Friday, October 3, 2008

Will that be regular or decaf, ma'am?

Hey, its Flashback along, whomever you are, and link up regardless as to when you wrote your relfective post. Just make sure you use a permalink, huh?

I write quite a bit about my job but once upon a time, a day job that didn't include weekend hours was a dream.

In high school, I was one of the lucky kids that got accepted to a co-op program my Senior year. That meant my school day ended at 11:30 in the morning and I worked noon to 4 p.m. at a print shop.

Given the status of the family's finances at the time, however, I worked a second, evening job waiting tables at the local Denny's.

This was 1996, the year of the "One ninety-nine, are you out of your mind?!?" promotion. I would work Saturday and Sunday mornings for eight hours straight, serving Grand Slam breakfasts for $1.99 a pop. With a cup of coffee and tax, the total bill would be roughly $3.10.

Do you have ANY idea how many senior citizens would file through those doors after Sunday morning service, shuffling and elbowing past each other, fighting for the nearest booth, only to grumble their way through their meals and then tip ninety cents?!? Wait, no. Those were the good tippers. The bad ones would tip forty cents.

Yet I stayed for more than a year, picking up sticky change after they left and shoving it in the pocket of my apron. I remember leaving that place in the afternoons with heavy pockets.

But I counted my blessings. When I came in to serve breakfast, the third shifters were on their way out. This particular Denny's was on a popular cruising strip, where all night long, teenagers and early twenty-somethings who had nothing better to do would drive back and forth, hooting and hollering out their car windows as they raced from one stop light to another. When they got hungry, they went to Denny's.

It was also a popular spot for the after-bar crowd. Around 2:30/3:00 in the morning I'm told crowds would amass much like they did around six or seven hours later. Only instead of shuffling grumpy old men in church clothes, they were shuffling, grumpy drunk bastards, smelling of beer and stale cigarette smoke.

Around this time in the morning, this particular grumpy shuffling crowd could get rowdy. For every "I love you, man" drunk you have there are three "Oh yeah?!? You wanna GO?!?" drunks. And that required security guards and wait staff to be quick on their feet. One to intervene and one to duck.

Sometimes fights would get out of hand, and the wear and tear could be seen on the restaurant when us first shifters stumbled in, still bleary eyed ourselves just a few hours later.

There was this old guy, lets call him Bud (I don't know that I ever knew his real name), who would come in by himself after church around 9 a.m. every Sunday morning. Bud was a crabby old coot to beat all crabby old coots. He wouldn't wait to be seated, didn't care if other people were there waiting first, but would walk in with his paper straight to "his" table and make it clear his coffee was already late.

Somehow I got stuck waiting on Bud. Every time. We grew on each other - he yelled at me, I ignored him. He left me forty cents -- every time. And heaven forbid you ask him to wait his turn or sit somewhere else. He'd wave his hand at you and mumble something uncoherent but obviously very rude.

One morning, however, Bud's table was gone. There had been a fight the night before and two drunks fell on it and knocked the table top off the base. What was left was just a pole sticking up out of the ground, on which someone thought was necessary to put an "Out of Order" sign.

So 9:04 a.m. and here comes Bud. I see him crossing the parking lot with his red cardigan sweater and khaki pants, newspaper tucked under his arm. I kinda freaked a little. Like, oh my God, what was Bud going to do?

I decided to see how the scene played out. Like a coward...from behind the pie rack.

Bud walks in, the hostess, a fifteen-year-old new girl, attempts to put his name on the list and explain that there's a wait. He grumbles at her, waving his hand and walks past, as if her presence was so unrequired and unimportant as to be almost funny. Some of the "regular" servers greet him with a smile knowing darn well that he'd dismiss them either way, and watch him walk past to see what was going to happen.

He walked right up to that table and stared down at that sign and stopped. Then he looked up, stunned, searching for an answer. Some other waitress, bless her heart, walked up to him and I heard him scowl, "What happened?!?" She started to explain, only to be interrupted with the usual hand wave, the usual grumble, but the shocked expression stayed. Bud turned around and walked out. Something about the familiar routine of his visit -- the same booth, the same meal, the same server, was important.

