Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oh, to never be a teenager again

So we've sufficiently covered some of the down sides of being almost 34 and waiting tables, i.e. feeling as if I have to explain my current position in life. But besides just money, there's a major upside here that I have neglected to mentioned as of yet: the patience that comes with age. I've noticed it more and more as I've settled into my new job.

When I was a teenage waitress, I could be a real pill. I think with some young women -- approximately 15 to 22 years old -- a rather sizable chip resides squarely on their shoulders. Everything is happening TO them. Everything and everyone is SUCH a burden. This sour attitude was nowhere more magnified than when I was 17 and serving people food and drink in exchange for $3 or $4. If someone wanted a third or, heaven forbid, fourth refill: eye roll as I walked away and maybe a snide comment. "Another one? Really? Does it look like you're my only customer?" If someone complained about their meal: "Seriously? It's one burger in the grand scheme of your entire life. You're really willing to be this much of an ass over one burger?" I won't even talk about the people who dared to order hot tea or handmade hard-pack ice cream shakes ... oh, how many hours I wasted blackening my own mood by cursing those people for making me spend an extra few seconds preparing their beverages. "How could they!?"

When I started at this restaurant, those feelings all still seemed fresh. I wondered if I could handle that level of stress again every time I went to work. But it didn't take long to realize that attitude is everything. The only person I was hurting with my sour attitude at age 17 was me. The customer got his fourth refill, and I got a tension headache, so what good did it do to get so pissed all the time about the small stuff?

Maybe it comes with age, I don't know. But this time around, when a high-maintenance customer keeps me running, I don't take it personally. It's not about me, and letting it ruin my night isn't going to change the outcome for me or for the customer. He's going to get what he wants either way because that's what restaurants are for, to cater to people's wants.

Now, there are some people who ARE difficult to wait on, and sometimes I can't help but get frustrated. But the eye-rolling, the muttering under my breath -- I'm thinking those days have passed. (For the most part.) I see those sizable chips, though, squarely in place on other waities' shoulders, and I just want to pull them aside and say, "It's not that bad! Everything is fine! You'll be OK! The only person you're hurting right now is yourself!" But then I realize that the only person to whom most 15- to 22-year-old girls listen is herself. So, it's best to just half smile, mosey on by, and hum a little Bob Marley.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Your server is watching you

Sounds creepy, doesn't it? It really isn't. It's actually one of the best parts of the job, and it works to your benefit.

Backing up here for just a minute, it's kind of the chicken and the egg question when thinking about whether waitressing or journalism has resulted in one of my very favorite abilities: reading people. I did waitress for five years in high school, which provided thousands of encounters with people from all walks of life who ran the gamut of personality types. But journalists are required to focus in on human interaction, to read the nuances in conversation and body language.

By far the best part of being a reporter is having the opportunity to study people every single day, and that study is taken to a new level when you have to put what you see to words. For five years I taught a feature-writing class at the university in town, and I drilled into my students the importance of descriptive detail -- when you paint a picture with words of a person or scene that is so concrete, your readers can see them in their minds. Readers love those types of stories, and that's because we all, as people, share a fascination with the human condition.

So how does this all play out in a restaurant?

The other day there was a guy sitting in my section alone with two menus. I asked him if he wanted a drink, and he paused and said, "Yes (chuckle, rubs hands together), but I better wait." He was nervous about something. I brought him water. When a woman finally arrived and sat down it became immediately clear what the nerves were about. They didn't know each other. This might have been a blind date, or maybe just a first date. The conversation was insanely polite, and so forced at first. (How many siblings do you have? What do your parents do? Where did you go to college?) But, God bless him, he was trying so hard, and she was being really sweet about it. She was clearly the least nervous of the two, and after every silly little thing he said, she threw him a smile and a courtesy laugh. When they were ready to go, she did all the heavy lifting so he wouldn't have to muster up the courage to ask for a second date. She said, "This was so fun. Do you want to go to a movie or something next week? I'm free Friday night." (Um, yeah, he wanted to go to that movie. BAD.)

You might ask my role in all of this. Being an observant waitress really helps me to tailor my service to each table. When it's a business meeting, I know to back off a little and let the table talk shop for as long as they need. When a table with a bunch of kids comes in, I know to "GET THEM FOOD. JUST GET THOSE KIDS FED." (Or at least that's what a lot of mothers' eyes are screaming.) And, when a first date is unfolding in a quiet booth somewhere, I know to walk by frequently so that they can ask for what they might need, but not insinuate myself too much. I know to suggest a sharable dessert and offer to bring two forks. I know to create as much intimacy as I can in a crowded restaurant.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Class warfare: Your server isn't who you think she is

Guest: Didn't you folks change the menu a few months ago?

