Like many college students, my main priority this summer was making money. To be specific — making money to fund my college tuition, to start saving for post-college life, and to cover the cost of the many overpriced lattes I will be drinking this semester. 

So, I got a job serving at my aunt’s restaurant in my hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

I thought it would be a fun, relaxing way to spend my summer. How hard could it be to carry out food on a tray and make sure I didn’t spill coffee on customers? 

Over the next three months, I learned that: one, restaurant serving is, in fact, not relaxing in the slightest; and two, restaurants are some of the best places to hear stories. 

Stories are the reason I love journalism — there’s something about meeting new people and listening to the ways in which they express themselves and talk about their lives that makes me want to scribble it down on paper. And working at a restaurant, where I was often invited into conversations with total strangers, I learned that everyone has a story, whether they realize they’re telling it to you or not.

So, I want to say thank you — thank you for letting me into just a small part of your stories — to the following people: 

The woman who punctuated her order of three bloody marys with promises that the drinks would cure her friend’s hangover (“it’s counterintuitive, I know!). I am happy to report that her friend did seem to perk up considerably after the second bloody mary, although this was probably because her hangover was delayed rather than cured.

The girl who shared one last meal with her parents before being dropped off at college; she was crying, and it made me think about all the students starting at Goshen this year who are experiencing similar growing pains and the bittersweet nature of transitions. I didn’t have the guts to say it to her then, but I’ll say it to all the first-years now — you’ve got this! Take a deep breath and welcome the newness of this phase of your life.

The elderly woman who gave me a handful of sweet pea flowers: “Since I’m giving these to you, I guess I’ll have to call you sweetpea!” I took them home in a plastic takeout cup.

The man on a blind date whose opening line was that his friend used to work at the White House as the official door-opener for the president. After fact-checking this statement, I could not find any information about an official White House door-opener, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully his date was impressed.

The cute dogs on the patio. There were so many! They didn’t really have any stories to tell, but they gave me lots of kisses. (Don’t worry, I always washed my hands after. No health code violations here.) 

The Peanut Butter Woman — a regular who always, without fail, ordered a black coffee and a small bowl of peanut butter. She liked to spoon the peanut butter into her coffee until a thin film of oil covered the surface of the liquid. She never ordered any food, but she always asked for the morning paper.

The couple that got engaged during their lunch. I missed the actual proposal, when the woman discovered the ring in her chocolate croissant, but I caught a glimpse of the aftermath — lots of tears and laughter, and a reminder of the power of love and baked goods.

I hope to carry the spirit of these fleeting interactions with strangers into our reporting at The Record this semester. How can we capture the individuality of each person that we interview through our storytelling?