Their handshake has four different moves. It isn’t complicated or jazzy, but it’s theirs. They kept it simple on purpose so it would be easier to remember. “It’s something that signifies our friendship,” Grianny says.
“That’s very important,” Tristan adds. “It’s good to have a special handshake.”
Neither one of them was expecting to become friends, they say—they weren’t paired up or anything. Tristan (pictured in purple) was working his regular Thursday shift at Main Street’s Soulfull Cafe last August when Grianny arrived for his first day. A junior at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Grianny had just started a year-long work-study program at Main Street. Once a week, he’d work at the front desk and learn about the mission and programs. Part of his job as an intern would be helping out at Soulfull, a cozy coffee shop connected to Main Street that employs people of all abilities. The first thing Tristan noticed about him was how easily he learned things. “Grianny was really fast. He caught on so quickly, in fact, that I was impressed,” says Tristan, 23. “He started making sandwiches, he started making coffees…I thought sandwich crafting was just a thing you gotta take your time on—no, you gotta be a little quick, and he is like lightning quick.”
Tristan didn’t say much in the beginning, Grianny recalls. He’d been working at Soulfull for a few months but hadn’t made friends yet. He would pleasantly greet customers, do his job well and go home. Then Grianny, 17, started engaging him more, and that’s when everything changed.
They realized they had similar interests, like Minecraft (they’re gamers) and cars. Grianny could name a make and model and Tristan would tell him everything about it, down to the engine specs and trim. “He has a special talent which is kinda unique,” Grianny says. One conversation led to another. They’d talk about their favorite cars and the ones they’d buy and fix up. “Right now I want an Acura TSX, but before I wanted a hatchback Civic from ’95, so it just changes,” says Grianny. “Last time we talked, he wanted a police interceptor.”
Tristan clarifies. “A Crown Victoria,” he says.
Five months into working together, Tristan credits Grianny with getting him out of his “little job funk.” Grianny and their manager, Sam, taught him how to make a Hulk smoothie, and next he wants to master the Classic Acai bowl. He’s more at ease now in the cafe, often chatting with customers at the register and promoting menu items, like the Chicken Philly, his favorite. He laughs a lot. One of the Soulfull regulars jokes with him about how he’s always marketing something.
“I’m on the autism spectrum…I think a little differently and do things a little differently,” Tristan explains. “Sometimes I may be a little slow to pick up on things, but with the encouragement of Sam, Jillian, Grianny, everybody here—they’ve just been so accepting.”
For Grianny, working at Main Street—and getting to know Tristan—has reminded him how important it is to treat people with “respect and love, as if they’re not any better than me or less than me.” He understands what it’s like to be mistreated and unfairly judged. Several years ago, he recalls, his family was bullied and stereotyped at a restaurant while they were out of town—he saw the fear in his mother, and that stuck with him. “Everyone’s a human,” he says. “Everyone has characteristics that are unique to themselves—it doesn’t make a difference.”
Grianny and Tristan text now, and as soon as they have the same gaming system (Tristan is saving up for an Xbox), they’ll start playing Grand Theft Auto together. They’ve already decided they’ll stay in touch after Grianny’s program ends.
Before wrapping up an interview at Soulfull during their break, Tristan turns toward his friend and starts talking. “Last but not least, I just want to say to you, Grianny, that you got me out of my comfort zone and into the real world, and that’s very important because without that I’d have been stuck in my old habits,” Tristan tells him. “But now—now I’m a people person. I used to be the quiet guy just minding his own business, but now I’m stronger than ever and I know how to approach people, thanks to you. You’ve changed my whole perspective on life, and I want you to know that.”