Me: Yes, it changes every few months to keep it fresh and introduce new dishes to our guests. I've only been here a few weeks, but if there's something you used to order that isn't on the menu now, we will gladly make it for you if we still have all the ingredients. 

Guest: Oh, great! A few weeks, huh? So where did you work before you came here? 

Me: I was a journalist for 12 years.

Guest: (Looks up from menu, surprised) Ohhh, wow. (pause, half smile) What, ah, what brought you here?

At first this was an awkward conversation. It actually has played out several times in my three months at the restaurant, which is interesting. I think it's pretty nice that guests show an interest in their servers. I like those people! But what I found to be so interesting is that there's an assumption that something "must have happened" to result in this "step down." It's entirely possible that what I'm reading between the lines isn't there at all, that maybe the guests aren't surprised at all that a journalist in her mid-30s would now be working as a waitress. But the instant reaction to look up and examine me, as well as the pauses in conversation as they try to discern what questions would be appropriate and not insulting, tell me that there's a certain level of intrigue there. What would cause this perceived fall from grace?

My old standby answer is "school." People instantly understand that. They think, "Oh, that makes sense. Graduate school is expensive, and so this is just a way to get by until she finishes her degree." And that's true. My foray into the restaurant industry is a way to pay the bills while I pursue my master's degree. But there's a lot more to the truth that wouldn't be appropriate to divulge. Like ...

Actually, print journalism doesn't pay well at all. I make a lot more here in about 20 hours per week than I ever did as a journalist. Sometimes I wonder if I knew what a crazy amount of money I would be making if I wouldn't have left a lot sooner, school or not. 

In America, it's rude to talk about money, right? Yet, it's certainly a major factor in sizing up someone's worth and value. That's what I find so interesting about the white collar vs. blue collar discussion. I make way more as a waitress, which is considered blue-collar work. My step-dad works in a factory, and he makes great money. Electricians, plumbers, contractors -- I have gotten to know very well over the past 7 years of home-owning that those folks make a very good living. So what is it, then, about an office job that still makes it seem superior in people's minds? Why does the kind of work you are doing to make your money trump the actually sum? Why -- when I wait on people who don't work but who have family money, or those who are entry-level with massive student-loan debt, for examples -- are they superior to me because my money is made while wearing a uniform?

With most curious customers, I don't mind at all, and I certainly don't take it personally when I get those "class-questioning" kind of looks. But I admit that waiting on people I know -- especially high-roller acquaintances I used to interview as a reporter -- can be brutal. In lieu of the curious eye contact I get from strangers, there is a decided LACK of eye contact with these folks. Many who know I left the newspaper business to go to school bring that fact up immediately (Oh, Amanda ... you're in school, right?) in order to mediate the awkward recognition that our relationship has markedly changed. You used to take me to task, and now you are serving me French fries.

All I know is that beginning my work life at Perkin's at age 16 was absolutely invaluable. Among the numerous life lessons learned was the fact that your server is so much more than his or her job title. The best kinds of customers are those who understand that
and demonstrate it with kindness.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A 33-year-old formerly white-collar career-gal turned waitress

Print journalism. In 2001, it seemed like a damn good idea. A cool job that meant I wouldn't be stuck behind a desk for eight hours a day. And, you know what? I was absolutely right! For more than a decade I had a job that allowed me to meet new people every single day. I learned about new things every single day. I got to be creative, tell people's stories. I interviewed celebrities, movers and shakers in my community, policy-makers, elected officials. I had benefits and health insurance and paid vacation days.

You know what else I had? A paycheck that meant I couldn't make ends meet. When a girl enters her 30s, it just isn't cute anymore to be poor. I had to reassess. And after applying for job after job in the field of public relations (and not getting a single interview), I decided a bachelor's degree today is the high school diploma of yesterday. It was time to go back to school.

