"I'm going to see lunch customers lined up out the door," said Monica, sweeping her hand from the door to the order counter, along the line in her mind. She owns The Downtown Cafe on Railroad Avenue - that boulevard of broken buildings that aspires to reacquire its main drag status.
It's a street of shade trees and street people, of interesting structures and boarded-up businesses, but mostly of a promise waiting to be kept. What kind of fool would walk down this wide breezy sweet street and not dream of it being really, really cool? Not Monica, who is nobody's fool.
Inside, the cafe is wood-paneled and comforting. Not chic but cozy, ready for you to have your morning caffeine, take lunch or come at night for music. Customers order sandwiches, soups and drinks at a wall opening holding a counter. Behind the person taking the orders is a Bunn coffeemaker, an espresso machine, a blender, tall bottles of Torani syrups and other accoutrements.
Monica cuts from the future and goes back 19 years.
"I was 16 and had to tell my father. But I couldn't say the word 'pregnant,' so I told him I was 'PG.'"
He kicked her out of the house.
The child she was carrying then is now 19-year-old Lavara Borbon. This slim linda who looks 12, works at the cafe, does the books and attends Los Medanos. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Monica is very protective of Lavara. "She's so naïve," Monica said.
Lavara sits with her mother. Also with her is another daughter, 8-year-old Maya Rosalez, a sweet round-faced warm-eyed charmer, who is doing homework at a cafe table, drinking a smoothie and eating chips.
As Monica was carrying Lavara, she lived back and forth with her brother and two sisters. One of her sisters told her not to have the baby, but she never considered that. Today there is Lavara with her steady gaze behind stylish eyewear.
Monica attended Liberty High School in Brentwood. "I was one of the first to test the system," said Monica, who insisted on staying in school while pregnant. She went to the junior prom holding Lavara, but she couldn't walk at graduation because she lacked the credits.
Always giving thanks to those who helped her along the way, Monica praises Mr. Sanford, a Liberty High history teacher. "He inspired me and kept me on track. I went from straight F's to straight A's."
Lavara's father was in and out of her life for a few years. Monica will say nothing bad about him and says that Lavara has an excellent relationship with her father.
Soon, Monica was invited back into her father's house. "He's a traditional Mexican father and spoke harshly to me," Monica said. But when this truck driver got up at midnight to go to work, Monica said, he came silently into their bedroom, secured the covers around Lavara and kissed her on the forehead, as Monica lay still and peeked through the screen of her eyelashes.
After waiting out the waiting list for public housing, she moved into a project in Oakley and put plenty of food in the house as she had saved her food stamps. But it was Christmas and she had no furniture. St. Anthony's came with presents for the baby and a couch. "It was the best Christmas I ever had."
While living in the project, she received food stamps, a subsidy for her rent and transportation money. "I got vouchers for cheese, bread and beans," she said. "I was on welfare."
While grateful for the help, she said, "I made a promise to myself to get off the programs as soon as I could." While clearly she can take credit for her climb, she said, "I don't know if I could have made it without the help."
By that time she had strong family for support, including her father, but "I decided I couldn't always run home to mom for help." She had friends, she says, "But I wanted to be with business people."
She took data entry classes from the United Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations. "The county paid for gas and babysitting," she said. Just as she was about to qualify for her certificate of completion, the helping money ran out. She approached Joan Collins, who ran the program, and told her she would stay after classes and answer the phones and whatever else needed doing. They cut the deal. Collins is among those she thanks.
The council hired her and she went to work for them and her dad helped her buy a better car for the commute to Martinez. At one of the council's functions, she said to a co-worker, "Who's that little Mexican guy?" It was Ruben Rosalez. They talked and zing went the strings of their hearts. "I felt as if I had known him for 20 years," Monica said.
Ruben had a good job with the U.S. Department of Labor and a red sports car. When the housing project management saw it parked at Monica's, they tried to raise her rent, saying you obviously have more money now. They solved that problem by getting married. They have three children, Ruben, Jr., age 13; Chica, age 11; and Maya.
Ruben's job required a move to Fresno, where they lived for five years and she was a stay-at-home mom, except that she also ran a nail and hair business out of her home.
Then it was back home, where she got a job as a school bus driver for the Pittsburg Unified School District. She did that for over seven years. It was a good job with benefits and summers off.
Her good friend Timi Timbaga was working at the Downtown Cafe and Monica helped her out, without pay, between the split shifts of her bus-driving job. She did that because Timi had helped Ruben in his successful run for the Pittsburg Board of Education.
When the cafe went up for sale, Monica and Ruben bought it and Monica quit her secure job and started running the cafe. Ruben works there on Thursdays, which are music nights. "I wash the dishes," said Ruben.
"I'm so thrilled. I'm so scared," said Monica about this venture. She points across the street to boarded-up buildings that will be smacked down for parking, said what a great restaurant the New Mecca, across the street, is, and talks about the coming greatness of downtown.
She also raves about Lynn Kutsal and Tina Steele, owners of Nature's Bounty in Antioch, who, according to Steele, are "heavily considering" opening another cafe, this one in the squarish interesting Mechanic's Bank building not far from the Downtown Cafe. They will be competitors, but Monica doesn't seem to care. "They're my inspiration," she said and points out that both are single moms, something Monica knows something about.
Monica Rosalez has had a tough life. Being in business for yourself, she said, makes you more frugal. She has lost 25 pounds since opening the business.
The Downtown Cafe holds jam sessions every Thursday night so musicians can come in and play. A good place for good players.