Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thank you waitress, now go away

I missed breakfast in my hotel by six minutes, so I hopped in the car and started driving through the suburban hell known as Glendale, Arizona. I passed a Chili’s and an Olive Garden, a Starbucks and a Swensens’. I drove by a Fat Burger and a Subway, and then saw a parking lot full of cars that old people drive – Buicks, Pontiacs, Saturns and Toyotas – and realized I had arrived at my destination. The sign in front announced “The Best Breakfasts in town” and I knew it was a reliable chain, where I had eaten lunch in Orange County only a couple of weeks earlier. A young woman with a baseball cap and her hair pulled back in such a way as to make her look a bit like a gawky girl who would talk about band camp greeted me outside the front door and walked into the restaurant with me, asking if I was a party of two.

“Nope. Only one for breakfast,” I replied.

She acknowledged her miscount and asked, “Booth or a table?”

I followed her into the front dining room, a dark high-ceiling room with a distinctly fake French motif and accepted the booth she offered. My waitress would be right with me, I understood.

I opened the menu and looked over the tantalizing cholesterol- and syrup-filled breakfast items. French toast filled with mascarpone and berries. Omelettes with mushrooms and cheeses described as much more than omelettes with mushrooms and cheeses. Pancakes with lemon…

Her voice interrupted my perusal of the offerings. “Oh, you. Good morning. Maybe you would like a cappuccino or white mocha cocoa latte or espresso whip? We have so many choices.” It was a voice that would have been attached to a character on a Saturday Night Live skit mocking a bossy, wacky Asian woman fresh off the boat (Or maybe I’m thinking of Ms. Swan from Mad TV?). I looked up and saw an eager grin on a thin 64-year old former snow-shoveling Gemini Korean woman who likes the winter weather in Phoenix, who has a sister who used to live in Cincinnati, who argues a bit with her coworker, sports L'Oreal Excellence 4BR Dark Burgundy Brown hair color, and who talks a lot to all of her customers, including the group of 60-something women visiting from Minnesota, one of whom offered her their camera so she could take their photo, and one of whom complimented her on her hair color after she told a long story about her hair, and how she saves $65 that she would spend at a salon by coloring her hair herself and it does a good job of hiding the gray and adds a splash of maroon. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I smiled and told her I’d stick to water and returned to my menu. ….Pancakes with lemon curd and eggs, oatmeal..

My waitress returned promptly. “Do you know what you want? We have many choices. Such a good menu!”

“I’ll have the French toast, with my eggs scrambled.”

She gave me warm thank yous and friendly wishes and wandered away with my order written on her pad.

I read over some of my maps and documents scatted across my small breakfast table and looked around the dining room. I saw the waitress delivering coffee to the only other men in the room and then giggling and walking away with her coffee pot. She then brought me my orange juice.

“Here is your orange juice. Such a nice day today, huh? So different from when I was growing up in Korea. I have to shovel snow – oh so much – all the winter and here is so beautiful every day.”
“Oh yes,” I obliged her. “I live in San Francisco and it’s been a little cool and gloomy lately, but this is great. I was in Ohio last weekend and it was so cold and snowy.”

“Oh yes. So nice. My sister used to live in Cincinnati and she have to shovel snow and it so cold all the time. I don’t like that. She don’t like that either. She left and moved away to another place. Here is so nice, but summer get very hot. But I like.” She laughed and told me a few more things about the weather before wandering away.

I watched her move from table to table taking orders and delivering food. She spent perhaps 10 minutes chatting with a group of eight middle-age women. She told them they were so pretty and looked like they were having a nice time together. They told her they were visiting from Minnesota. She talked about the weather and they talked about the weather. One of the women told her how much she liked her hair color. The waitress told the woman that she uses L'Oreal Excellence 4BR Dark Burgundy Brown. The woman told her it was a beautiful shade. The waitress said it was good at hiding the gray and that it also saved her $65 by doing it herself instead of going to the salon. The other women at the table laughed and volunteered their haircolors. The waitress asked if they wanted her to take a photo of them (one woman had her camera out). They all moved around the table and smiled and let her take their photo. They exchanged many other pleasantries and talked about their children.

