I’ve been working at Shady Brook Farm for two weeks, and I have, without question, worked harder overall than I did in a month at my previous job. On this precious off day, while trying to avoid watching the Bears-Dolphins score on the crawl — we don’t get games like this on TV in Philly, and apparently, it’s looking like my football team’s “Super Bowl run” (eye roll) could suffer some high-degree burns in the Miami heat — I thought I’d write a little about my vocational experience thus far.
Long story short: Holy shit.
As the cliché goes, if you had told me 20 years ago, or even much shorter ago, that I’d be pouring draft beers, and doing mental math, at a patio bar at age 40…I would have given you the stink eye. (Ha, wait, I mean, I’d give you my normal facial expression.) But that’s not because bartending/cashiering is a dishonorable pursuit, but because I pretty much thought I’d found my lane on the highway of life and was going to ride it, all night long.
Admittedly, I was driving all the way to the right, stuck behind a beater with blinking hazard lights, given that I was a local journalist making less money in 2018 than I did in 2002. But it was what I knew, and what I was good at — had made myself good at, because that’s how I roll — and WHAT THE HECK DO YOU DO WITH YOUR LIFE IF YOUR WHOLE CAREER PLAN LOOKS LIKE A DEAD END?
Here we are. Making $9 an hour ringing up tomatoes and pumpkins and apple butter and occasionally, “Can you tell me what this is?” while answering phone calls that I only occasionally can answer, given the complicated corn maze of information wandering around in my head since I started. On Friday and Saturday nights, I’ve been baptized by the light of the fire pits at an auxiliary bar station that the great folks at Shady Brook’s adorable saloon, “The Stone’s Throw,” have conceived and created. Never had I poured a beer from a tap. Never had I tried to explain a variety of wines. Let’s be real: never have I done any of the things this job requires of me every day.
At one point in the past 24 hours, between accepting a returned ginger root at the Farm Market register and accepting a jaw-dropping $10 tip out at the bar, it finally hit me.
My life is never going to be the same.
That is scary. A kind of scary that trumps anything they’re throwing at customers at Shady Brook’s popular HorrorFest. A kind of scary that I hadn’t contemplated when I graduated from Northwestern in the spring of 2000 and trotted off to Georgia for a newspaper sportswriting job that probably doesn’t even exist, for anyone, anymore, then shuffled up to Philly for a similar job…that I can tell you for sure doesn’t exist anymore.
Dare I say, this has all been a long time coming?
I was complacent. I wasn’t going anywhere, other than to my next sports story, which absolutely changed every day, but it was nowhere near the kind of mental and physical gymnastics that I’m performing now.
I was isolated. I only interacted with people because I had to, to tell the story. I called reporting “a necessary evil,” because I saw myself as a loner (Dottie, a rebel), and the writing or editing part of the job was where I was most comfortable. I didn’t even communicate much with coworkers. I was on my own.
Whatever my new life looks like, getting there is going to involve a lot of interaction. It’s going to involve a lot of navigation – of different human personalities, different human tendencies, different human situations that will very rarely follow any sort of pattern – and staying cool and staying positive while rolling with whatever comes my way.
It’s going to take putting myself out there, willing to crash and burn, like never before.
I thought I did that as a reporter. In reality, I was sheltered and spoiled. This new job, while certainly not a final destination, in terms of a career, has forced me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. I can’t even count the ways. I know now that I have to keep pushing in that direction.
If I’m to live anything resembling a truly fulfilling life, I’m going to have to abandon all my preconceived notions and reinvent myself. At the very least, working at Shady Brook Farm has recalibrated my brain.
Where we go from here, well, we just have to wake up tomorrow (hopefully not to a Bears loss!) and see.