GALLOPIN’ GRANDMA: Humbled by the apron

By on August 18, 2015

Learning lessons of humanity and humiliation from the service industry

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Nebraska, 1923: Gallopin’ Grandma’s mother and relatives waiting to get into a high class restaurant. However, they forgot to make reservations and are probably still waiting.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Around this time of the year, the air is filled with the gladsome cries of recent graduates looking forward to a wondrous future, and the hysterical laughter of their parents looking forward to a life without bankruptcy. They have been told that Wall Street is in their future and so is that loft in New York City and all the fabulousness that comes with it.  The commencement speaker promised that the doorway to the future is right here, now. He said that.

What he didn’t say is that the only door many of our hopeful grads will be opening will be the employee entrance to Denny’s or Red Lobster. The pathway to the future will lie through a room full of flames, knives and hysteria. You want a key to the executive washroom? You might get one to the gas station next door, and as far as the loft in New York City, are you still in Mom’s basement? Don’t move.

I bring this up because a young acquaintance of mine was complaining about the downsides of her waitress job. She said that some of her customers didn’t appreciate her adorableness. Instead, they complained about the food, they didn’t like the service, they sent stuff back, they dumped food all over, their kids were terrorists and they didn’t tip. “Why,” she asked her lip trembling. “Why is that?”

I took her hand and explained gently that while it is true that Lincoln freed the slaves, he did not free her. Her job description is “server” and that means that her employer wishes her to serve meals to whomever wants it served to them.  It doesn’t matter if they are the Chainsaw Family or a bunch of baboons, they are to be served even if you have to duck and run. It is still your job.

There may come a time when you might want to climb up the food chain and after acquiring an iron constitution and delusions of grandeur, you could become a maitre d’ .  This will enable you to do unto others as they have done unto you. Just think of what you could do: lose reservations, make customers wait forever, give them terrible seats next to the bussing station or the kitchen. Oh the fun you could have.

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s, there weren’t many jobs for us in my hometown of Corn Cob, Iowa. Restaurants were few and the waitress came with the territory. They were mainly generous-sized older ladies who had been there forever. We didn’t know who they were, they were just there.

My friend, LuWanda, got a job at the Corn Cob Country Club, which was about three steps above a truck stop café. One Sunday they had a fancy (for them) brunch and LaWanda dropped a big chef salad with extra shrimp right on to MarySue Merch’s head. The salad bowl flew through the air and got salad dressing all over MarySue’s tight, white Bobbie Brooks capris. Now MarySue was the mayor’s girlfriend and when his wife found out, she sued him for divorce and wrote LaWanda a note congratulating her on her aim. LaWanda was fired and spent the rest of the summer selling popcorn at the Kernel, the Corn Cob drive-in movie theatre.

I have been the mother of waitresses and one of them worked at a restaurant that specialized in pie. She would show up in the middle of the night with the leftovers and there we’d be, sitting up in bed, shoveling in the remains of the day. That was a long time ago, but sometimes I miss those days, when pie arrived in the middle of the night. French Silk was nice, also Banana Cream. I liked that. PJH

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