I love waiting tables. I’ve tried to have what my husband refers to as real jobs. I’ve tried to possess the hours and the salaries that equate to worth and substance, benefits, vacations, weekends. I’ve tried to be the weekend warrior and what’s more, I’ve attempted to be satisfied with this lifestyle.
But I have failed each time. And for one reason or another, I have found myself always wandering back to another restaurant, another door, another table. From Carelli’s of Boulder to various restaurants and bars from Cleveland to Crested Butte, Coloardo, I’ve lived after hours, watching waves of people, of wine and liquor, of food and the chaos of wading in it all, navigating and sometimes, directing the ebb and flow of it.
This is not a job that I work to support myself while I write; I wait tables in order to write. And to anyone currently struggling with writer’s block, to every graduate assistant or MFA student peddling their words at coffee shops. Drop your pens and get thee to a restuarant! It’s impossible to explain, though I shall try below.
It’s both complicated and simple. The task is to listen to a stranger and then help to make their wishes for the evening manifest. It is more than the food. From the obvious couple enjoying their first date, to the family of 6 visiting from overseas, reconnecting, and of course, troupes of doctors, golfers, business men on vacation with the guys, their wives across the street equally as free and secretive – they have plans, visions, expectations for their evenings – and this is my responsibility, to take these hopes and somehow create them through the rehearsed steps of introductions, drinks, appetizers, dinner and desert.
It is difficult to make people happy. It is difficult to satisfy them. Try. It’s nearly impossible.
To do so is a rush, a thrill, and in today’s world, to be satisfied completely is worth every penny. This is why a close friend who works at a 5 star restaurant in Boulder, Colorado brings home more than $55,000 a year, cash on top of his salary. It’s impossible to find anywhere else and it’s more impossible to find those willing and anxious to satisfy.
I am fascinated by people, and I admire their trust and relish the opportunity to study them. People are never more honest than when they are being waited upon. People are never more direct – their words may continue their games, but their body language and actions, the tone of their voices reveals everything that they wish they could say.
There is tension and a kind of joy in its potential escape.
Somewhere between the tables and wine bottles, the empty and then full plates, the frenzy and in the after hours silence, there is a calm.
The rhythm of it all creates patterns that time slips within and between. It gets lost in the shuffle.
Someone walks in. Someone sits down and it begins.
There are drinks, then salads, then entrees, then more drinks, preferabley wine and desert.
There is an art to eating out, a finesse, a grace to the process of being waited upon. The chaos between makes it – spicy.
There is an art to work. There are patterns. There are mindsets and expectations, possibilities and chaos.
There is the security and stability of the office I used to work at, the set hours and even timelines each project fit within. There is the commute and the insurance card I kept in my backpocket like a small trophey, flashing at the very hint of an ache or cold.
And then, there is this strange chaos. The uncertainty, the surprise. The conversations are scripted but they are never identical. And while the orders blur together into a heap of something half-eaten I toss into the trash next to the dish pit, the faces are precise and easy to remember. As are their over heard conversations, their body language, bits of voices that mix and blend into laughter and then, an awkward silence.
This is the escape. After the 9-5 and its securities, its patterns, we meet here at someone else’s table. We drink and watch and listen and often times, we eat. Slowly forgetting the hours that came before – enjoying the timing of it, the process by which the hours choreograph each other, the dimmed lights and the strange mix of voices and faces shifting into colors.
There are tips and hand shakes. There are secrets shared and many more things left unspoken.
I drink at night and then, write them all into sheets of paper tucked into my apron to use later in future novels and stories whose plots I still need to imagine. I sleep all morning, exhausted and happy. I wake in the afternoon and slowly begin to piece the evening together. I count my tips and compose a new pattern for the following evening.
There is a zen to waiting tables, a peace to its chaos. Anything can and usually does happen – one night I will make $40 and the next? $270. There are cruel guests, kind guests, cheap and rich guests. They are all people. And I love documenting their honest moments while they tap their fingers against the table waiting anxiously for another martini.