Blizzards have been on my mind, although, overall, nothing to compare with blizzards of the past. Just moisture that arrives, with cold, and aching joints (me!) and then melts into the ground with no shoveling, the next day.
And thus, I am carried down memory lane, on multiple fronts, where Blizzard plays a central role in the story, and yet, so many things on human fronts seem not to have changed that much from around 35 years ago.
Winter of 1985/1986
I am a Student, Minimum Wage, Waitress
I have a friend’s house to stay at, because the storm moved in after I traveled to work, and needn’t risk the trip home in the rural landscape of 42 miles between me and home.
Busy night – Those who have secured hotel lodgings in the town that is major hub of freeways in rural American hang out, having one more glass of beer or wine, because it’s better than sitting in the hotel room by themselves.
Those who didn’t score a hotel room? Clear off early to move to the local public school gymnasium or personal house from local citizen that offers to house a traveler with bed/board for the night or the duration of the blizzard.
I wait on folks, serve and request those on my team old enough to ACTUALLY serve the liquor order I just took, checked the ID to comply with legal, age restrictions for, but am not old enough to leagally pull from the tap/pour from the wine bottle, and deliver myself.
A Family of Four
A family of four, traveling back east from their 2 week skiing vacation, sit in my section.
They wear clothes and jewelry that tell me, they are better off than I or most folks I know.
They sit at a dirty table the first moment the previous customers of that table leave, and are kind and gracious, while I apologize for the wait, all I wipe it off for them…
(and while I worry I might somehow wipe crumbs onto her fur coat, instead of into my hand or onto the floor I will sweep/vacuum later, during closing operations, or when the manager walks the dining room and chews me out for not keeping my section of the floor crumb-free, just while trying to clean their eating space in a hurry….)
They order – I deliver food – check back. My older coworker, a cook, gets tired and yells at me for ‘selling booze he has to deliver, in between keeping food prepped and coming out of the oven as fast as possible.” while he tries to do his job.
He also yells throughout the dining room because I haven’t scurried back from taking an order, from a new table, to pickup the order that he has prepared to be served piping hot and fresh.
He takes pride in his work.
So do I.
Somewhere between “I’ll leave you with a few more minutes to decide what the hell you want” and “Sorry, you didn’t order fast enough, I have to deliver an order and I’ll be back soon” lies the golden mean in customer service
The cook and I have become each other’s enemies regarding what each of us think is important or what the manager/owner have drilled into us each, as important.
The line of those stranded and wishing to eat, drink and be merry or moan over the ruination of their travel/work plans, never stops, for either of us.
I will be sleeping tonight, at some point, at the house of my best friend from high school – –
Whose husband is also the cook I’m pissing off and frustrating just now.
But, tables to clean, salad bar to restock, orders to take, and weather report questions to answer, takes precedence and I’ll just deal with whether I sleep on the couch in the living room or out in the dog house, when quitting time finally arrives.
The Flood of Customers slowly wanes into a Trickle
Folks leave to score a warm place to stay the night for free, after realizing they pulled off freeway to late to get a hotel room.
Or they go back to their hotel room to sleep out the storm, hoping for a better morrow.
A table that seats 6, but is now seating 10, right next to the booth holding the family of four is full of lone wolf truck drivers, who move needed supplies from this end of the nation to the other, every durn day of their career.
They love they can get pizza and beer without doing more than walking across the white out lot between their semi with extended cab or hotel room they scored and the restaurant.
They are getting pretty ramped up over the freedom to have a beer or six, instead of one more cup of coffee, this time of night.
I slap away a hand here and there, while waiting on their table – laugh and turn away to avoid groping hands from those who try to grab my waist or slap my toosh.
Too much beer? Lonely night ahead? Lonely nights in the past?
Most lone wolf travelers get lonely and beer served only means, they feel braver or don’t recognize fully, their actions when all they seek is to end the loneliness in their hearts.
They just don’t don’t always see it.
They are human.
So am I.
The table full of truckers are getting more loud while they tell their jokes.
Mom and Dad from ‘urban well-to-do’ family, squirm a tad, and frown in judgement, over what they consider low class behavior – and yet, they have no wish to leave the chance to have one more beer/glass of wine – even while their young teen children, squirm with boredom, just across the booth from them.
The kiddos are doing their best to sit still, while mom and dad have one more.
