Thursday, January 24, 2013

Service Industry Blues

Sometimes, I think it would be so cool to work in a coffee shop.

Not Starbucks. Like, a small, new yorky coffee shop, where I'd be surrounded by chill, hip co-baristas, way hipsterier than me, but who also give me the platform to really rock my clog boots and twisty, exploding up-dos that my hair is too short to stay in. Maybe I would even wear a beanie. No.... no, that is going too far.

But anyway, it would be awesome because I would get to smell espresso all day long, and the ambiance would be rustic and wooden and twinkly-lighted... maybe with a tin ceiling, I dunno. I would get to converse with chatty, artistic clientele and get to channel my creativity into (possibly award-winning) froth art. And no matter how busy it was, I would walk very slowly from the cash register to the espresso maker because I am just that chill and self-composed.

But then I remember that I would probably have to get there really early, and my eyes would be bloodshot, and I'd have to mop the floor all the time, and would only make like 7.25 an hour + no tips because those "Tipping is Good Karma!!!" swirly sharpie signs on recycled cans don't really work very well.

I would also never look as hipster-chic as my flat-chested Brooklynite coworkers, and I would probably start to resent it.

And by the time I got home from my manic, adrenaline-flooded, espresso induced trip-of-a-work-shift, I would be shaky and exhausted and unable to devote any energy to writing my masterpiece, whatever that is. And I would probably forget to consistently feed my 2, hypothetical hipster cats.

And I should know better. I have been down this road before.

I have a history of glamorizing the service industry.

When I was 3, I told my parents that I wanted to be a waitress when I grew up. That was a week after telling them I wanted to be an astronaut. I probably thought that being a waitress meant being constantly surrounded by pancakes.

Then during one summer in college, I thought that my time being a waitress at a cute little comfort food restaurant near Union Square would be the ultimate "I am so mediocre but look how adorable my mediocre life is here in the big city" type thing. "Watch me learn how to support my art in such a predictable way, but still, I am surrounded by fairy lights and my double chin isn't quite as noticeable in this lighting" type thing. I thought it would be all selling macaroni & cheese and key lime pies to hungry diners and making them smile. Maybe that was my destiny! I don't know! Making honest money and feeling good about myself and Living the Dream.

But instead, it was really just exhausting and miserable, and I swear a week would go by and I didn't even know because I worked 6 days, and then would spend all the hours I wasn't working shaking in my bedroom because I forgot to put bacon on that one guy's burger and he got SO mad.

And the managers were out of their minds and at war with each other- and the owner was some sort of angry Russian war criminal. And this one waitress from Seattle, who was an aspiring drag queen costume designer, tried to take me under her wing and would always tell me how wholesome I was compared to the other waitresses, and I would scoff and hope to prove to her that I could rough it too, and was like, totally, you know, very badass and worldly.

There was the kind, Polish waitress, Kinga, who was living in America with her fiance solely for the purpose of saving money for their wedding, which she planned on having when they moved back to Poland the next year. She lived 1.5 hours away from the restaurant and loved to rollerblade by the sea, but then she seriously busted her wrist and knee on her day off, but of course had no health insurance, and carrying those heavy plates was like torture but she had to go on. Such is the life of a hard working, immigrant bride-to-be. (Seriously, I really liked her).

And then there was the 35 year old ska-band-performer-waitress with short platinum/green streaked hairdo, who freaked out at me because she thought I was trying to steal her tables. After mustering the courage (she was the longest-employed waitress there, like basically a head-housemaid type thing), I walked up to her said:

"Ali... I would never steal tables from you. The last thing I want is more tables. I can barely emotionally handle the 3 I have."

Yes, for me the job was never about making more money, or learning how to "upsell" with beers, or staying till closing to get the most tables/tips. It was just about leaving first so I could go home and stress eat 5 Luna Bars. It was about staying alive, remembering orders, and staying out of the way of my managers: Bubba, Anastasia, and Rachel.

Waitressing was the hardest and most unsatisfying thing I have ever done, probably because I never stayed long enough to actually feel comfortable with the computer system, or table numbering system, or the menu. I didn't stay long enough to harden into one of those waitresses who just doesn't care if the couple at table 5 yells at them. Also, my feet killed the whole time.

The one night I actually broke $100 in my tips - I lost the money. It just disappeared from my bag pocket. I am convinced Bubba stole it.

I quit the job by going on vacation at the end of the summer and then lying about a sprained ankle and then just never returning. I eventually had to go back to get some tax thing to give to my dad months later, and Anastasia the Romanian manager informed me that both Rachel and Bubba were gone, and would I like to come back to working there? "No, uhh, I am a full-time student". Phew. Real excuse. That was a real excuse Caroline. Just walk out slowly. Act normal.

the actual restaurant
how could I forget about those KETCHUPS!
setting those up was the worst part of the DAY