Skip to main content

As the sun climbs for the third morning out of Balboa Park and warms the facade of our towering hotel, the retreating shadow reveals the face of a tiny 7-11 tucked unobtrusively away in a nearby alley. Invisible in the view trumpeted by the hotel brochures, it had appeared the night before when, weary of room service espresso, I ventured out for some late-night air and caffeine.

I struck up a conversation with the 7-11 clerk, whose dark skin and French accent reminded me of an exotic Caribbean island or a north African casino--anything but a dirty alleyway convenience store.

Jean-Paul described himself as "French," and we talked of the coffee served on Paris mornings with milk and croissants and tomatoes and newspapers. He took his coffee very seriously, and he showed me how to recreate a decent café au lait with two blends of 7-11 coffee and steamed milk from the cappuccino machine. "My coffee iz never more zan sirty minutes old," he boasted with a smile. I had discovered a true French barista, a long, long way from the Champs-Élysées.

It did not occur to me to query what he was doing in a 7-11 smock. Instead I asked, "What brought you to San Diego?" Jean-Paul stopped polishing the shining coffee counter and looked right through me. "Zat," he said quietly, "is a very long story."

Transfixed, I learned that Jean-Paul was not born in France, but in Kigali, the troubled capital of Rwanda. His sisters were raped and murdered by Hutu militants, but he and his immediate family managed to escape to neighboring Zaire. The United Nations Refugee Relocation program helped them move to Moscow, where Jean-Paul earned his master's degree in economics. After years of negotiation with the United Nations, Jean-Paul and his family were allowed to come to America, where they were placed in southern California. After weeks of submitting applications and appearing for interviews, Jean-Paul got a night job at the 7-11 in the alley behind my luxury hotel.

"It's not much," he said, reading my thoughts, "but my family is safe, and our needs are met. I am really very lucky."

Now as the sun creeps over the park and the doorman loads my luggage into the car, I steal one last look at the alley and the store beyond. I imagine that I still see Jean-Paul through the window, smiling at another customer as he shows her how to make a most unlikely café au lait.

Originally posted to New Diarists on Fri Feb 14, 2014 at 09:46 AM PST.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing, Personal Storytellers, and Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site