I’ve frequently heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”. There was quite a bit about it that bothered me, to be honest. It was generally said to me with this sneer of cynicism, like God is this huge bastard that looks down on poor li’l us, thinking we have a say in our lives. I refused to accept it.
Now? Not so much.
I still believe in a benevolent God that is there to protect us from evil and harm, that would never throw us a challenge we couldn’t face, because He knows what we’re made of. But now I have no problem thinking of Our Lord as this funny guy with a mischievous twinkle in His eye that lets out a kindly chuckle when we tell Him our plans, because He knows we better wrote them in pencil.
Guys… I’m a waiter!
Say what you want about Venezuelans abroad, but at least in Orlando, we have our backs. We met this guy that sells used cars, and he told us about the manager in a local restaurant that liked “the Venezuelan workforce” to whom he sold a 1995 truck. “Go, tell them you’re my cousin and who knows, maybe he’ll hire you”, he told us.
That of course brought back a conversation I had with my family in a restaurant. I as a teenager and not known for my hand-eye coordination (origami had not yet settled into my life). I saw these guys who came, heard what we wanted to eat, and then came back making this balancing act on their arms.
–I could do that one day–, I proclaimed. That earned a chuckle from the rest of my family.
–Sure, I can just see it– my dad said, good-naturedly–. “Hey, has anybody seen Rodriguez?” “Sure, just follow the trail of broken dishes”.
I was sure I’d be hired as a maitre’d or something, while the GF would be helping in the kitchen (have you seen her Instagram account?), so off we went. Not gonna lie: we were borderline desperate. It had been a month, and we had car payments to make. We had been virtually forced to buy a new car because the folks we’re staying with couldn’t lend us theirs anymore, because their four-year-old son was starting vacation and they needed movement. (Two days after we got our Corolla –nicknamed “Blue Jay” by our girl– their car broke down. See? God knows what He’s doing.) The advantage was that we could do Lyft (more on that in a different post). So off we went.
We were greeted by the general manager, a dapper-looking Lebanese with very formal manners and a kind smile. He confirmed that yes, they were hiring, and gave us forms to fill. He asked us to come the following day that his manager, who helps her with all the hires, would be in. “By the way, tell your cousin he sold me a shit car”, he said while laughing. I liked him right away. (By the way… come on, it was a twenty-year-old truck, what did you expect?)
We came back even more of a nervous wreck, this time with our girl, and were received by the manager, a Moroccan woman with small eyes and all the energy in the world. She must be in her late thirties but she looks in her mid-twenties. She sat us down to talk. Five minutes after the usual conversation, she tells the GF that the chef usually doesn’t want anyone in his kitchen, but looking at her and knowing she speaks Spanish, Portuguese, “70% English” and a little French, she could be perfect as a hostess, leading people to their tables and such. She then looks at me and tells me I have the personality to be a server.
I am listening to this with a growing mix of awe and terror. On the one hand, I see the month of near-zero productivity come to an end. On the other… really? Server? I’ve never done much more than carry a plate from the kitchen to the dining table in my house. And one at a time, mind you. Oh my God, am I really doing this? What am I doing? What am I–
–I have to be honest– the manager says–. We don’t usually hire couples, but the boss must have seen something in you. So how about we give it a go?
I blinked in disbelief, and we were both unable to answer. –I’m sorry– I stammer–, I’d like to be perfectly clear. We’re… we’re hired?
–Yeah! Welcome to the family!
I was flabbergasted. I was overcome with joy. I was all the adjectives you can imagine to imply I was really, really happy.
And I was filled with dread.
We both started training the following week. We both met Yolian, another Venezuelan who had been working there for several years already. She was my first trainer. Funny, kind, and deeply Venezuelan –she was impossible to dislike. She was incredibly neat and organized, liked a hands-on approach to serving.
Day two, I get with Antonio. He is a Puerto Rican in his mid-fifties, which means he is one of the funniest persons you will ever meet. He had been working with the general manager for seven years, so he knows how to handle him. –I’m teaching you this (sneaky way to get better tips) because I’m old and can get away with it, because I don’t give a shit. Don’t you repeat it–. I haven’t, but I haven’t forgotten it, either. And don’t think for a moment I’m telling you what it is.
And the last two days, I’m with Jesús. Big Cuban, born in New York guy in his mid-fifties, and as un-PC as you can imagine. He can say something extremely lewd with the straightest face you can imagine and then give you invaluable tips on how to be a better waiter in the same breath. He used my name as an introduction when we served together. –I’m Jesus, and this is my apostle Juan (my name translates to John). So you know we’ll take care of you.
