I always judge my friends on how they treat waiters and how they tip. If someone is rude or doesn't tip well then I have a hard time remaining friends with those people. By those people, I mean elitist pricks. At the large Texas law firm I worked at after graduating from USC Law School, I was always amazed at how the wait staff seemed invisible to many of the lawyers. And how, while eating a hundred dollar dinner, they ignored their waiters and waitresses at best. To them, these people were irrelevant. This was not true in my case. They were my tribe.
Before I became a lawyer, I worked for more than a decade as a waitress to put myself through school. Name a restaurant and I have probably worked there. Don Jose's in Montclair, Benji's Coffee Shop in Upland, Marie Calendar's in Covina (for one day, I swear), Tony Roma's in West Covina, Applebees in San Dimas, Rainforest Cafe in Ontario, Carrows in Riverside and others. The oddest job I had was room service at a hotel restaurant in Ontario where I worked with my best friend Melinda. It freaked me out to wheel the cart into people's rooms, especially if a guy was only wearing a towel (which happened more than once).
My mom was a waitress. And my sisters and I waited tables. It is a noble profession and you have to be wicked smart and a multitasker to do it well. I was an excellent waitress. I could take ten tables at a time. There was a trick to it. You had to be able to do a million things at once and be able to hold your bladder.
The hardest wait job I had was the graveyard shift at Benji's coffee shop in Upland. The uniform was a peach polyester skirt with a green polo. Hideous. My little sister Annie and I worked there and you had to start out at the graveyard shift because all the old timers had the breakfast and lunch prime shifts. All the little punks and jerks came in at two a.m. after the club and were drunk and obnoxious. And, they didn't tip for shit. But, the worst part was staying awake and being polite. I was always grumpy because I wanted to be out at the club not slinging hash.
Like I said earlier, I was an excellent food server and quickly moved to breakfast and lunches where the regulars tipped well. My dad would always come visit me and sit at the counter and order an iced tea. He would leave me a quarter tip. He would say, "Jenny, you need to go to school." I would nod my head and reply, "I'm working on it Dad."
I knew I was smart, but I didn't know how I would get to school. By get to school, I mean literally get there. You see, I never had a working car and transportation was my biggest issue in my twenties. The best part about Benji's was that it was two blocks away from my apartment in Upland. I walked to work because I couldn't seem to save up money for a car. When Dad got a settlement, he bought me a little black Chevelle for five hundred cash that we called the cockroach but it broke down within two months.
My clients sometimes can't get to court and I always understand because I was there. I know what it feels like to not have a ride.
And fuck the bus. The only place the bus is remotely cool is in Northern California and back in the 90's, bus service in the Inland Empire sucked even more than it does now.
In some ways, I miss those days. There was a beauty to the struggle. It sucked but in a lovely way. Something I can look back upon and write about at the very least. But I don't miss the aching feet or the smell of food in my hair. Or the hundred dollar checks I got stiffed on.
And I guess what I am also saying here is, when you are sitting at a restaurant and ordering food, remember, that girl waiting on you is a person. A person with hopes, dreams and ambitions. Look her in the eye. Talk to her. Joke around. Always be polite and tip at least fifteen to twenty percent. And, if she is having a bad day, realize, she may have had to call three people before she found a ride to work.
Plus, you never know, one day she may be your lawyer.