And the Dance Begins to Meet Needs and Hold the Line-
I clear plates, request more booze be delivered to the tables in my section. I stop to check in, listen to stories, answer questions, slap away a hand or tell a more family friendly joke to keep the one table entertained and roaring, while the booth 3 feet from them cannot see or understand the lonely existence of life on the road.
They cannot see it for themselves, or the many that sit a few feet away from them – though, to me, they are all lonely.
All while the cook/person old enough to deliver booze orders I just took, and have assured him we are not ‘over serving someone’, does so because, even while he chews me out for being too young and giving way to customer requests, simply because, he gets a bonus for sales profits made over the quarter, ( he is working is way up the corporate ladder, overall), all while he also tries to focus on practicing his food craft that he is proud of.
Make piping hot food, without moving past the “3 oz of pepperoni” for this menu item ordered….
Supply & profit margins, that are strictly enforced by the company that owns the business we work within.
We are all, the entire crew on duty, trained and schooled well in maximizing sales while minimizing costs and keeping customer satisfaction high – all at the same time.
The manager looked around about 4 hours ago and announced he was ‘going home while he still could’ and left us to our fate.
That’s what our job is.
Once the worst of the rush is over?
I announce I’m going to clean the women’s bathroom, and I lock myself in it…and hide from everyone else while I clean up the mess left by others.
Just for a moment, I hide in the bathroom.
I cry while I clean the toilets.
Because tonight has been too much for my spirit and I need a release from it all.
So, I cry.
Too many demands and too many needs to be met, all while I know, not meeting those needs?
Won’t end well for me.
There is always someone else better at such things than I am and well, they would just jump at the chance to have the job I do.
I’ve been trained and schooled well.
The truckers’ tablemates, one by one leave.
I see the change in various places on the table, small piles of pennies and nickles and wonder,
“Why did I wait on them so fervently? Why did I care for them when it’s obvious they don’t value me, that much”
And then I pick up the final glasses/plates, and under each, is a $10 or $20 – or a napkin that reads, “Thanks for taking care of us tonight” with a $1 or a $5.
My heart melts and I realize, I didn’t understand that they understood and appreciated me/my role, as quickly as I might have.
When one is a tip-dependent staff member?
The tips left, indicate only one of two things –
Either someone paid you for the privilege of abusing you, OR they pay you because you made a difference at that moment in their life.
There are different kinds of “TIPS” in this world and I’d rather get stiffed/not paid than believe that someone gets to treat me anyway they believe they can, simply because they paid for the privilege of doing so.
I still, to this day, feel the same way.
The Working Folks leave before the On Vacation Folks do
Okay – I let vacation family we are approaching closing time.
Do they want one more dessert? One more drink? To consume before we close and kick them out?
I’ve heard the stories from the kids.
I’ve shared stories of Colorado, in springtime, and blizzards past.
Of death, destruction and folks who died trying to survive them. And why they shouldn’t try to find a way past the blockade, but just take the ‘night off’.
And they share a part of their story, their history, with me.
What they care about and I just spent hours meeting them, share for share, with my own story, what is a part of me, and what I care about –
And the wife, with the luxurious full-length, fur coat (she let me touch it, it was so soft and silky!) and rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, says to me,
“Why are you just a waitress? You are smart enough you could be so much more! Why are you wasting yourself here? “
I got so frustrated, I risked not getting paid for the night of waiting on them. ( I hadn’t yet cleared the trucker table, and figured, it was a loss, too, despite my best attempts to wait upon, serve, etc.), I could do nothing more than cry out with my heart – my full inner being…
“Yes, okay, you think I’m ‘too smart’ to waste away in this job, but aren’t you GLAD I was here? Didn’t you receive good service? Didn’t you get what you were in need of, just now? I like to think I work hard doing what I do and it is a service needed by others, but you just told me, I provide it, it’s appreciated, but you think I’m wasting myself, and you don’t really value the job or people like me who do the job. How will you eat out if no one else chooses to do this job?”
That’s a paraphrase. I’m sure I didn’t say all that, I may have only mumbled, “But aren’t you glad we are open and waiting on you tonight?”
I remember, both of the tween kids looking at their mom and nervously looking at me.
Kids and pets always pick up things faster than many adults do, to my way of thinking.
And the husband looked down, took another drink of his beer and said nothing.