Meanwhile, I caught a glimpse of the other waitress behind the coffeemaker. It was like watching a jealous ninth grader plotting against the popular JV cheerleading captain. The other waitress, a white woman with glasses and a mousy brown ponytail, poured decaffeinated coffee from the orange-rimmed glass carafe into two brown mugs, but she looked up and watched the Korean waitress interact with the women from Minnesota. Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared as she watched the Korean waitress work the crowd to rake in tips the pony tailed woman could only dream of. In her mind she was thinking, “That old Korean hussy needs to be poisoned. She needs to be taught a lesson and then move on away from the best breakfast in Phoenix. I used to be the popular one and I got all of the tips. I’m younger and prettier than she is. She talks about her flaws and somehow she charms the clients. How does that happen?”

My waitress came back and delivered my meal. “Here it is, your yummy breakfast. You will enjoy so much. Do you want some more jam? Some more syrup? Maybe some ketchup? Oh, I bet you want hot sauce? “

“Oh no, I‘m fine,” I replied.

“Okay. She giggled. “You know, I’m 64. Can you believe it? I have so much energy and can keep working.” She then told me about “those ladies over there visiting from Minnesota” and how they complimented her on hair color and how she told them she “uses L’Oreal hair color and it makes it so nice that you can’t see her gray hair and they were all comparing colors and it was so much fun.” Then she told me how much she loved her job and how much fun it is to talk to the friendly people from Phoenix and everywhere.

I thanked her again and started eating my food.

After 10 minutes of eating and contemplating the lack of personal/private space in this massive restaurant, the waitress returned.

“Somebody just asked me if it’s my birthday,” she announced. “Oh no!” She laughed for a few seconds. “My birthday is in June.”

I think she told me the date, but I don’t recall.

She continued. “Maybe I seem happy like it is my birthday, but I am always so happy.”

“Or maybe it’s because you’re telling everyone your age.” I smiled. “Happy Birthday in June.”

She laughed, like it was the best joke she’d heard all morning. “Thank you,” she laughed again. “In June.”

While she was talking to me, I saw the jealous waitress sneak out from behind the
waitress station and refill some empty coffee cups at the table where the only other two men in the dining room were seated. Perhaps she was puffing flirtatious air at the men to stave off the Korean waitresses’ charms.

I finished my breakfast and waited several minutes for the check to arrive. I looked around and saw my waitress was busy conversing with all of the other guests at the tables in her serving area. Finally she brought me the check, we exchanged a few more pleasantries, I left her a 20% tip, and I stood up and walked to the front door. I was thanked three times by wait staff I hadn’t interacted with during my experience in the restaurant, and then shown out by the slightly gawky baseball cap-sporting young woman who greeted me when I arrived.

I settled into my rental car – a Toyota Camry – with exceptionally functional brakes, and drove to my first meeting of the day, somehow more prepared to interact with the client than I sometimes am.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bulky items on transit (or passive aggressive ways to annoy the bad people)

I just took a break from my work. I’m sitting on a plane watching a dreary Australian movie about a single father trying to raise his two sons after his wife dies. Everything runs amok and I’m sure that eventually the nice blonde young woman will help him get it together. I’m glad that I didn’t see this film in a theatre, or waste a Netflix selection on it.

I’m on my way home from Honolulu where I have been riding buses and driving all around Oahu to try to figure out what needs to be done to make the buses work more smoothly, to make it easier to get from one place to another, and to keep it one of the best used transit systems in the United States.

Among the many challenges facing TheBus is how the agency deals with parcels and baggage and bicycles and strollers and surfboards and wheelchairs and Segways and scooters. They have a better set of policies than most transit agencies – something I’m learning because I’m also leading a national research study about how transit agencies deal with all of these large things on their buses and their trains. And although I am trying to take a purely academic look at the policies in place, I find myself wanting to write my own research report about how much parcels and baggage and bicycles and other large items on buses and trains bug the crap out of me – if they’re not mine.