He treated me with all the respect in the world and wants me to make good money, so he also has no problem in telling me I’m an asshole when I mess up. He gave me an entire list of the correct order to serve everything from a basket of bread to a filet mignon. How to stand, how to shave, what to carry. One day he saw me taking out my credit card receipts and cash at the end of the day, and swear I could feel the smack upside the head he would’ve given me if he could. –How are you getting organized that way? You are going. To get. Fucked! –But I… –No! You need to get a black book, another wallet and get your shit together!–. I got a cheap wallet the next day. I got the black book from the manager two days later.
At the sicth day, I was finally serving tables on my own. And of course I messed up. Big time. As in BIG time. In a table of four people, I forgot to punch up a soup. I tried to cover it up, but the customer, a rather passionate Puertorrican, got upset and demanded to take it away. The general manager, who was already stressed out, got into it. And then the manager. Tempers started to flare. He tore me a new one. The woman called the police. She said the manager had threatened to hit her. I kissed my job good-bye, started doing whatever else I could, but I was taken off the tables. Ay ay ay… The GF never heard what happened, but when she saw I had this look of doom and gloom in my face she knew something was up.
My shift was almost over when the GM called me over, and asked me to wait in the terrace so we could talk. The manager also came over. And I am never forgetting the kindness –the true kindness, no condescention– with which those two talked to me.
–We are not mad at you, Juan, nor intend to punish you. But we do need you to tell us if the job load is too much. We can reduce your tables for a while as you feel more comfortable, but to have forgotten something in a day like today was bad. We think you’re a great guy, we like you very much, but do talk to us when you feel overwhelmed.
I thought back to every moment I have tried to cover up a mistake I have made while on a job. I have lost packages, miscounted money, angered customers and (slightly) misquoted sources. But somehow, I had been able to land back on my feet. Why? Becuase of people like this who have more faith in me than I do myself. I thanked them dearly for their patience and for said faith, and walked out. I knew I’d be ok when the GM shook my hand and said with an impish smile: –Nine-Juan-Juan, my friend. Dial it!
I speak highly of them, but the truth is that all the staff is amazing. There’s John, who was my last trainer, and he went all tough love on me. “Consolidate your steps, go slowly, and always ask for help”, he keeps telling me, advice I certainly intend to heed. There’s Ian, a kid who took it upon himself to show me how to carry three plates at a time (something I’m slowly acheiving). There’s Vira, a fireball from Kazakhstan (you read right) that is the fastest typer I have ever seen and one of the funniest women I’ve ever met. There’s Ignas, this tall, lanky dude from Lithuania who has a sweet little face that belies just how funny he is. There’s Cameron who treated me like a bro the very first day we met (“Juan-tanamo Bay! What’s up brother!”), which slays me every time. Claudia, also from Venezuela. Laura, from Uruguay. Kelly, which is your classical senior waitress who has tons of life left into her with a whole lot of heart. And there’s her daughter Hannah, a young bartender who asked me the other day how’d I do tipwise with a table that, among other things, had order a $60 bottle of wine. When I told her that, besides the 18% assigned (after I asked him), he left a little extra, she congratulated me. –You deserve it! (She had known me for less than a month. I can’t tell you how touched I was.) And then there’s Anna, who asked me how I’d like serving so far.
–I think it’s great! Good money, get to talk with people… It’s pretty cool!
–I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. You certainly have the personality.
Of course 90% of the kitchen hates me, because I’ve made them work extra because of my mistakes. But one of the cooks, a really cool Dominican called Jaime, spoke with my GF the other day.
–So how does Juan feel?
–He loves the job! But he’s sorry the kitchen staff hates him so much.
–Bah. There’s people here who’ve been working as servers for thirty years and still mess up. He’s a great guy and he’s doing good work. Tell him to hang in there and anything he needs, I got his back.
One. Month. In.
I am writing this in a Starbucks, on a rare day on my own. Haven’t had lunch even though it’s four o’clock, almost time to pick up our girl at the sitter’s. I have ordered a sandwich, a cappucino and a cookie, and I have left tips every time. I had already had this as a habit after reading the excellent Waiter Rant blog (then turned into a book –Steve Dublanica, you are my inspiration!) but now, as you can imagine, I do it religiously. I have already classified nationalities by how stingy or generous they are (Brazilians are awesome people, but my God, you’d think they have scorpions in their pockets, LEAVE A TIP DAMMIT). And I reflect both on what a strange, fascinating trip my life has been, to take me to this moment, and how you’re supposed to deal with this new situation.
Every one has a story. Every one has a different point of view of the world, and every one choses how they will face the day. As a server, I have to deal with the fact that someone is trusting me to give them an experience worthy of their money, so I have to remember that whatever is bothering me that day is not their fault (I hope). I am incredibly lucky to have found a job that helps me pay the bills while I aim for my true calling (and I can do Lyft on the side). And I intend to do my very best while that moment comes.
So, people, welcome again. What can I get you?
PS: You’re an asshole, Mr. Pink.