So that brings us here, folks: an almost 34-year-old who is back in school, pursuing a master's. And as if that's not enough of a Ghosts of Christmas Past kind of moment, I also had to find a way to pay the mortgage while I'm doing that. So I'm waiting tables again, folks. WAITING TABLES. When I was 16 and living in Fairmont, a small berg on the Iowa border surrounded by corn, waiting tables at Perkin's Family Restaurant was THE job to have. It meant a lot of cash in your pocket, and it meant you weren't bagging groceries or bean-walking like the other kids.

But waiting tables when you're 34 in a small community? The same small community where you very recently held a high-profile, white-collar career? The same community where you've come to know a great many of the important folks that run said community? The same community where you'll inevitably be serving those important folks burgers and fries? That's another story entirely -- a story I hope you'll find to be quite interesting.

So, folks, welcome to my blog: Blue Collar Confessions. After a 12-year white collar career, I've gained quite an interesting perspective to bring to my waitressing job. In just two months on the job, I've already gathered quite a collection of stories to tell about the people I wait on and the people I work with.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reality check: Original plan not working

The idea came from a positive, well-intentioned place. I’ve always been the type of person who acts on impulse, who really hates to have to monitor anything too closely — my checkbook, the calories I’m consuming, whether I’m due for an oil change ... you know, all the important things that require monitoring?
So, after a year last year of writing down everything I ate and analyzing it, I was looking for a simpler way to live that would promote a healthy heart, a healthy weight and support my running habit.
I had been running since the beginning of February, and really just concentrating on that and not worrying about how I ate. I started to think the way I have advised NUMEROUS readers not to: “Well, if I’m exercising this rigorously, then I needn’t worry about having two hamburgers instead of just one.”
I re-learned a couple of months in that is just foolish. I had to remind myself that a half-hour run burns a little more than 400 calories. A second burger? Wipes out the deficit. So as I’m snacking away in addition, even on healthy foods likes nuts and fruits, the weight started to come back on.
That’s when “My Just Do It Summer” was born. I still didn’t want to have to go back to writing down every calorie. I mean, it sucks to live that way! It really does! Right? So I decided to give the all-natural food eating a try.
Pretty much everyone I know who invests in the organic, all-natural lifestyle looks healthy and amazing. So I figured that the food would be better fuel for my running and make me feel better. And when you’re eating whole grains, doesn’t every commercial also let you know that you’ll lose weight?
Didn’t work. And so like almost every good theory that has been tested, adjustments have had to be made.
I’ve laid out some of my results so far, and at the end, I’ve included a few changes that I’ve already incorporated and results I’ve seen from that. Hopefully, the new path — albeit an annoying one — will have better end results.

Many people think of a natural food diet as consisting of whole grains, proteins, fruits and veggies and other healthy stuff. And it does! It also allows for full-fat cheeses, butter, olive oil and fatty meats, among other things, and it doesn’t account at all for portion sizes.
What I was eating always looked so healthy. Before I didn’t usually eat breakfast, but I was frequently having a couple of slices of whole grain toast with strawberry jam and maybe some butter. Right there, that was 360 calories. You have a couple of eggs with that? It’s 480.
An 80/20 burger on a whole grain bun with cheddar cheese and sweet potato fries? 650 calories.
Nuts for a snack in the afternoon? 250 calories.
That’s up to 1,380 calories all before dinner.
Long story short, I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t gaining much, but even a little bit is a concern when you’ve worked so hard to lose it.

A number of variables contributed to the fact that running while eating “natural” hasn’t been any easier than when I didn’t worry as much about sugar, white flour and preservatives (etc.).
For one, as I mentioned above, I was putting on weight rather than taking it off. I have mentioned numerous times that running isn’t about fatness, it’s about conditioning. And that’s very much true. Unless you are significantly overweight or have injuries, pretty much anyone can run. You just have to build stamina.
But running is so much easier when you’re slimmer. There’s less impact on the knees and hips and your legs don’t fatigue so easily. So the added energy I may have had from my healthier diet was offset by the weight.
Plus (and I hadn’t considered this variable), the weather has been problematic. I’m heat-sensitive, anyway, so with an early humid summer setting in, I’m finding it increasingly difficult and rare to have “a good run,” meaning one where you feel like you could keep going and going. In fact, I’ve decreased mileage, and I haven’t been going more than three times a week.
It’s also possible that the kinds of calories you consume — whether quality or empty — don’t have an impact on energy when it comes to running. Natural foods may well be making my body happier — meaning organ function, cholesterol, etc. — but it’s possible a person doesn’t consciously feel the affects of that in regard to exercise and everyday activity.
Like I said, this diet was an experiment to see if those side effects would occur. I didn’t say I believed they would or would not. And all I’m saying now is that I haven’t noticed a change.

