Saturday, January 02, 2010

And You Say You Left Your Laptop Behind?

In keeping with my threat promise to post more often, I've realized that not every post has to be about a life-changing event or my take on current events. Indeed, I've realized that sometimes my everyday life and work have enough absurdity to fill a blog.

When I made the decision to go back to school and get a degree in the health care field so that I had a fighting chance to be able to afford to pay for my kids' college and eventually retire comfortably, there was one big decision to make: what to do for a living while I was back in school. While I was a teacher, I'd kept a part-time job as a waiter. The extra money was a godsend, especially after I had to kick a thieving roommate out, and suddenly had to pay the rent and bills on a three bedroom apartment on my own. Since my ex-girlfriend kept moving with our son from one apartment to another in the bad neighborhood she lived in, it was important to me to keep this place; my son had come to think of it as home. We moved in here when he was four years old.

When Kim and I got married, it took some of the financial pressure off. I kept my toe in the waitering water, though-- I kept my Thursday night shift, and would pick up a shift here and there. When I went back to school I made the decision to work as a waiter while I was in school. A good friend of Kim's got me an interview at a high end downtown Chicago. I got the job, but immediately sensed trouble. There was a lot of nonsense going on there and hostile management. I ended up losing the job. Fortunately, something had told me to keep my old waitering job. As luck would have it, two people were leaving, and a bunch of shifts were opening up. This did not happen often-- the turnover at the restaurant was and is glacial. In general, it's a nice place to work. I like most of my co-workers and most of the people who come in there. A couple of the cooks are monuments to lassitude, obstinance and stupidity and should have been fired long ago. Were it not for the intense sense of loyalty that the managing owner has-- the offending cooks worked there at the beginning when there was little business-- they would have been drummed out a long time ago.

The vast majority of the people who come in are very nice. A while back, Steve and Margaret, a couple whom I'm very fond of, came in with their young son Richard. They were celebrating the tenth anniversary of when they brought him home-- when they adopted him. They reminded me that I had waited on them the first time they'd brought him into the restaurant. It meant a lot to me to be involved in a celebration as joyous as that. There are customers who come in with their kids whom I remember them being pregnant with-- the kids are now in grade school, and can read the menu on their own. There are couples who first came in as dating couples and who are now married. One of my regulars celebrated his 100th birthday with us a while back.

But there are the handful of people who make me question my decision to work as a full time waiter for another year and a half. Many of these people have nicknames among my co-workers and I. Some examples: "Stinkhead;" "The Fonz (who's a woman);" "The Leaning Tower;" "Christmas With the Crabs." There are people who come in who, despite clearly defined terms on the generous coupons the owners mail and email out, still try to weasel the price down. There are people who feel as if a couple of hours in a restaurant is a license to be an asshole. And then there are those who are incorrigibly and hopelessly stupid.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working a Monday with Oscar, a co-worker I hold in high regard. When he came to us seven years ago, as a teenager straight from Mexico, he spoke little English and worked as a dishwasher and busser. Since then, he has learned to speak fluent English and has worked his way up through the jobs, and now works primarily as a server and bartender. He had the early shift that night, so he had a handful of tables when I arrived.

A few hours into the shift, we got a phone call from someone who'd apparently been in earlier. He'd left his laptop behind. The host and bartender talked to him trying to ascertain where he'd been sitting and/or who his server had been, to narrow down where we'd look for it. Then both Oscar and I talked to him, trying to figure out if we'd waited on him. In the course of talking to the guy, we realized that he had no idea where he'd been sitting and had no idea if his server was a 25 year, five foot seven, 150 pound Mexican or a nearly-fifty year old white guy who weighs 200 pounds. The bartender told the guy, who was becoming increasingly angry as we failed to find his laptop, to feel free to come in and look for himself-- we'd checked everywhere he described himself as having sat.

About fifteen minutes later, a guy walked in. I recognized him immediately-- he was with the Asian woman he'd been sitting with at table 16-- a table near the back, not the front of the restaurant. Oscar had been waiting on him. There was a new couple sitting at the table, which is a "deuce"-- a two-seater. The bag was jammed so far under the table that we were only able to see it when the couple who were now seated there stood up for us too look.

The guy grabbed his laptop bag and walked out in a huff, leaving the four of us to chuckle and shake our heads. Let's see, you couldn't tell us where you were seated, couldn't describe which of the two very disparate servers you had, AND you left your expensive laptop behind. And this was our fault somehow?

I pointed out that the guy reminded me of the guys I'd met while visiting my youngest brother while he was working in his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Chicago in the late eighties-- guys who were educated to the point of not functioning any more. Oscar observed that the guy seemed to be in an agitated mood when he had originally walked in-- that it struck him that they might have been squabbling before they walked in. The John the host added that this was going to be one of the "restaurant stories" that we would tell in the future. And I realized that it's going to be a long next 18 months until I finish nursing school and can leave the business.


SkylersDad said...

Wait a minute. You're white? ;^)

Mnmom said...

Here's a good one - a relative of mine is one of those over-educated but hardly functioning guys. He left a glove behind in a restaurant and didn't know what to do. His wife told him to just call the place, and describe the glove. So he did - he told them it was a 5-fingered man's glove.

Some people are just looking to get mad.

Erik Donald France said...

Wow, that's some crazy stuff. Love the use of the word "lassitude" -- a rare treat. Breaches in restaraunt etiquette is really interesting to observe, from cell phone blathering to squabbles over tips. I feel for waiters, certainly!

laura b. said...

Hey, hopped over here from Churlita's blog. I have never worked as a server, but I can imagine what you must deal with. Seems like a great thing that you kept a foot in the door at this place...much more good than bad about it.

Anonymous said...

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bubbles said...

Around Thanksgiving I worked briefly at a mega-wine / beverage store as a cashier. Yikes... I saw ALL kinds - the nicest and the nastiest. At least I didn't have to deal with the nasty people through a whole meal, though! My hat is off to you.

GETkristiLOVE said...

That guy's a jerk!

Churlita said...

I worked in restaurants until I was 35. They are good story factories, for sure.

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