I pick up Quressa in the morning. Quressa works part-time at 826 Valencia and is an intern at the Believer; she wants to learn about all aspects of magazine publishing, so we’ve set it up that every week she shadows someone in the Believer office. Today she’s shadowing me.
Quressa Robinson is 22 and lives with her great-grandmother, who’s 78. When Quressa was away at college, at UC Santa Cruz, she missed her great-grandmother tremendously—they’re very close—but now that she’s home she’s saving up so she can move out. “We get along better when there’s some distance,” Quressa says.
In her house, some negotiating is required when it comes to the phone. Quressa says her great-grandmother can spend up to five hours a day talking with her friends. “They talk about the characters on the soap operas like they’re their friends,” Quressa says. “I don’t have my own line and she doesn’t understand why I have to talk to my friends if I just saw them the day before.”
I’ve picked her up so we can go to a used bookstore to search for old illustrations for the pages of the Believer. In the past we’ve used drawings of bird skulls, sketches of bullfighting maneuvers, and illustrations from an Italian physics book. Every month we need new options.
“Does your great-grandma drive?” I ask as we’re heading down a hill.
“No, not anymore.”
“No,” Quressa says. “I want to get my license but I never get to practice.”
“Do you want to practice driving now?” I ask.
“Yeah!” Quressa says.
She suggests we drive to the parking lot at 3Com Park. I get us there, but the gates to the parking lot are locked. We find a nearby residential street with no traffic.
I move the driver seat up (at 5 foot 2 Quressa is few inches shorter than I am), and we get out of the car to switch places. Quressa pauses in front of the car. I sense a bit of trepidation.
“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “My car’s all banged up; it’s a piece of junk.”
She looks at my fender and nods, as if to say, Well, that’s true.
Quressa gets into the front seat. “Brake, gas,” she says, and I watch her K-Swiss sneaker move from one pedal to the next. I suddenly panic: She’s less experienced than I thought.
She presses on the gas and we’re off. I find myself doing that thing my father used to do when teaching me to drive. My right foot, useless in the passenger seat, is at a 90-degree angle, prepared to break.
But she drives well and with control and doesn’t overreact. Still, she doesn’t want to go past this intersection, a major one, coming up. When we get to the end of the street, before we hit the intersection, she brakes and puts the car in park. We both get out of the car, leaving the doors open, and switch seats so I can turn the car around. Once we’re turned in the other direction—the direction from which we came—we reverse our routine. We jump out, switch seats, and fasten our seatbelts. Three-point turns will come later.
When we get to 826 Valencia, Issue 7 of the Believer, the September issue, has come back from the printer. It’s the first one designed with the help of our new production manager, Alvaro Villanueva. I may be biased, but I think it’s beautiful. I flip through the pages, searching for mistakes. When there are no glaring ones, I relax, and inhale the magazine’s bosky scent. Issue 7 is also the first issue with a contribution by Quressa. A fan of Joan Didion’s, Quressa read through all Didion’s books and compiled a list of hotels mentioned in their pages. I take a picture of Quressa pointing to her byline. It’s her first published piece, ever.
I print out the interviews we have to edit today.
Quressa has questions: How do you know what to edit? How do you know when the interviewer and the interviewee talk about something for too long?
“When you get bored, you cut,” I say.
We sit side by side, reading over an interview transcript.
“Are you starting to get bored here?” I say.
“Then we cut,” I say, drawing a line.
By midafternoon we’ve done rough edits on a long Believer interview, compiled the “Underway” section (in which writers talk about what they’re working on), signed off on the layout of a “Tool” piece (this month’s featured tool: the hot glue gun), and edited a personal essay Quressa is submitting to Honey.
“So whose job is more fun?” I ask Quressa. “Mine or Andrew’s?” Last week she shadowed Andrew, our managing editor.
“I don’t know,” she says carefully, “they’re both … interesting.” That’s not the right answer.
I offer to take her to get burgers. I feel like a divorced parent, trying to bribe her child into thinking she’s more fun than her dippy ex-husband who, by the way, overuses the word “awesome.”
That night, when I drop Quressa back at home, I mention that we should go driving again soon. She seems to like the idea. I like it, too. Andrew, that putz, doesn’t even have a car.