First, let me set the scene, it’s a Thursday night, almost home from work and E yells, ‘Can we go to Denny’s mommy, PLEEEAASE???!!!’ I groan, but at the same time I realize I am pretty hungry and I’m not excited about going home and rummaging up something for dinner, which she will inevitably reject anyways, in favor of some random junk food she happens to I-Spy in the kitchen.
So, I switch my left turn signal to the right and have to navigate from the turn lane, at the red light, across two other lanes and onto the road directly across from ours, where Denny’s sits on the corner like a shining beacon saying ‘E, come in, tell mommy to come in, you’re hungry and you know she’s hungry. Just ask, you know she’ll give in…tell mommy you want Denny’s!’
So, in we go, we are seated in a booth among a myriad of other folks who, like us, didn’t want to cook or had a hankering for a ‘Grand Slam’ or ‘Eggs Over My Hammy’ and a hot cup of coffee in the cutest diner- style mugs that I threaten to take every time I’m there. We go through the same routine as every other visit, the seemingly eternal debate over what she is going to eat, and she decides on spaghetti and a salad.
The waitress comes to tell us she will be back in just a minute to take our order, no big deal, we’re not in a hurry. Almost immediately another waitress comes over to take our order, she’s a familiar face and must work the shifts when we are usually there, since we have her almost every time we’ve been there since Christmas Day (yes, we stopped and had Denny’s at the end of a very long Christmas Day, sue me.)
She takes our order and the first waitress comes back and I tell her someone already got us. We both look confusedly at each other, then her face changes to irritation bordering on anger and we both realize what has happened. We have been poached. Having never been a waitress I don’t have a personal experience with this, but many of my friends have been there, done that, and I know enough that table poaching is grounds for war.
Luckily for my nosy self, we are seated almost directly behind the waiter’s station and I can overhear what’s going on. It seems that this is not the first time that this has occurred. The poacher arrives in the station, unaware that she has been caught and is about to be prosecuted in the court of the table rotation law. The scene unfolds relatively tame, much to my disappointment, and it appears that all is right in the wait staff world.
However, I then realize that, in fact, it is not, and the down low dirt is about to begin. Clearly table wars are now in full effect and I see that the poaching has now turned into a battle, nay, a war of who is taking what tables, the well-worn dry erase diagram of server rotation cast out like a used napkin. Its server pandemonium. So, I sit and watch the three servers of the area, and they are trying to decide who they are going to serve and when. All the while maintaining smiling faces and cheery demeanor with the patrons, all the better to disguise the behind-the-scenes treachery.
Most of the servers are relatively young, to look at them I would guess my age, mid 30’s, or younger, but one is clearly older, maybe 50’s or so. She clearly runs circles around her younger co-workers and has been in this game awhile. It’s not her first rodeo. I watch her, with her elbow brace on her left arm, which is also her tray arm, taking orders, laughing with the diners, explaining the menu choices to some elderly folks, and I hear her telling one young couple she has been there for 32 years. She knows the menus inside and out and could probably recite them, word for word, if need be.
This woman is a loyal employee, loyal to the point of an elbow brace, most likely perpetually sore feet and aching back, calloused fingers from holding hot plates and scorching coffee mugs and the knowledge that this is it for her. She most likely has no other job experience and is older (not a dig or a bad thing but we all know the stigma of hiring older folks. They become Wal-Mart greeters checking your receipt to make sure you paid for that case of water on the bottom of your cart and passing out stickers to people returning an ill-fitting shirt or a toy their heathen kid broke within 5 minutes of unboxing).
Denny’s must pay pretty good and be at least a decent place to work, which one would not think to be the case, else-wise why would she still be here, after 32 years of changing menus, remodels, ‘regulars’ who come and sadly go, kids making messes on the floors that parents simply leave along with a 5% tip.
Something has kept her here this long, whether something in the restaurant chain itself or something within her, maybe a feeling that this was all she was meant to do with only her high school education and no time or money to attempt a college degree and to do what? Going out into the world of unknowns, working for some other company and some other boss, still not feeling any more fulfilled than she did as a server.
And so, she stays, day after day taking order after order, hoping her charisma has paid off enough to at least pay off in 15%, even better someone leaving $3 on just a cup of coffee with a few refills. Counting out the ones, few fives, and handfuls of change in her apron at the end of a long shift.
I feel for her and I see me in her. Working 8 years for the same company now, in a different position but making the same money (albeit for, in some ways, and easier job), hoping for a good yearly evaluation so I can get that almighty eight cent raise, which may as well be eight pennies in a sock, swung deftly at my face. A slap in the face. Eight measly cents for putting my all into my job, for caring about my charges when their own families do not, for comforting them, loving them as I do my own family (full disclosure, some of them mean more to me than my own family, but don’t tell them).
But unlike my Denny’s friend, I am only 34. I have plenty of time before I am officially a ‘lifer’ at my job. The question is, will I take the leap? Will I use the talents and gifts I was assigned to me at birth to do something greater with my life? Do I have time I can dedicate to what I want to do, requiring online classes and assignments, in between work and my single momdom? Can I scrape together the money I need to even take the classes? It’s a decision between just doing it, jumping in with both feet and trying, at least TRYING to do something different, something I WANT to do not something I merely deign to do.
I want to do something where I make more than a piddly few cents above minimum wage with the promise of that yearly slap in the face of eight pennies in a sock, at the end of the day not even enough to buy lunch. Will I ever just switch turn signals and cross those lanes of life, moving at the speed of light, and go for it? Who knows, life tends to take those turns in a split second and once you start into the turn you have to commit and do the damn thing, before life hits you and figures, it has no insurance.