What I was most surprised by was the array of food choices. I worried there wouldn’t be enough to choose from and that label-reading would be a huge drag.
But natural foods are everywhere. There are plenty of bread choices in every story — even whole grain hot-dog buns! Easy to prepare canned veggies often work. You can find soups, salads, sandwiches, meats, cheeses, pastas, grains — pretty much anything you’re craving, except for many snacky items, can be found in a natural, non-preservative form.
So I have no complaints about variety.

Given the weight increase, I needed to incorporate calorie-restriction back into the program. I had to start monitoring portions and choosing not only natural foods, but lean ones.
So even though an 80-20 burger is allowed, I go for the 93/7. Even though French toast can be on the menu, I use berries instead of syrup and only take one piece.
I’ve signed back onto, and since June 1st I’ve been keeping track of everything once again. I’m still opting for natural foods whenever possible, because I do think that less processed foods are better for the body, even if I can’t feel the effects.
I’ve also cut out beverages that are highly caloric, such as fruit juices. They’re obviously very good for a person, but it’s excess calories I don’t need.
I’ve also brought back diet pop. I know that’s a no-no with a natural diet, but when counting calories, it feels like a “treat” (which is so sad.) My whole family actually loves to go get “fountain pops” from Kwik Trip. That’s our idea of a fun morning errand. Haha.

Weight loss. In 20 days, I’ve already dropped a few pounds. I’ve noticed that it already feels better on the legs when running.
But I also noticed, due to the smaller number of calories being consumed, that I’m really lacking energy some days. It’s hard to run without those energy stores. So I’ve been trying hard to strike a balance, but it seems like one helpful diet element provides a negative in some other way. I’m struggling, to be honest, to decide what’s more important and what adjustments to make.

So I’m continuing with the new plan to make good food choices but also to keep track of the calories. It’s just how it has to be, even though I wish it wasn’t.
I’m reminded of what my personal trainer told me the first couple of weeks we worked together in January 2011. I was shocked when she said that even she will always have to write down what she eats because being thin and healthy doesn’t come easily or naturally to her either.
I need to remember that.
I’m also going to keep opting for good, quality foods whenever possible. And I’m going to keep posting recipes for those foods at
Hopefully I’ll have better results with this new approach. I’ll be sure and tell you all about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I concede: The backyard pool was a great idea

I was the final holdout. Discussion had been going on for days: my sister wanted a backyard pool. She wanted one bad. And her landlord probably would not let her plop one down in the middle of the yard. So she turned to me.

Five years ago I made the impulsive decision to put up a 10-footer in the backyard. It was glorious! ...for a couple of weeks. Then it got dirty. The cover didn't stay on very well, and bugs and debris found their way in. It felt like I was cleaning it all the time. We also got bored with it. So after probably 10 uses, I sold it on Craigslist for about what I paid for it. Maybe a little less. But it became the example all of my friends and family and pulled out over the years to question my judgment. "Remember the pool, Amanda? Remember how you were so sure that was a good idea? Well, this is just like that pool, Amanda."

I didn't want a repeater of that 10-footer. So I kept saying no. No pool. I put my foot down.

Then there was an ad in Aldi's circular a couple of weeks ago for a $22 rectangular pool that was about 18 inches deep and 8 feet across. Perfect! We each could take an end to lay in, maybe put a little table in the center for our drinks. Perfection.

I proposed this to Tina (my sis) and after many attempts to up the ante to a larger, deeper pool, she agreed on the compromise.

Trouble was, Aldi sold out. Tina used this to open up negotiations again. And she finally convinced me that, if she were to pay for the entire pool, then I was merely allowing her a few feet of space to use in my backyard. No skin off my back, right?

The first pool she bought was too small. I was shocked she even bought it. We couldn't even sit in a pool that size together. So she took it back and got a 10-foot pool that was waist high. But after we measured, we found that it wouldn't fit well in the level spot in the yard. So, as the tail of "The Three Bears" goes, the third pool she bought was JUUUUST right. An 8-foot circular pool, comes to about mid-thigh in depth. The perfect size to fit four people sitting without floaty chairs, but could fit really only one person with a floaty. Tina didn't think this was particularly ideal, but I'm thinking it's just about perfect. Plus, it filled up relatively quickly, so I'm not panicked about my water bill.

