Posted on July 5, 2019
by Steve Janowick
From my corner booth at the busy diner, I sip my coffee and watch as you navigate the packed dining room with the grace and skill of a pirouetting gazelle. Balancing a heavy, beverage-filled tray in your left hand, picking up a credit card receipt with the right, all while tending the other seven tables in your section–you are the ultimate multitasker. The epitome of finesse under pressure.
I watch as a miserable piss-ant of a customer slings a dirty look then a verbal jab your way after he takes a sip of his lukewarm soup, not realizing in his tiny, ignorant brain that you only serve the food-you don’t cook it!
But insults be damned. You graciously grab his soup up and defuse his insolence with an apology that would give Meryl Streep a run at the best actress Oscar nod. And after a heated battle with the cook (who of course is on parole for his anger issues and who always blames the wait staff for any complaints about his cooking) you return to the insufferable guest a new bowl of piping hot soup.
You took this job as a temporary gig in your youth. Your wayward years. A stop gap that would allow you to make a couple bucks while mapping out your life’s blueprint, and maybe have a little fun while doing it. But, twelve years later, you’re still here. Still just scraping by. Still hopeful something better will come along. And still clinging on for dear life to your dreams. It’s just that the flexible schedule and money in your pocket after every shift make it so damn hard to pull the trigger and leave.
You don’t get the same glory and love as the nurses and teachers do these days, but you’re deserving just the same. They may educate the young and care for the sick, but you and your kind provide nourishment and sustenance and relaxation to millions every day. And you do it with a smile. Sometimes fake and begrudging-but a smile, nonetheless. Ignoring your throbbing feet, weary arms and frazzled patience, you are the embodiment of female physical and mental strength.
Every single day you put up with a flirty manager or a handsy busboy or maybe a jealous wife whose husband was a little too complimentary of your service. Customers who dine and dash on the check (which you have to pay back). Customers who sabotage their meals to get them free. Customers who are belligerent and obnoxious. Other waitresses who won’t think twice before stabbing you square in the back. Or a petulant hostess with a grudge.
And you put up with it all for one thing…
It surly isn’t the whopping $3.63 you make every hour-a wage that would even be disparaged in some third world countries. It’s certainly not the sexy, stool-brown uniform or the discounted price off the same turkey club you’ve eaten for the last twelve years.
It’s that unspoken gesture of gratitude. That implicit appreciation of quality service. That arbitrary recognition of a job well done…
You do it all for the tips. Your livelihood depends on them, the fickle whims of generosity and selfishness from people whom you’ve just met and are critiquing your every move. The suggested (and industry standard) gratuity amount is 15-20 percent, but you’ve been, on more occasions than you’d like to admit, the recipient of the I’ll show her penny. However, you’ve also served some really awesome people who’ve not only left considerable coin on the table, but also some lasting impressions of kindness and good will that gave you a little hope that humanity hasn’t totally fallen off the cliff just yet.
And for now, at least through the rest of this week, you’ll show up for your shifts, grasping tightly to your sanity and giving it your all to eke out the best living you can, one day at a time.
And before I leave, I make sure to walk past that rude customer and whisper asshole under my breath-making sure he hears. You and I exchange sincere smiles as I drop down $40 at the register for my $15 check. I wave for you to keep the change…
You deserve it!
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