She wandered in at 8 a.m., wide-eyed and only a little nervous. Her crisp apron was tied nicely around her khaki pants, her makeup was just so.
Who the hell are you? I thought as I buttered toast and kept half an eye on the line, where my order was starting to pile up. I had opened and been working alone since 6 a.m. My co-worker was late, as always. But she always showed up and we always worked well together. And I was anxious that she show up close to on time today of all days–Mother’s Day, aka restaurant day in Hell.
“Hi! I’m Jessica,” said the cute girl in the apron.
“Um, hi. I’m RG. And not to be rude, but are you…?”
“Yeah, Kara called out, so I’m working for her.”
Are you kidding me?
“Oh. So you must have worked during the day on days I’m off?” I asked, hopeful, but knowing the answer.
“Actually no. I’ve worked a few dinner shifts, though.”
Dinner shifts. The shift when my dive restaurant tries morph into funky fine dining. It’s not always successful.
“Okay, well, let’s see.” I looked around. The tables were starting to fill up with families. So far, no one had requested outside. I had about ten seconds, I figured, to train her how to write a breakfast and lunch order diner-style, how to time the toast, how to make the coffee, how to do all the stuff we do during the frantic turn-and-burn pace of breakfast and lunch.
“Wait, you actually touch the food this much?” she asked, watching me hack slices of toast in half and slather cream cheese on a bagel. “At dinner, we’re not even allowed back here. I mean, is it even legal to touch food this much, because you know, we touch money and all.”
Are you f–ing kidding me?
“Yeah, we touch food. Yeah, we go behind the line. And we have to do it really, really fast. Especially today!”
She giggled. “I mean, I’ve been a waitress before. I work dinner here!”
The short rush suddenly trickled to a crawl. There was a God.
“Okay, take the next table on your own,” I told her. And all went well until she put the wrong abbreviation for hash browns on her ticket and got corned beef hash instead. Until she tried to explain to the cook what she meant by “hash potatoes” and that’s how she wanted to write it. Until she looked at me in exasperation and said, “He doesn’t speak much English, does he?”
“Oh he understands plenty, but he needs us to write our tickets the way he can read them.” And I showed her again. And again. And again.
All almost continued to go well until she had to cash out her first table. “Um, he needs change for this fifty. And his bill is $9.72. Where on the register does it tell you the right amount of change?”
Didn’t you say you worked dinner here? You use the same antiquated, non-computerized piece of shit register then, don’t you? You know how to add and subtract, right?
“Well, you count back from the change, starting with the pennies. Seventy-three, seventy-four, seventy-five….” Her eyes glazed over.
“We’re never allowed to touch the register at dinner,” she said. “I mean, how do you know the exact change? Shouldn’t it tell you?”
Oh. My. God.
Which was when I noticed her bulging belly. “Yeah, I’m seven months. Just found out I was pregnant a month ago,” she giggled. “Happy Mother’s Day to me! But anyway, about the change.”
I shoved a calculator into her hands. “Use this if you need to.”
For 30 blissful moments, the restaurant was quiet. Eerily quiet. Scary quiet.
“I don’t like this,” said the busser who doubles as the dishwasher who triples as my backup when the weeds grow thick and I want to scream, and who always busts his ass to make it better. “This no good,” he said shaking his head, then nodding at the pregnant newbie. “It’s Mother’s Day, you know. We be busy. Very, very busy. No time for a new girl.”
“I know!” I almost shouted at him.
“Well it’s really quiet now,” said the girl. “I mean, I’m almost bored.”
Which was when the busser–who doubles and triples and quadruples about every job there is to do in the restaurant, who for seven years has treated the restaurant with the respect and honesty and incredible hard work as if he owned the place, who never, ever, EVER drinks on or off work, said, “RG, did you know they made sangria for dinner last night. Lots left over. Try to sell it, okay?”
“You should try some,” he winked. And with that he lined up three empty tarter sauce containers and ladled each to the brim. He gave one to me, one to the cook (whom I also have never seen drink on the job), and one to himself. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he smiled in a toast. And we knocked them back together, those three shots of sangria.
Oh God. If he was nervous enough to slug sangria, there was no hope for us.
The implosion began in earnest 10 minutes later. It lasted for hours. The new girl was weeded in seconds, close to tears in minutes, and screaming for someone to get the dinner manager in to help her NOW within a half hour. I tried to help her. I did. But I was being seated outside with a ten-top, then an eight-top, then a deuce, then a five-top, and it never stopped all day.
The manager ultimately showed up. He patiently rang all the new girl’s checks and made all the change for her. He ran her food, he re-wrote her tickets correctly, he apologized to her for my not training her more thoroughly.
“Look, it’s Mother’s Day!” I said, trying not to raise my voice. “I did the best I could. I’ve been here since 6 a.m. I’m staying through closing when I don’t have to. I am ringing a record day! What the hell else can I do?”
“I know, I know,” he smiled in a way that said, “Yeah, bitch, you think I can’t manage, but I just saved the day for this sweet young girl.”
“Good,” I smiled back in a way that said, “You sorry ass wanna-be manager, you should have gotten your fat ass in here and trained her yourself since you allowed the other one to call out and thought sending in a know-nothing twit was simply brilliant on one of the busiest days of the year for the restaurant.”
My local bar wants me to work full-time shifts, now. I may not be the greatest bartender, but I get it done and the locals seem to like me enough to put up with my questionable dry martinis because most of them drink beer or vodka or rum or whiskey, anyway.
I am off next part of next week and the one thereafter so I can go to Colorado see RG Daughter graduate from college. I am not scheduled back at the dive restaurant for two weeks. Yeah, kind of like notice.
When I started at the dive five months ago, I loved it. Then the restaurant was sold, and I tried to still love it under the direction of the new owners. Then I declined their offer to “promote” me to manage dinner and they got angry and quit speaking to me. Then they hired the buffoon who lied about his restaurant experience as the manager to manage us all. He is a walking disaster. He allowed disaster to unfold on this Mother’s Day.
I believe I may have just slung my last egg today.