I have worked on and off as a busser, waiter and bartender since 2008 and perhaps it is time I admit something I am proud of. There is a distinct high in restaurant work, an eventual sense of belonging, the moment you realize you are not a disposable asset just as the kitchen erupts in a panic. Food is spilling out the window and managers are screaming for runners and threatening to fire anyone leaving the kitchen without a plate in their hand. There is a state which I think most long term waiters must reach at least briefly where at this moment of chaos and dissonance they find a special sort of clarity. There are five tables out in the dining room which have all listed a series of things they supposedly need and the only way to remember which items are to be delivered where in this environment of sweaty over-worked and occasionally rude and bitter employees is to isolate this calmness. Sometimes it involves focusing on a single floor tile so intensely you begin to understand you are fundamentally no different than the burnt bread crumbs in the grout all the while the other waitstaff crowd their way into the expo window so tightly it becomes impossible to see the stinky food being slid through the window. I imagine it is a varying degree of the same sort of calmness and accuracy a surgeon must find when something unexpected happens during a surgery. Now, this may seem like an unfair comparison but I will say this, there is quite a bit of job security that comes with being able to stand and act like a normal person in the expo window when the whole kitchen is burning down.
We waitstaff have a luxury the surgeon will never have, the ability to just not care. Amazing things happen when you do not care about your job. It is in many ways the most liberating feeling next to maybe paying off all your student loan or credit card debt. We do not deal with anyones lives or personal finances. We bring you your food, you shut up and eat it, then you give us money, and for the ones who when we make a mistake act as if we sold them on a bad investment, they are mostly lost individuals who will likely never make it to retirement anyway. I know there are many positives to being passionate about a career and dedicating yourself to a trade but these past several years I’ve spent post college in the restaurant industry have allowed me to essentially do whatever I want. It goes without saying I do not have a family to support, but what I also do not have is a career where I have spent so many countless dedicated hours that quitting now would seem like a tremendous waste of effort and life.
So with all this said, I have 68 more days left here in Key West, 45 more shifts at the restaurant and roughly 400 more hours bringing people food before I fly for Portugal and ride a bike for a very long time.