Every so often, I think back to my days waiting tables my last year of college. I confess, some days I miss waiting tables.
Why, you ask, would an IT professional,someone who lives in cubicle land and (self-described) clicks on the computer all day want to return to a time of hectic physical labor?
Because it WAS rote physical labor, taking hot plates from the kitchen to the tables, checking up on that order I put in 20 minutes ago, carrying plates and drinks. Some nights I walked out with no money, less than minimum wage for the work I had done. Some nights I cut people off and they reacted with threats (one night in particular - getting cut off was not common). Some nights I watched as "regulars" fell trying to walk out of the bar. Or, I would find myself remembering at 3 in the morning that I had promised to bring an extra fork or set of napkins to a certain table. I admit, it's hard to miss sitting at the break table(s), next to my co-workers smoking as if this cigarette were their last.
Maybe it was just the right time in my life for that job. I was working feverishly on my senior thesis/project. Well, working feverishly and simultaneously avoiding the work. Also avoiding any real examination of what I was writing about.
Working, it wasn't about thought at all. It was about getting caught up in the moment, in some form of working meditation. Later, I realized that waiting tables was a game - a game that I was naturally good at. People came out to eat as an experience, not just to make more work for their servers (who knew?). I could figure out just the right mix of being available (with that drink refill) but not pesky. I could be aloof but pleasant. The game was - how much can I get this table to tip me? 15%? 20%? Of course, the former servers in the crowd could be depended on to tip well regardless. But it was still an interesting way to pass the time.
Maybe it was because I made just enough money for me to live on at the time. Maybe I just really liked the mix of people I worked with - from many socio-economic backgrounds. Some former alumni of my college who had decided to stay in my college town to keep working. Current students trying to juggle work and school. Some people who had to work - some from small towns thirty minutes away.
I think it was also the unique nature of the restaurant I worked at. Family owned, poorly managed, there were lots of work processes that made it possible to survive waitressing. In the time since then, when I waited tables, I would get stuck with two or three tables for a night. Great service for customers - difficult to make any money at all.
I can't say. Some days I miss knowing exactly which challenges I would face when working each day. Juggling the drinks for table 4 with the extra napkins and cleaning out the coffee pot.