Last night Hurricane Florence made a shift south. The track now places Charleston in more danger, but it is still incredibly uncertain what will happen in the next two days. With the shift comes a new split, some are calm and a new wave of panic has begun to sweep others. It is a slow moving storm and the emotions accompanying it move at the same speed. In the midst of all of this, I just want someplace calm to go, to laugh and enjoy. I find that in Joey Ahl at his shop, Sojourn Coffee, in my beloved West Ashley.
I stopped by Sojourn at a little before 7 am, having just seen the latest projections for the storm. He was sitting out front, calm and collected, preparing for the half day his shop would be open, and the storm prep that would follow. Sojourn has been here for a while, but was recently purchased by Joey and his wife, Heather. He will be the first to tell you that it's not about the money. It's about serving others, about making a place where people can come in, grab a coffee, a sandwich, chat, work a crossword or argue about the weather.
Like the branches of the tree painted on the back wall of the shop, Sojourn is a shelter.
We walk in from outside and I order a coffee, a really nice dark roast in a big black mug. There's a long rectangular table where the morning regulars gather to talk. "Group therapy," as Joey jokes. I take a seat and it is instantly home. I have always found coffee shops to be a special place for me. Somewhere comfortable and calm, where I can have a spirited chat or read a great novel. I got the better part of my education in coffee shops, met some of my best friends and fell in temporary love once or twice. Today we debate the weather, predict the fate of Charleston, work on a crossword puzzle and argue over what MacBeth actually did. It feels like home. I know where I am coming at 6 am now.
In the midst of this rush of banter, I learn some more about Joey. He is a South Carolina native, from the Ridgeville area, and a free spirit. As we talk about plans for possible evacuation, he tells me he may just take a trip in his vehicle with an air mattress and Heather. They may go on an adventure, they've done it before. He calls this period his second childhood, but I think it is more like his latest adventure. Joey is the kind of guy who has learned that life is an adventure. He loves adventures. He loves life.
You can see it in his smile. There's a rare joy in Joey Ahl. He worked in home construction for years, again not for the money. He loves to build things for others. He loves to build homes, to build sanctuaries for people, those little places of the world you can call your own. Some people may even think of them as "theirs." I think if you told Joey that, his smile might get even bigger. That smile, almost like the Cheshire Cat, is the feature I notice most. It's natural. It belongs on his face, it would just be unnatural if it was absent. It seems to get bigger when he watches everyone talk and make their temporary home at this table.
It hasn't all been easy, Joey has walked some dark roads, but he seems to have learned how to let it go. To move forward with joy in the face of loss is amazing and incredibly hard. To love others is a significant part of that ability. Across the street a mad dash for sandbags has begun. There is a palpable tension in Charleston. Not inside though. Not in the space that Joey has created. His dream is to serve others, to build things for other people, whether that home is a house or a long table.
As our time rolls on, Joey gets up and serves new arrivals, the pace of his day increases and he has hosting to do. All of his employees have evacuated. Joey and Heather are working the whole thing. It's important for people to have something that is their own, someplace they can take a rest from the chaos. Joey and Heather have built that. Our time today may have ended, but I feel like these are my friends. I cannot wait for the rains to end, the storm to pass and that 6 am time to roll around.
We joke at the table that if the shop is destroyed we can always set up our table and talk in the rubble. We probably would. That is how you know you built something of love.
Favorite Dinosaur: Pterodactyl
Why: Imagine the perception of life from up above.
Remember, when people are forced to evacuate and cities shut down, locally owned businesses are hit the hardest. On your way out of town, grab a coffee or a sandwich from a locally owned business. When you get home, relax and let them serve a meal for you. People like Joey and Heather have such good hearts, show them some love and let them take care of you.