Lately it’s been the kind of cold here that makes me mumble frustrated overreactions under my breath that I should be more embarrassed about. I’ll be trudging into the wind forced to rush to get to work on time saying the weird, nonsensical things that also tend to come out when I’m in the rain or performing manual labor like, “This is what it’s come to,” or “un-freakin-believable,” or “today of all days,” while songs like “Hard Knock Life” and “Gangster Paradise” come out of nowhere and alternate in my head through the rest of my shift.
I typically arrive at work scatterbrained: I spend the 15-minute walk there in deep thought and frozen, and whatever almost made me late usually still has me flustered. In three weeks working that’s included racing the clock after an interview in the pouring rain, picking ex-boyfriend and my mom up from the airport on separate occasions, waiting for Nugget to potty before I leave then chasing him into his cage, and worst of all: locking myself out and waiting an hour for my super. Then I’m bombarded with customers who inevitably have been waiting since before I clocked in, which abruptly forces my thoughts to take a back-seat for hours. I then proceed with the constant, nagging feeling I’m forgetting something while complete strangers speak to me under the even more constant assumption that I’m completely incompetent. For example,
Customer: I’d like a grilled cheese.
Me: Would you like swiss, mozzarella or cheddar?
Me: We only have swiss, mozzarella, and cheddar.
Customer: You don’t have American?
Me: [nonsensical phrases under breath]
Customer: I’d like a half chicken, but is that all dark meat?
Me: Well, it’s literally half a chicken so it’s white and dark meat.
Customer: Can I have all white meat?
Me: Then you won’t be having the half chicken…
Customer: But I want the half chicken.
I’m very accustomed to this, almost comfortable with it, but while the discouragement of my job search combines with how expensive this city is, I’ve been letting them get to me. My best friend and I are strong advocates that everyone should work as a server at some point in their lives. I always try to squeeze restaurant experience on my resume, but I’m always contradicted by whoever helps me refine it. Restaurants are one of the places you will meet any and every kind of person when you spend enough time there, and I’d approximate 70% of those people will shock and horrify you. Server’s learn about resourcefulness, initiative and teamwork on the job, but most of all we get a very broad view of society, which also creates quite a learning experience.
I started serving at Chili’s when I was a senior in high school. I began as a hostess where you definitely deal with just as many people, but you’re free of them after two or three minutes. You learn more from servers who congregate around the host stand to complain–and rightly so. I was a hostess for a week. The next week my job took a drastic transformation because I still walked people to their tables often, but then I was held hostage in their dinner experience for up to an hour. If a table’s mad at the hostess for misquoting their wait time, the server will be reaping the consequences, just like they’ll take the heat for the prices of the food and the speed of the kitchen staff. I imagine being a server is like being a mom: you hear your name every few seconds from every direction, and you’re doing the best that you possibly can. In fact, I’m sure moms stole “I only have two hands,” “I can’t be in two places at once,” and “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head” from servers.
This Chili’s was unique as it was a block from the entrance to Disney World. I served every kind of person from every kind of place including children cranky after a day at the park, moms determined to give those children whatever they wanted, and dads who’d been mentally adding up how expensive their vacation was becoming. There, I learned all the lessons that equipped me to serve anywhere else: you’re bound to drop at least one tray, it’s best to take responsibility and apologize regardless of the complaint, and never ever take anything personally. When teenagers walked out without paying, a man refused to leave until I gave him my number, and enraged girls paid entirely in change I would shut my mouth and clean my section while my favorite busser tried to calm me down and taught me to rise above. I picked up shifts the next summer and Christmas break because I learned to ignore rude, ignorant people and I loved my coworkers.
Last summer I worked at a Bar BQ restaurant in Nashville. When I got the job I was too embarrassed to even tell anyone where I was working. I don’t eat pork or red meat and I am not Southern or a hick, and these were the things I associated with Corky’s. I couldn’t help falling in love with my coworkers there either though, and work was fun; it became my home. I still ran into demanding and rude customers, but I laughed enough to ignore them, and I needed money for my big move. As important as it was to learn to interact with all different kinds of people, it was equally as important to learn to save, and those two jobs paid for the little studio I’m in right now. Likewise, the luncheonette I’m now serving at provides enough income to cover rent, but has reintroduced me to the kind of people that eat out…everyone.
In those five or so hours that I work each shift I have to accept that people typically only care about themselves and their food when they’re out to eat. They’ll ask 50 questions even if the answers are directly where their finger’s pointing on the menu while three other tables impatiently wait for change or refills. Then when they’re one of the tables waiting while a new group embarks on 20 questions, my tip goes down the drain. It’s not that I take it personally, or that I haven’t learned that good tips make up for bad tips, and I’m going to make enough to get by, but I’m missing that crucial element that made my previous jobs so rewarding.
I’ve made plenty of friends among my new coworkers and I enjoy going out with them after work on occasion, but I don’t have my best friends here. There’s a constant advocacy when close friends work together that provides the comfortability and peace one needs to stomach the things customers say when they don’t get their way, and I miss it. I miss knowing that if my table is incredibly rude and disrespectful Leslie will tell them “no one talks to [her] best friend like that.” I miss knowing that if I trip or drop a tray full of drinks Rachel will say “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!” to make me laugh in spite of it. When you move though, when you’re finally “on your own,” nostalgia has to suffice until you make new memories, and you have to stand up for yourself for a while.
I’m learning on this big adventure, but I miss you all. Look forward to a public service announcement I insist on filming to train society on acting appropriately while out to eat. Until then, please cut your servers some slack. You’re going to get your food.