Earlier I mentioned meeting an elderly woman who had known many Berkeley characters when she had lived here. One of those, whom I will call Jim Jeffreys, had owned a café I frequent as well as a noted Berkeley bar. I said I knew who Jim was. He used to be at the cafe most mornings, scowling at customers who dropped napkins on the floor, but that I had not seen him for some time. “If you do,” she said, “tell him ‘Oysters’ said hello.”
The next time I was at that café, I asked Rosario (not his real name either), the long time chief barista, if the owner still came in. “Jim Jefferys?” he said. “He died…” He counted. “Three years ago.”
“Oh.” I nodded. “Who owns the café now?”
“Jim had a partner,” Rosario said.
“The guy he used to play chess with?”
“Yes. And, Jim Johnson, before he died, he gave his part to me.”
“You’re the owner?” I said.
He shook his head.
“That’s why you’re here six, seven days a week.” I had seen Rosario clean the windows. I had seen him sweep the sidewalk. I shook his hand. “Congratulations.”
“I still don’t feel like owner,” Rosario said. “Most people, I don’t say I am owner.”
“That is so nice,” I said. “What I sweet thing.”
“Jim Jeffers tell me, before he die, ‘Rosario, now you don’t work so hard.’ But I have five children, two in college.” He smiled, maybe thinking into a future.
He returned to the espresso machine. Another latte. Another mocha. But I felt better about a number of things.