I started waitressing when I was about 17. That, and bartending, got me through college. And then through between reporting gigs, and as a way to pull in a couple quarters living in a small town, combined with my fledgling dating service and PR jobs. I am a great waitress. I can sweep through a packed section and remember who wanted sauce on the side, who needs another whiskey neat, and that the lady at table 12 always takes a lemon in her Diet Coke. I am efficient, friendly, and will upsell you a bananas Foster and espresso and you’ll think it was your own dang idea. I have been very, very fortunate to work as a writer steadily enough since the second Clinton term that I haven’t had to sling a coffee pot. Except at home for a husband who is very, very sleepy in the mornings.
One of my very favorite families happens to live right next door to us, across the driveway. We’ve all become quite close after garage sales and running food back and forth all the time, and our mutual adoration of the 9-year-old daughter in the family. Kaumudi, the mom, is also a radical culinary genius and I’ve volunteered a couple times to waitress for her pop-up Indian dinners. Last night, she put on a wedding feast in a coffee house two blocks away. Two seatings. Too many courses to count. Lots of running around and offering guests seconds and thirds, and trying to make up as plausible explanations as I could for food that I couldn’t pronounce. Being as nice to the table with TV stars at it as I was to the ones with my friends. Husband Steve played host and emcee. We stole a kiss or two behind the cappuccino machine. I rocked. Diners were happy and stayed late into the night, talking over their chai.
But as the evening wore on, my feet began to hurt and the padding seemed to disappear between the flesh and bone of my soles. My hips went on lockdown — I have no problem folding myself in halves or thirds in yoga but suddenly couldn’t bend over to wipe up the mango juice I spilled. I got sloppy. I grew cranky. I still had hours ahead of me, as we still needed to clean the place as if we’d never been there and load the restaurant we’d created into the back of a van.
Finally at home — way later than we ever stay up — we crawled into bed. I was conditioned by my parents to know that there was not a thing in the world that was off-limits to me if I wanted it badly enough. I’ve gone through my life keeping my options open, and have always thought that I might fall back on the waitressing if this whole corporate thing doesn’t work out.
But last night, as my feet throbbed and bones cried and my eyes slammed shut, I made an annoucement. “I’m retiring from waitressing.”
If you are a waitress, I honor you as I know how hard a job that is to do well. If you are a waitress over 40, I bow down to you. May you forever be blessed with good knees, a Roth IRA, a wine opener you love and a sincere smile.