So I’m 14 days into this month-long series of posts about my experience of owning and operating a pay-what-you-can vegan lunch café in the middle of meat-and-potatoes Midwest America. To see where the story started you can go here. You can also visit the café website or find us on Facebook

One of our customers is a man who comes in almost every day, and pays in boxes of tea. Mostly he brings the tea we use to make our ice tea. We went through scads of it this summer, but now that it’s cold out we’re going through a lot less. So I’ve got a bit of a backlog of that tea. Like, about 20 boxes.

Today I suggested that he consider switching things up a little, bringing us something different, since we’re not going through the iced tea quite so quickly.

He seemed a little nonplussed. “I’m not going to be here for the next couple weeks,” he said. Which seemed like a non sequitur, but I motored ahead, explained that we would love a little variety in our tea selection, if he could manage it. No pressure.

He frowned. “I’m having surgery next week,” he said.


He didn’t offer any more information, and I didn’t feel right asking. “Well, I hope that goes okay.”

He shifted in his seat, still frowning. He started looking at the door. I think I was making him uncomfortable. This was the longest conversation we’ve ever had, and he’s been coming pretty much since we opened.

“But we’ll still see you tomorrow, right? I said. No answer. Eyes darting.

“The tea,” I said. “That was a request, not an order.”

And that’s when he grinned. “Oh! Okay!”

Yeah, I have no idea what that was about, but I gotta say, talking to people is the best part of my job.