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.

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