My transit behavior peeves are as follows:

The backpack, usually sported by an overweight young woman or a stringy old white woman. They get on the train and turn around and bang their backpack into my head or my back or my arm. So I push against their backpack to make the experience as unpleasant as possible. I figure it is already unpleasant for me, why not roll with it and try my best to knock them off their feet? Take off your backpack and put in on the floor between your legs: you’ll take a load off your back, you’ll know if someone grabs for it, and you won’t be a pain in my ass.

The oversize handbag or shoulder bag, usually over the shoulder of a clueless woman or a old gay man. Just like the backpack person, the person with the shoulder bag assumes that if they twist their shoulder bag to the rear, it will be out of their way. But these people are very stupid, because they end up with their bag more in the way because I am secretly twisting it back in their direction, so it not only strains their shoulders but they get the end of their own bag digging into their side. Unlike the space-hogging knapsack users who stand their ground, usually these people move away from me to get out of the impossibly tight situation I’ve created for them.

The bicycle on the train, usually brought on board by a skinny white guy with strange body hair or a lean woman with a sour smell. He or she will park the bike right in the middle of all of the other riders, making us navigate around them to get off the vehicle. I understand there is nowhere else to store your bike on the vehicle, SO WHY BRING YOUR DAMN BIKE ON THE VEHICLE? Just bike all the way to your destination. Unlike backpacks or handbags, bike owners are very possessive of their two-wheeled ride, so they seem to stand aside with one hand on the bike frame and guard their wheels. The best strategy I’ve been able to come up with is to step close to the bike (pretending I have no other room and am being pushed there by other passengers) so that my shoe actually pushes against the wheel of the bike (or better yet, the rim of the bike). The bike owner thinks I’m trying to balance as their bike gets pushed further and further into the corner). Bike owners hate it!

Strollers on transit are a whole different story. About half the time, the stroller user is the bad person; the other half of the time, it’s the other passengers on the bus who are the bad ones. First, let me say that I blame the stroller manufacturers who are building SUV-sized strollers for extra fat American babies who drink Coke in their bottles and eat heaps of beefy mac by age 1. The parents go out and buy these ugly, contorted looking strollers because they are modern and new and everyone else has them. And then, they expect to bring these strollers with them when they ride the bus? Hello? Whatever happened to those umbrella fold-up strollers that everyone had in the 80s. The only people you now see using those are young women in low-income neighborhoods. Why? Because their cheap and those young women aren’t about to waste their money on a six-foot high stroller so their baby can get a spring-loaded upright view of the world. Those women also know how to ride transit: take your baby out of the stroller and fold it up. It’s usually the weekend riders who don’t have the sense to leave the ultra-deluxe stroller – the one that’s perfect for walks around the neighborhood because you can hold all of the baby’s needs as well as six bags of groceries from Whole Foods – at home and bring the umbrella stroller along for the ride. And people with double-decker twin strollers: you are not meant to ride transit.

Luggage is also a different story. As one who takes luggage on buses and trains, I move all the way into a seat and put whatever I’m schlepping on my lap. Most people with luggage are okay in my book. I think they realize they are carting around giant fabric-coated rectangles on wheels and they are best kept out of everyone’s way.

Miscellaneous parcels. I’ve talked about these from time to time. They range from a man in a wheelchair carrying a terrarium full of mice to hundreds of small Chinese women preceded by pink plastic grocery bags full of leaves and roots pushing their way in front of me on the train. Most parcels are comic relief. The old man with the grocery cart gives me an opportunity to marvel at his purchases and wonder how he feels when he buys Depends. I get to look at the boxes wrapped in brown paper with Feliz Navidad stickers and “ECUADOR” scribbled all over, wrapped lovingly and laboriously, if not improperly, only to be rejected by USPS or UPS staff. I watch the man with the brooms and the buckets and the cleaning solutions headed out to a job somewhere.

Many things are prohibited on the buses in Honolulu. Including poop.

I hope the research study finds some good solutions to address all of these problems, which are exacerbated with the overcrowding that transit agencies are experiencing as they slash bus routes due to diminished funding. I’m optimistic that some solutions can arise to make it easier for parents to bring strollers into the subway and on to the bus without being squeezed out. And I hope that people continue to bring interesting things on board buses and trains so I will have something else to write about. And complain about.

About Me | Contact Me | 2007 Joey Goldman