In my life, I have had a plethora of jobs: painter, nanny, landscaper, wildland firefighter, wilderness ranger, trail crew member, barista, airport van shuttle driver, office assistant in Italy for a bicycle tour company… and the list continues. But never have I experienced a job so exhilarating and exasperating as waiting tables. Never have I wanted to stand high on a clifftop shouting “I LOVE MY FREAKING JOB!” one moment, and the very next prepare to jump off the same cliff in sheer frustration. I’ve wanted to laugh, cry, quit and smile in the same hour so many times that I’ve lost track.
If everyone that strolled up the restaurant’s worn steps had at one point served, our lives as servers would be so different. If someone in the world figured out how to tip properly every time the little bell above the door tinkled with a tap of the front door, our jobs would be cushier than a fresh buttermilk biscuit. But alas, these are not realities but rather the things we whisper to each other in the server area when exasperation covers us like gravy.
One of the things about serving is this: the job turns us into cynics. But every once in awhile, our withering faith in humanity is fortified by a saint in plain clothing, armed with a remarkably kind word, a helpful gesture or a generous tip.
For example… take the two young ladies a couple months ago who sat on a little table near the stairs. Brown-haired and passably polite, they ordered two mimosas, an eggs benedict and granola pancakes with sausage (food choices always are remembered, where as names or other pertinent information is negligible). After dishes were leisurely emptied, these ladies proceeded to hang out while the morning “pop” of people rushed in, out, in, out. In serving terms, they were camping — they had set up their Coleman stove, tents, pulled out sleeping bags and were scouting for kindling. By the time they left, the rush had largely subsided. They left cash on the table and zipped out the door, sans eye contact. That should have been my first clue.
When I arrived at their bombshell of a two-seat table, I found their bill for $33.30 and exactly $31 in cash. Not a huge difference, except that I paid a couple dollars of their tab and ate any sort of tip like a broken copy machine. I felt cynical hairs sprouting on my head, cursing humanity and their inability to properly eat and leave, much less tip. Incidents like this one always raise questions in my mind, like: does Karma exist? What if I could control the weather? Would I have the ability to aim a lightning bolt at a very small target?
And then, there are saints, angels of lightness in what can be a very heavy job. For example, the older gentlemen who a couple weeks ago saved me a glass of wine from their very expensive bottle after learning I was on my fourth shift in two days. They also made a point to call my boss and tell him my name, what wonderful service I gave them and how much fun they had “eating dinner with me” on Saturday night. Anyone who butters up the boss on my behalf is a saint — especially since I was that weird looking turtle thing on the very, very bottom of the totem pole for a very, very long time. It’s all good now, but it took years and a Sysco truckload of excellent reviews to establish me as a trusted server.
Also, there are days like today — where most everyone is pleasant, the day runs smoothly and I do not have the desire to stab anyone in the chest with Poseidon’s trident. Nobody runs me back and forth across the dining room for more napkins, then a side of ranch, then more coke, then spicy mustard, then extra pickles. Seriously — can’t you just ask for everything at once? Nobody asks for a well done burger and then, 10 minutes after the order is in, asks for the patty medium rare. And nobody says they’re in a giant hurry and then asks for a really fast chicken burger — the most time consuming item available to order for time-restrained customers. No, today was not one of those days. Today was smoother than the 75 percent butter, 25 percent margarine balls served with each order of flapjacks.
And tomorrow? Who’s to say. Whether we’re becoming cynics or serving saints, the job is rarely boring. Take the time a woman asked me, “Is there any meat in your poblano, chorizo and corn soup?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Chorizo.”
“Chorizo,” she said. “Is that Spanish for chicken?”