Bless her heart, though, she looked at me and said,
“Yes, I’m glad you are here. You really made this night so much better. I just get mad that someone as smart as you has to put up with those kind of goons” (as she waved her hand towards the now empty truckers table) and well, you could just be so much more – I don’t want you settle for less.”
Which was kind of her.
Especially after I got mad, spoke my mind and she had the courage to keep on going with the conversation….
I got it, I guess, overall, but I still don’t get it, overall, to this day….
I don’t get how anyone disparages menial laborers that provide the very services and goods they so depend upon, for wanting to earn enough to live on.
I don’t understand friends and family who don’t tip, no matter how good the service when national and state standards here and there allow employers to pay well below minimum wage.
I don’t understand why anyone would go work in a ‘tip sharing’ place so they could bust their butt, and carry the load for a lazy co-worker who will make the same amount or more, than the ones working hard.
I still, to me, do not get any of it.
But for many places and portions of time, as I worked in menial, tip-based, jobs?
Yup – there are so many disappointments, and yet, over and over again, there were those who surprised me as well as those who disappointed me.
I did the testing for Safe Food Handling and Food Allergy Safety state certificate courses.
I signed up and first did these courses, on my own, 2 years ago, just in case I should be asked to lend a helping hand at the local farmer’s market.
This year? For $18 and 2 hours of my internet/learning time?
I watched the videos, did the exercises, passed both tests with 100% test scores.
But the entire time I did the training, I couldn’t forget –
“For these folks, who work everyday, who have to have this certification in order to work?
They are responsible for the health of their customers, even if one allergic to shellfish wants to eat out at a seafood restaurant with her friends who are too dense to take her needs into account –
They are responsible for the profitability of their employer –
They must always know the right thing to do at just the right time, to avoid wrongful death, health code violations and fines for their employer.
They often have to fight their employer, local procedures, coworkers, etc., to fulfill their duties and responsibility for everyone involved -and be HAPPY to do so, so as to avoid ‘whining about’ the job they take pride in, but others deem ‘a waste of a life.”
And all that is required, on minimum wage or less, while told, if they want to make more money, to learn more skills, “or do more”, or “not waste themselves?” from the society around them.
They ought to be doing something else, they are told.
I wish all of them would do something else, just to make a point, overall.
I am okay with eating out, but I can walk away from it in a nano second to support them.
It will be interesting to see how much of PPL, Restaurant & Bar recovery $ actually go to the front line workers in wages, paid time off, hazard pay, etc.
I doubt, I or anyone else will really know, until 20 years from now how government grants and loans, really played out for the front line, boots on the ground, folks who show up, to serve and take pride in the job they do.
On the Other Hand?
Back at my friend’s house, and long after she had gone to sleep, because she was opening crew the next morning – her husband (the cook that spent most of the night yelling at me), opened the fridge, took out a beer and said, “you want one?” and opened it and asked if I wanted a glass pour it in.
He sat at the table while I counted my tips, logged them in my ledger, and did the math for gas/car expenses, etc., the next week.
And he talked aloud while we sat and I quietly drank my beer (oh, how good it tasted!)
You did a good job tonight on turning tables over. I’m sorry that trucker’s table didn’t leave you much – I wanted to come out and hit them, but I was too busy in kitchen. You fended them off well. So, did the rich skiiers make up for the lousy tippers you had?
And I told him – both the truckers and the rich skiiers had both tipped me really well – for the hours I waited upon them.
He was surprised, and said,
“I wouldn’t have expected it, but well, I was too busy to see all that was going on. I’m going to bed. Bedding is on the couch and if you’re hungry or want another beer, just take it. BUT don’t tell anyone about the beer, you’re underage, ya know.”
I made up my couch bed, had food from the fridge (it had been too busy for us to take a meal break) and I had another beer.
And, he’s dead or living somewhere else, now, as far as I know.
That restaurant is passed on to new ownership many times and well – it is what it is.
As far as I know, he never got in trouble for contributing to the delinquency of this minor.
The truckers kept on doing their job and enjoyed their one night of freedom from coffee and a desolate highway, in the middle of the night, for a change.
The vacationers lived their lives with, perhaps, a different perspective than they had before ever they sat there that evening, in my section.
I’ll never know – For Sure
But I am convinced –
Minimum wage doesn’t begin to cover the price paid and gifts gained when, on one night, we all showed up to be ourselves, in one moment of space/time, and well, it will never pay for the education I received that night, that I still, cannot forget.
All because of, a blizzard.