Clusters, Wolves and Weeds

My first second of my new job, I got lost in the parking lot. A beautiful woman in a chef’s jacket showed me the way out.

“I despise first days of any job,” I told her on that dark, chilly morning an hour before sunrise. “Thanks for walking me out of the maze.”

“I completely understand,” she laughed. “It’s the worst.” Then she extended her hand.

“RG,” I smiled at the beautiful chef. “New a.m. server.”

“Chef,” she smiled back. “I don’t usually work mornings, but I’m glad I met you.”

I later found out that she was the executive chef at my new job and was filling in for the morning guy, something she rarely has to do. Kismet for me, I guess.

A.M. server: the bane, the banal, the best of the worst of hospitality. It’s a long way from tending bar in the Keys, or anywhere, for that matter. It’s a longer way from anything good in hospitality, so it’s a good thing to get in good with the executive chef who never works the a.m. shift, especially on your first day.

I almost didn’t show up for this first day. Frankly, I almost didn’t show up for the drug test a week before. Two days later, when I passed the drug test (duh), I almost didn’t show up for the first of what I knew would be hours of agonizing and useless corporate propagandizing disguised as “orientation.”

Why? Because I had stalked the restaurant of this beautiful hotel for several days, watching the a.m. servers hoist their trays of eggs and coffee and juice and all the rest ordered by the tired, the hungover and the anxious-to-get-to-the-morning-meeting in hopeful attempts to wake the hell up on a beach setting they only wish they could appreciate.

Because I don’t carry trays. Because I don’t run food. This is not for a lack of willingness to carry and run, but because I have scrawny chicken wings for arms, and I am blind without my cheater readers that render me blind when I am wearing them and not reading.

Put another way, I figured out that I am likely too old for the carry-and-run show.

Thus, at 6:15 a.m. when I was due to show up for my first training shift at 6:30 a.m., I sat in my car in the parking lot maze and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed–but only in my head–because I didn’t want to have a blotchy, puffy face on my first day, even though I was sure it would be my last day at this Ground Hog Day-esque first day of another first day at yet another job.

Every day since has been a cluster of errors and trials. Every day since, I have learned a little of this and a little of that, but not all that I need to. Every day since I have learned that I can carry a tray and a jack just fine, which was the one thing about which I worried the most. Just goes to show, I should quit worrying.

In the three weeks since I last posted, I have lived three lives: mostly the life of an exhausted Restaurant Gal who almost didn’t show up for her billionth first day of yet another job that she was sure she couldn’t handle; secondly as an on-call p.m. bartender at my old-new job that I obviously learned to handle when I despaired I never would; and thirdly as a mom and friend who can’t take the phone calls from loved ones at 3 p.m. because she is sleeping off the morning shift and willing herself to be awake to work the night’s shift.

When you look at all this reality, you see that I have been living no life at all.

Until today, when I woke the hell up.

“Guess what?” I asked my great guy when I got home from my stupid-crazy morning shift. My great guy, who is likely wondering where his great gal has gone.

He shrugged.

I smiled for the first time in the three weeks that I have lived three lives. “I got it.”

He was clearly puzzled. “Okay…got what?”

“It,” I laughed for the first time in these three weeks of my three lives. “No weeds. No almost tears on the floor. I just got it all done. And then I got it. I am actually not so terrible in this job.”

“I told you all you needed was confidence,” he said, speaking like the annoyingly always-right restaurant manager he used to be.

“No, no,” I said stamping a foot and slapping his shoulder. “I really got it today.”

In D.C., when I was a maitre d’ at the so-busy-casual-upscale restaurant group, I remember feeling angst-ridden when I double sat a server. Every day of the past three weeks that I have lived three lives, I only wish I could have been a server at any of that group’s eateries.

Double seat? Hah! Those D.C. servers had multiple food runners and plenty of bussing support. They also had 5-table sections. Bussers at my current job mean Claudio, who is awesome, but he’s it. Food runners? You mean the night shift runner who was dragged in and only on a Saturday? Oh, and my “section?” You mean the five tables outside and the six inside, miles apart from one another? Do the math and walk in my non-skid heavy black Payless shoes.

Yesterday, I was seated six times in less than five minutes, with three tables in another section working. Today, I was triple sat within a minute in an inside section, while being double sat in the Siberia of all outside sections, with two tables working. And I handled it almost like the pro I am not.

Me. Who never worked as a server of this calibre in my life. Me, who,two weeks ago, worried most about carrying a tray and, who, today carried a zillion plates for two outside tables located a million miles away from the kitchen just to turn and burn ’em and get back to the three inside tables.

Me, who never, ever in my life has worked so hard and felt such a pathetic pride in a pathetic job well done, because today I rang a few cents more than the ace server who trained me, even though I dumped water on one table (they grabbed glasses from my beverage tray and unbalanced it–dumb asses) and then pissed off the cook because he didn’t read my modifiers on the ticket and blamed the remake on me.

“I don’t have time for this!” he screamed.

“It’s on the ticket, read it!” I yelled back. After which he was only borderline surly and almost cordial toward me.

I think I got it. Or at least a tougher skin.

I am still exhausted. I am still a weed-paranoid freak and a freak show in the eyes of my managers on the floor. I still grimace every time I approach the line to hoist a tray for a 4-top and loop a jack over my other shoulder.

But I came home today and went grocery shopping instead of napping. Today, I looked at my computer and felt like listening to music and writing.

Today, I am pretty confident that I got it. Or, I got it that I got it enough, for now.

In the past three weeks of my three lives, I never pictured this day, because I was certain it simply could never happen. Old dogs may be difficult to retrain, and Restaurant Gals may make many mistakes and doubt themselves aplenty, but both, it appears, can learn a few new tricks.

Setbacks are to be expected. Exasperation is certain to set in as season heats up. But, damn, it felt good to feel good about work today.







5 responses to “Clusters, Wolves and Weeds”

  1. Bob Bishopric Avatar

    Good to hear from you. I like the “lingo” of your work. Doing a job well is a great satisfaction, at least for me.

  2. Kim Ayres Avatar

    The best thing, is that you’ve taken the time to recognise when things have gone right. All too easily we only focus on what goes wrong and fail to take in when it goes smoothly. Consequently, we end up with memories only of all the time things fell apart. Noticing the good times is crucial. So glad it’s come to together for you, RG 🙂

  3. Connie Avatar

    Hey- totally off subject but Jim Brochu is in South Florida in The Zero Hour right now and if you have a night off to see it, you must do so!! I flew to NYC to see it last year and it was amazing.

  4. L. Avatar

    Yea for glad there is a victory!!

  5. Binx Avatar

    It’s really great to have an update from you RG. Nice to see you once again triumph against adversity! Keep up the good work.