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I Won't Tell You Eight Things, But I Will Tell You One

The new shtick on Facebook seems to be listing a number of things about yourself that other people most likely would not know.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading every single one of these interesting albeit random, tidbits.  I’ve learned a lot about my friends, mostly that I didn’t know some of them quite as well as I thought!  Comic book collections?  Multiple tattoos?  Strange phobias?  Hmmmmm……

I’m not gonna post eight things about myself on Facebook.   I’m not even gonna share eight things about myself here, on my blog.  Maybe in time I’ll be more forthcoming with a list of fun facts and personal info that you wouldn’t ordinarily know about me, but for today ‘one is my number.’

So here goes…

One Thing You Probably Did Not Know About Me:

When I was in college, I spent the summers waiting tables at a local pizza joint.  This wasn’t just an ordinary pizza joint;  It was and still is, one of the greatest pizza joints around.  It’s a landmark on the Jersey Shore.

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To know it is to love it.  To eat there once is to eat there a million more times.   To work there… well, I was scared to death.

You see, the owner of the restaurant was one of my Father’s patients.  He was sorta doing my Dad a favor by even hiring me in the first place.  The only prior experience I had as a waitress was serving tuna fish and grilled cheese sandwiches on paper plates from a snack bar on the beach located walking distance from my house when I was a teenager.

This job was in a league entirely of its own.  It was a substantial distance away from my home and I had to drive through some pretty rough neighborhoods to get there.  The bar alone seemed like it was the size of a small city.  Day and night, swarms of hungry and thirsty patrons would try not to tackle each other as they fought their way to find an empty space near the jukebox or near whatever nook and cranny was available while they waited patiently (and not so patiently) for a table.  Seven days a week the place was mobbed.  Jammed.  Standing Room Only.

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Easily six deep at the bar, customers came from all over to get their thin-crust-pizza-fix but the majority of the clientele were locals who worked and lived nearby.  Firemen, policemen, plumbers, electricians and construction workers were just some of the many who were considered to be regulars and were known on a first name basis not only with each other but among the staff as well.

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They were honest to goodness working class people but when it came to eating and drinking, these people were hardcore.  Rowdy behavior wasn’t unusual. These customers knew how to drink. A lot.  Every day.  Every night.

In the beginning I was petrified because I was a fish out of water.  The environment was hardly in my comfort zone.  Understanding the restaurant lingo, learning the menu and operating the computer was only half of my initial battle.  

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Co-existing and becoming part of the crew was the real challenge.  Initially, the staff hated me.  This was not just a summer gig for them.  They took the job very seriously.  Most of the employees had been working there for ages and it took them just as long to be offered a full-time position in the first place.

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  There was always a wait to eat there, but apparently there was always a wait to work there too.  Having Daddy call in a favor to the boss so I could cut the line and get in on a piece of the major tip-making action did not bode well once the others found out how I really got the job.

 Originally, I thought the goal of the summer was to make enough money so that I could afford a trip to Cancun with my friends over Spring Break.  Little did I know, this job would end up being so much more.  It would teach me valuable lessons about how to build my confidence when faced with circumstances that were out of my element.  It would teach me about the real world.   I had a strong feeling that I was not in Kansas anymore!

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Since my co-workers were under the assumption that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I could tell they resented me.  I knew I had to earn their respect and prove them wrong.  I knew I had to show them what kind of work ethic I had regardless if they were taking bets on how long it would be before I wanted to give up and quit.  I knew I had to roll up my sleeves and work harder than everybody else, just so they would understand what I was made of.  You never get a second chance to make a good first impression but I was determined to debunk that theory even if I was scared shitless!  I decided it would be wise if I kept my plans to party at La Boom during March Madness to myself.

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In the beginning I was so intimidated that I cried every day on my way to work.  Sobbed.

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Once I was in the parking lot, I wiped away my tears and pulled it together.  Fake it ’til you make it, right?  Quickly, I learned how to navigate my way on the computer.  I learned how to punch in orders up, down, backwards and forward.  I studied the daily specials and memorized the names of every beer on tap and in the bottle.

“Yah, we have St. Pauli Girl, but it’s not in the bottle;  We have it on tap.  You want a mug or a pint or should I bring you a pitcher?  We’re running a deal on pitchers tonight.  Half price, two for one.”

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Light Beer?  We have Amstel LIght, Corona Light, Miller Genuine Light and Bud.  The Bud Light’s in the bottle.  Not on tap.  We also have Heineken Light.  Draft.”

I worked whatever shift I was given and I didn’t expect any special treatment.  I paid attention to details, taking mental notes when needed so that before long, I too knew all the regulars by name and what they did for a living.  For the most part, I kept my mouth shut but my natural born instinct told me not to take shit from anyone.  I had to make sure the guys at the bar were well aware that I also had a name, and it wasn’t Hon or Sweetie or Babe or Darlin’ or Sugar or Princess.  It might have been okay for them to take advantage of Happy Hour, but it was definitely not okay for them to take advantage of me!