Thinking back on this now, I wonder what Bud's story was. Was he widowed? Or was he always a bachelor, set in his ways? Was he a vet? Or just a jerk? When As Good as It Gets came out a year or so later, I was no longer working at Denny's, but Jack Nicholson's character made me think of Bud, and I wondered what happened to him.

Was he still frequenting Denny's every Sunday morning? Had he gotten sick? Had he passed away? That restaurant is long gone, but Bud made me realize that every person on this planet has a story. I never learned his, but it made it no less important. I only hope someone else stepped into my place to give him a little happiness or comfort with every cup of coffee.

Now, Denny's was in no way my worst job. THAT I plan to share next week.


Anglophile Football Fanatic said...

That's actually really sad. Those old men who need that sameness and routine. I hope he had a happy point in life.

Earthmommy said...

This was such a touching story. Have you seen the movie "Waitress"? There is a similar character in that film. I understand what you mean about that type of customer, I had quite a few of them over the course of my 20 years in retail. Some of them grew on me and I learned to deal with them and they liked me too. Others I'm sad to say I was glad when they went away.

Baker Watson said...

This is a great story of your experience and a good reminder of the fact that everyone has a life story that got them where they are.

It reminded me of when my kids were in high school and wanted to get a job. I agreed with them but told them there were 2 basic requirements.

First, it couldn't interfere with their studies. Second, they had to work in some job where they had to deal with the 'public' or, better yet, something in the food services industry.

I figured these jobs would provide them with a education in people and hard work. They would have to learn to deal with people and see first-hand the difference in a 'good' customer and a 'bad' customer. And working in a restaurant they could learn to better judge 'good' service from 'bad' service and be able to determine who was at fault for bad service. So often one sees a customer berating a waiter or waitress for something that is beyond their control but due to other factors such as poor staffing levels or poor food preparation. Plus, they would learn working in a restaurant is not as easy as it may seem. It often involves long hours and constantly being on your feet while catering to the whims of unreasonable customers who you may depend upon for the modest tips.

I think their jobs provided them with a great education in the real world and helped them become much better customers, more tolerant and understanding of those providing them services. I knew they would spend the rest of their life being customers and they should be able to appreciate the view from the other side.

Roger said...

That was a great story and I hope that "Bud" found happiness somewhere down the road, maybe at an Applebee's. :)

Roger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vodka Mom said...

oooh, i love that story. Makes me think back on similar experiences and wonder what people's stories really are. huh.

Miss said...

GREAT post. I bet he had a really interesting story and would have probably told it, had anyone asked.

lynn said...

Kinda sad. I've had my fair share of those grumpy customers over the years working in retail. They get set in their ways. I've also experienced the opposite with a very nice guy who used to come in our store just about everyday. I think he just needed to get out and talk to someone.

Tracey said...

Awwww...Bud sounds like he needed a friend.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

You are a woman after my own heart. I STILL think about some of my old codger customers from the ice cream parlor, various restaurants and the bar. It's a cup of coffee and the human kindness that goes with it. Bless you.

Momo Fali said...

Aw! Poor Bud!

I NEVER used a Denny's restroom when we ate there after hitting the bars. Turns out people get sick after they drink shots and then try and coat their stomachs with Moons Over My-Hammy.

Colleen said...

my thoughts immediately when to "As Good as It Gets" when I got about halfway through your story. And I laughed out loud here at work when you said you watched from behind the pie rack. :D

When I waited tables while in school, every Sunday was this grumpy old lady who brought her extremely pleasant mother to brunch. All of us loved the mother, but only two of us would tolerate the daughter who was similar to Bud...set in her ways, curmudgeonly, and dismissive. After several months of weekly visits, they stopped coming in and often wondered what happened to them. And I always wondering why the daughter was so freakin' grumpy when her mother had such pleasant manners (and it wasn't like the mother was senile or anything).