Now, granted, I've only gone "swimming" in it twice. But I must say ... Tina was right about this one. We needed a backyard pool this year. Floating around in that thing is heaven on Earth. About the only thing that got me through this morning's miserable, humid run was knowing I could splash around in the pool when I got home. Aside from a nasty sunburn, I have no complaints so far.

Of course, having been up for about four days, it's still a clean pool. Hopefully, we'll keep it that way. Or you might see a listing on Craigslist for an 8-foot pool complete with filter and chlorine cartridge -- and we'll even throw in the floaties!! -- soon enough.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The plight of the heat-sensitive runner

There's a scene in "Interview with the Vampire" when a little female vampire, played by a very young Kirsten Dunst, and another lady vampire are locked in a prison cell with an open roof, embracing each other and screaming as the sun slowly rises and burns them alive. This is pretty much an accurate portrait of my sister and I in summer.

I blame my mom. When she was 20 and six months preggers with me, she went on a road trip to Florida with my dad where she got the worst sunburn of her life. My theory is that I got cooked in her tummy like a little baked potato, rendering me utterly defenseless against a hot and humid summer day.

One side effect of my heat-sensitivity is fainting. Yep, folks, I am a fainter. How cool am I ...
Three of the most embarrassing examples:
1. Fourth grade. No air conditioning in the building. Muggy. Girls bathroom stall, flanked by two peers in adjoining stalls and 10 others waiting in line for their turn. As I locked the stall, I knew it was coming on. The window started to close. (I have two varieties of fainting: the instant total blackout; and "the window," when my vision goes black around the periphery, slowing closing until I pass out.) I hit the floor, my legs sticking under the stall door into my friend Donna's personal space. I wake up to my teacher outside the door. "Amanda? Are you all right?" Thank god my pants were still on.

2. Balcony. Catholic Church. Fifth grade. Uncomfortable dress. No air conditioning. Ceiling fans slowly -- very slowly -- turning far, far above. Stuffy. People singing hymns all around. The window started to close. As I leaned forward into my mom's hymnal, she said, "Amanda!" sort of in disbelief, but also concern. Her tone somehow snapped me out of it. Didn't faint. But people were staring. Got me out of communion, though.

3. Boyfriend's house. Hot as hell in his basement room. Like, 85 degrees. I get up to use the bathroom, which for some reason was about 15 degrees cooler. The temperature difference hit my overheated head like a hammer. No window. Just a blackout. The next thing I remember is my boyfriend knocking at the door asking if I was OK. "That was quite a crash," he said. I came to laying halfway inside the shower stall, a goose egg on my head and a black bruise beginning to form on my knee.

Long story short, folks, I shut down in heat. I feel like I can't breathe. I whine a lot. Even walking from the car to an air-conditioned building feels completely oppressive. Feels like it takes a million years to get to the door.

Which brings us to this morning. 72 degrees at 7:30 a.m. Sun barely rising above the trees. But the humidity was 60 percent. Dewpoint 57 degrees. Beyond my threshold. Just BEYOND it.

But, I thought, if I can't get a run in at 7:30 in the morning, then when can I? When will it be any cooler than this? So I had to go.

I felt like I was wearing a suit of armor. I couldn't breathe good. After 10 minutes I was walking. Then at 15 minutes, I walked again. Then at 20, more walking. It was a horrid 37 minutes.

After a cool shower, I didn't quite get "the window," but there were some black speckles in my vision. And now I have my "heat headache." It's a dull ache in my forehead after I've been "exposed" to the summer elements that are beyond my coping ability.

So, I ask you, what is a heat-sensitive runner to do in summer? It's only June 8! What will happen to me in August? I'm still a toddler runner. I've only been running four months, and that streak has been broken up by a knee injury and an illness, both of which had me benched for a couple of weeks apiece. I'm still learning. Even on cool days, I'm new enough that it's a toss up whether the run will go well or not. So needless to say, the added weather variable is messing with my head.

Any other runners out there who wither in sunlight? What do you folks do in summer? I'm wondering if I will just have to accept a running/walking regiment for the bulk of the season.

1. Renting an air-conditioned space suit.
2. Renting an oxygen tank, like for scuba diving, and dragging it along behind me in a red wagon.
3. Winning the lottery and building a massive indoor track with walls that change scenery.

Other ideas?