“Princess?  Is that what it says on my name tag? Are you high?  Do I look like a Princess to you?  Cuz the last time I checked in the mirror I wasn’t wearing my tiara.  I’m working like a dog here.  Cinderella minus the dress and glass slippers maybe, but Princess?  Gimme a break!  I can feel the sweat dripping down the inside of my shirt and I’m sure I must smell like crap.  I’ve been here all day and I’m working a double tonight, so watch what you say, Pal.  How ’bout showing a little respect.  Now, are you ready to order?  What can I getcha to eat?”

The guy left me a hundred bucks on a twenty-five dollar check.  Going forward, he always got my name right.  We were good.  Bygones.

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I learned it was crucial to be generous when it came time to tipping out the bartenders and hostesses at the end of night.  I was only as efficient as those around me.  It was important that I showed my appreciation for their hard work.  The wads of cash that lined the inside of my apron made it easy for me to share.  It was crystal clear why people wanted to work here.   Who wouldn’t?  The money was killer.

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I slaved my ass off.  I never called out sick.  I burned my hands on the door of the pizza oven countless times.  I didn’t complain once when I had to wait on the tables in the upstairs dining room.  I’d schlep up and down a full flight of stairs all night long balancing full trays of food and drinks back and forth.

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Imagine being on a Stairmaster for eight consecutive hours.  That’s what it felt like!  By the end of the night, my feet were throbbing, both my calves had charley horses and I was certain my knees were going to buckle as I carried the last bin of dirty dishes into the kitchen.

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I’d cover shifts at the last minute, bailing out my co-workers who were stuck at home unexpectedly with a sick kid.  Many, many nights I was there until the place shut down.  I don’t know what I got used to more…having to break the news to a bunch of drunk old men that it was “last call for alcohol” or having to break the news to my Mother that “I’m closing again tonight and probably won’t get out of here until at least one-thirty in the morning.”  A young girl driving alone at that hour in that part of town night after night after night used to freak her out.  Not until the back door would open and I’d come crawling in the house wreaking like a combination of sweat, sauteed garlic and stale cigarettes could my Mother let out a sigh of relief and finally go to sleep.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t long before I was zipping around that place like it was my second home.  The only thing that slowed me down were all the twenty dollar bills in my pocket.  People started to know who I was because of me… not because of my Dad.   The regulars began asking to sit in my section, knowing I would hustle to get the drinks and a warm basket of bread to their table immediately.

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The bar flies hoped I wasn’t too busy to bring them a placemat set-up so they could stay on the stools and eat right at the bar while watching TV and at the same time, filling me in on their life stories.  It seemed a lot of the regulars had the gift of gab!

I could tell that my co-workers were happy when we worked the same shift.  They knew if we got slammed by the dinner rush and were in the weeds, I’d be cool taking one of their tables until they caught up.  Often on a day off,  I’d come in anyway to eat lunch or dinner because that’s where I wanted to be.  It was a busman’s holiday but oddly enough, these people had become my friends and I knew my hard work and stick-to-itiveness had earned me not just their respect but also a spot on the schedule when the next summer and the summer after that rolled around.  On the drive to work for my last shift before heading back to start the Fall semester I had a knot in my stomach as I recapped the experience in my head.  This time, the feeling wasn’t  because I was scared and uptight.  It was quite the contrary.  I was sad knowing that I would have to say goodbye.

You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

Being a waitress was one of thee most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.  I learned so much about myself and about people in general.  Physically it was grueling, but sustaining mental stamina was even tougher.  This was not a job for the weak-minded.  I learned the true value of a dollar and how hard it was to work for it on my own merits without the help of others.  I hated being judged erroneously by others before they got to know me.  Maybe at first, I too had misjudged the environment, the people and even myself.  Why else would I have been such a nervous wreck?   At the end of the day, none of us were really any different.  We were all more alike than I thought.   I was humbled and proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing establishment.  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  Not even a trip to Mexico!

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AND JUST TO LET YOU KNOW… It’s been about twenty years since I had that job. I still think about it, especially when I’m craving thin crust pizza and a cold beer in a frosted mug.  Whenever I get the chance to go back to New Jersey, I try to squeeze in some time to swing by and make a pit stop.  It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing cold in the dead of the winter or Africa hot in the height of the summer, it always puts a smile on my face to see that the place still packs ’em in with loyal patrons who don’t mind waiting over an hour to be seated.  Most likely the staff has turned over a few times since the early 90’s but I’m sure a handful of the same old regulars remain.  I’d bet a night’s worth of tips that I’d recognize some familiar faces and might even remember a name or two!

Just to let you know..this is where you leave a comment.

6 responses to “I Won't Tell You Eight Things, But I Will Tell You One

  1. For the 2nd time today. I loved the blog. You are the one . Better and better as time goes on.your honesty method of expression is way up there. dad

  2. Yep I can totally relate. I started busing tables in high school to later waitress and bar tend at Lock Stock and Barrel. I was very intimidated at first but grateful to earn my own money and learn about the work environment at such a young age. It didn’t hurt that Bruce Springstein and Clarence Celmons would pop in unannounced for a jam session.

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