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A letter to an Oakland barista: A short story

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APRIL 21, 2018

Dear Oakland barista,

I walked into your coffee shop because a sign outside had advertised having gelato, and I’m a big fan of eating ethnic foods in places that primarily serve foods from a different ethnic background. As soon as I entered the doorway, I recognized the song playing through the speakers as “One Day More” from “Les Misérables.” It’s not the kind of music you often hear in coffee shops. I ordered my gelato, and the song changed; this time it was “Wait for It” from “Hamilton.”

“Do you only play musicals here?” I asked.

You smiled and said, “No, I just have it on Spotify radio.”

You asked me if I was a theater kid. I told you I was not but that I had recently started getting into musicals. I told you I was 18, and you told me that that was around the time you started listening to musicals too. I asked what your favorite was, and you told me it was “The Wiz,” and your eyes lit up when you said it. It occurred to me that I do not often look into the eyes of the baristas who give me my coffee. I wonder if their eyes ever have the same fire yours did in that moment.

You told me that watching “The Wiz” made you want to become an actor — that and the “X-Men” movies. You said it was your dream to be in an X-Men movie but that getting a role was hard because there were no Black male X-Men.

At that point, a line of customers rushed in, and you started taking their orders. Someone else handed me my gelato, and I made eye contact with you, smiled and said I looked forward to seeing you in the movies. You smiled back, the fire in your eyes softening a bit, and said, “God bless you.”

I hope I really do get to see you in the movies. You spoke with such passion and determination. I hope your charisma and faith take you far, even when you are 364 miles from Hollywood, where you should be.

I never asked your name, nor you mine, but our one serendipitous meeting restored my reckless optimism and made me think that maybe my dreams aren’t so unattainable. I am greatly indebted to you, and I hope I am lucky enough to experience your distinct charm again someday, even if only through the big screen.


Best of luck,

A new fan of “The Wiz”

P.S. Just so you know, there actually are Black male X-Men characters. Start reading up on Bedlam, Gateway, Maggott and Prodigy, because someday you might get to play one of them.


Contact Edrick Sabalburo at [email protected]

APRIL 22, 2018