Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for not working this Thanksgiving

It was a Wednesday night in the late 1990s. I was in a building at the intersection of Highway 15 and
I-90, also known as Perkin's Family Restaurant and Bakery in Fairmont. The location of this particular restaurant is important here. One wouldn't imagine that the Perkin's in Fairmont would draw in many folks beyond a 20-mile radius of town. But the glowing green, red, and white sign shone quite bright to traffic on the interstate, meaning the days surrounding major holidays (or any time, really) were quite unpredictable. (As an aside, we would get the occasional celebrity who would see the Perkin's sign and pull their tour bus over for a meal. After Rochester, there just aren't that many places along the interstate to eat. One night, in walked Keith Urban -- the pre-Nicole Kidman and "American Idol" Keith Urban, that is -- and the hostess had no idea who he was and sat him in one of those sad little tables for two out in the middle of everything. He was as gracious as he could be, happily accepting this tiny table in the middle of an empty restaurant. He ordered pot roast, and one of the servers took his dirty fork home as a souvenir.)

Anyway ... back to this particular Wednesday night in the 1990s. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and the second the sun went down, we got absolutely rocked. The lobby was completely full for hours upon hours. It was impossible to get caught up. We only had five or six servers for the whole restaurant, and to make matters worse, we didn't have a dishwasher that night (I forget why). I volunteered to go back and wash dishes, having no idea that I'd be back there for three hours, up to my armpits in other people's leftover mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Feeling the sticky, disgusting remnants of strangers' discarded food for several hours couldn't have been a more horrifying way to kick off my holiday. But it was better than having to work the next day on Thanksgiving. Sure, barely anyone comes in, but an open restaurant still needs staffing, so empty or not, working on holidays is simply a part of life in the service industry. 

This week, I've been thinking back on both of my longtime jobs. As a server in high school, working on holidays was pretty much guaranteed. (The busiest among them: Mother's Day and Easter, in case you're curious.) As a journalist for 12 years, you were guaranteed to work one holiday per year through a lottery system. (The news never sleeps!) I just happened to be the unlucky one to draw Thanksgiving and Christmas twice each during my 12-year tenure. I, of course, am not alone in spending so many of my holidays at work. It seems this particular aspect of the working world does cross white collar/blue collar boundaries.

Police, doctors, EMTs, nurses, airport staff, factory workers, hotel and hospitality staff, journalists, service-industry staff and management, and now, thanks to money-grubbing Big Box owners, retailers on "Brown Thursday" or whatever they're calling the precursor to Black Friday -- all of these folks and more will be working on Thanksgiving. And many of them DO NOT receive extra pay for doing so. (I didn't as a journalist.) Many people who work office jobs might think that the world shuts down on holidays, but according to USA Today, about 1/4 of Americans will work this Thanksgiving.

This makes me feel particularly lucky this year. I work at a restaurant that is actually closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas and asks for two volunteers to work early shifts on Christmas Eve. So when I get gas, go to the movies, or pick up last-minute grocery store items for the big meal, I'm going to be extra nice to the folks who provide me service. I hope you will, too.

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