intermingling behind the counter and wafting out into the restaurant space like spirits. Local bands on speed dial. Square and ipad POS setup but you know there was a landline back there just for irony's sake. You know the place I'm talking about.

I fit in at this place. I pack my lunch in re-purposed containers, mason jars, and reusable sandwich bags. I listen to Ani Difranco. I hate suits. Damn the man, save the Empire, am I right?

...except I don't. I get weird looks the second I walk in. I am wearing a nice dress and they don't know that I got it at a rummage sale, and they don't care that I have a lunch packed in ice in my second-hand car. They associate people dressed the way I am with the same things I hate about corporate culture: lunches in styrofoam eaten with plastic forks on park benches, vague expectations of high-level thinking and behavior which I may or may not be able to achieve, never be comfortable, never be silly, never show weakness, never have fun. I am 34 years old and I DESPERATELY want to sit on windowsills and kick my legs like a child again...do you think my dress would allow that? Am I going to knick the wall with these heels?

I am thoughtful and thankful when it comes to the opportunities I've had and I'm about to have. For the last ten years of my life, the occasional cocktail dress has been enough to get me through the working year. But that does mean I've had some beautiful pieces sitting in my closet, wondering why they aren't popular enough to be yoga pants. And maybe it's time to shake the dust off the fact that I am capable of performing high-level thinking and behavioral tasks in damask as well as denim, that sneakers are excellent for running but can stay in the car while I bustle at a good pace around the corner in my heels. I have spent ten years dashing back and forth in my sneakers. I can stand in my heels. I can walk in my heels. And if I need to do some dashing, the sneakers aren't going anywhere.

I don't know when I'll be back to Preservation, but the next time I am, I hope I'm in my ragged jeans and tank top with the holes. I hope my hair is a mess and I'm laughing. Because I am capable of both and I need both to make me who I am. And I bet it's an interesting thing to watch from the other side of a counter. It sure is interesting from this side; I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next.

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