Provincetown community rallies around seasonal workers
PROVINCETOWN -- He had dreamed of this day for a year, saving his money and securing a job as he wondered about life in the summer on Cape Cod. What are the people like? How warm is the weather? What adventures lie ahead?
He’s 19 years old, a university student and the only child of blue-collar parents who raised him at the edge of the Black Sea in Bulgaria.
“I’m the guy who never left Burgas,’’ Stoyan Georgiev told me this week, referring to his country’s fourth largest city, where he said goodbye to his parents late last month and boarded a plane that would take him to Paris and then on to Boston.
Two weeks ago, as his flight began its descent into Logan International Airport, he could never have imagined what was about to happen in this seaside town, where firefighters tried unsuccessfully to save the restaurant where he had found a job.
As the plane circled Boston, he was still full of anticipation and the nervous energy that accompanied the fulfillment of a promise he’d made to his mom and dad last summer.
“I told them, ‘Next summer I’m in the United States,’ ’’ he said on a cold and rainy day here this week. “And they were like, ‘Are you crazy?’ And I was like, ‘No, I will be in the United States.’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. In two months, you will forget about that.’ They thought I was kidding.’’
But he wasn’t.
And as he cleared customs at Logan and walked out into the Boston evening, the kid whose impression of the US had been formed largely by Hollywood movie-makers nearly had to pinch himself. I’m here, he told himself. I’ve made it to the United States of America.
“The moment I landed, I sent a text to my parents,’’ Georgiev said. “I’m in the United States. I was pretty happy. It was amazing. The air I was breathing was feeling different. For one year I’ve been thinking about this. So I was pretty enthusiastic about it.’’
And then the car that carried him here for a summertime of work — courtesy of the J-1 visa summer work and travel program that each year funnels hundreds of young men and women here for seasonal jobs — pulled into the place here where he had arranged to stay with a friend from Bulgaria.
His friend, who was supposed to be at work at that hour, was instead waiting for him at the door.
“I tried to reach for my baggage,’’ Georgiev recalled. “And he just pushed me on my shoulder and I’m like, ‘Yo. What’s up? How you doing?’ And he said, ‘I’m doing bad. We have no job.’ I didn’t even pull my bag from the trunk of the car and already I have no job.’’
Fire hoses were still attached to hydrants, pouring water into what was left of the restaurants at the foot of MacMillan Pier on Commercial Street, including the Surf Club, where Stoyan Georgiev had secured a job as a server assistant.
He was 4,700 miles from home. He needed a Plan B. And he needed to send a delicate message back to his already anxious parents in Burgas.
“I told them I have two [pieces of] news,’’ he said. “The good news and the bad news. The good news: I arrived safely. The bad news: The restaurant has burned down. I have no job. They didn’t believe me.’’
Then Stoyan Georgiev did something that – and here I’ll speak for myself – I simply would not have been capable of as a 19-year-old. He kept his calm. He got some rest. He scoured social media. He looked forward.
And then he discovered something wonderful.
His new friends in the United States, people he’d never met before, were rallying around him and other newly unemployed people like him. The fire had been devastating; some three dozen out of work. But they would make something good come of it. They would not let it rob the summer of a lifetime from young men and women who’d come to the United States in search of jobs, money, adventure, and friendship.
“Fundamentally, as people, we’re all in this together,’’ said Fred Latasa-Nicks, co-owner of Strangers & Saints, an 80-seat tavern that serves Mediterranean food and good fellowship. “Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, black or white, here in Provincetown we’re a community. But what is a community? It’s about helping and caring for each other and having that empathy and knowing that there for but the grace of God go I.’’
So Latasa-Nicks and his husband, Steven, opened their place last week for a “pop-up job fair’’ sponsored by the Provincetown Business Guild. Nearly a dozen employers showed up, owners of restaurants, window cleaning firms, dry cleaning shops, and hotels. They lined up on one side of the room. Displaced workers, including nervous young men and women from Eastern Europe – some of them teenagers like Stoyan Georgiev – lined up on the other.
Introductions were made. A spreadsheet was developed. Needs were assessed. Somebody had lost $80 Nike sneakers in the fire and someone else lost $140 eyeglasses. A GoFundMe account quickly raised $17,000. When it was all over, hands were shaken, deals were made. And the panic-stricken young men and women from overseas felt anxiety wash away.
And that’s how Fred Latasa-Nicks became Georgiev’s employer — and summertime life-saver.
“I met him and it was less about the fire and more about who he was as a person,’’ Latasa-Nicks told me in his tavern where that job fair was held. “He needed help. How could you not help?’’
There is a disarming charm about Stoyan Georgiev. His English is polished, nearly perfect. He has an easy smile and an enthusiasm that makes it difficult to believe that he was just a few days from crushing disappointment and a return trip to Burgas.
He’s making $15 an hour, stacking boxes, compiling inventory, and developing a social media strategy for Fred and Steven Latasa-Nicks at their well-appointed tavern. In his spare time, he’s playing table tennis, visiting local historical sites, and spending time at the local pier that is much different than the one he’s familiar with in Burgas.
And he’s learning something about America that’s been a delightful surprise.
“The treatment we get here, I would never expect in Bulgaria, because that’s how people are,’’ he said. “We were so surprised. We lost our jobs. I arrived and I figured out I had no job. We were like, OK, we’ll find another job. We didn’t expect anybody to help us. We know in Bulgaria if something like that happens, you go and fix your own stuff.’’
Here, he had help from people who are now former strangers. And already he’s learned something about himself.
“This is something that destiny’s giving me so I have to go through that in order to become a better person, in order to grow as a man,’’ he told me. “I’m still young. All of this is giving me experience in life which is going to be priceless. I really love this place. It’s been just two weeks since I’m here and already I’m saying to my friends in Bulgaria, ‘Next year I’m coming back.’ That’s for sure. Next year, you will see me here. I just love this place.’’
He is one of about 425 international students in Provincetown at work on seasonal jobs this summer, a subset of more than 4,000 across Cape Cod and the islands.
It’s part of a cultural exchange, sponsored by the US State Department, in which future leaders of countries like Bulgaria can learn more about our values, more about who are. In return for this rite of passage, we are rewarded as we learn from the rich cultural diversity they offer us.
Is it working?
Ask Stoyan Georgiev.
He’ll be here all summer. And he’s coming back next summer.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.