Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Being a Server/Waiter(ess)

I’ve worked as a server at Red Lobster for a little over three years now. It’s given me a glimpse into a life I’d previously never understood or appreciated.

Most servers I’ve met are young, going to school—unqualified. I’d say maybe two thirds of these people are actively working on bettering their lives—they are working toward becoming teachers or nurses, physical therapists… And yet, I’ve found—at least where I live—an incredible stigma against servers.

You see, as a server, I’ve realized you’re subjected to, on a daily basis, people who simply look down on you. The job of a server is degrading, or it can be. Much like working at McDonald’s has become synonymous with a lower tier job undeserving of respect.  Nobody of quality could possible debase themselves to such a point as to serve. These are jobs for the helpless, the hopeless… the lazy and unambitious…

What a load of crap.

Serving is the hardest job I’ve ever had. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration. While it doesn’t entail extensive schooling, to do it truly effectively requires a multitasking ability beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Beyond that, I have to be nice, perky, and kind to a wide variety of, pardon my French, assholes, regardless of whether or not I have energy that day or am in a good mood. The margin for error is extremely low. Being a server requires you to be your best self the entire time you’re working. Regardless of what many people may say. How many jobs actually require that?

When I started working at Red Lobster I was shortly removed from a college degree. I’d been a warehouse supervisor, a mortgage loan officer and processor. I’d done SEO management; I’d done construction and roofing across a variety of spectrums. I didn’t jump into serving as some punk kid. I was hardly uneducated and I’d had a handful of jobs most people wouldn’t last in for a day. But you know what I quickly realized? People (guests) don’t care. They assume. I’m older now. What do I appear to be to people who come to eat at my restaurant? Some man who’s never bothered to better himself? A lazy freeloader feeding on the underbelly of society? An inconvenient interaction necessary for them to get their food when they deign to delight me with their presence?

I’ve been extremely lucky. In an incredibly bad economy I’ve been able to cut out a decent living doing freelance writing with serving as a supplement to my income which also keeps me on an even keel socially. I make far more per hour writing than I ever could serving. But in serving I have interaction with people, I have a job that’s difficult and can be instantly rewarding… But I find far more frustration in my serving than I possibly could with my writing.

You see, I’m looked down on as a server. Most of my guests don’t know I write. They don’t know I make far more writing than I ever could serving. I’m assuming they see a late twenties male who is good for nothing. Maybe I’m wrong, but given my general treatment, I’m going to assume I’m right.

“Hey, my name is Brandon, I’ll be your server. How are we all doing today?”

“Diet Coke.”

“Interesting, I didn’t realize that was a mood/emotion/feeling. But I’ll be happy to grab that for you!”

This is a regular interaction for me. No, I don’t see an inherent problem with people who know what they want and want to forgo human interaction to get it. But the difference in decent, polite behavior is a matter of a handful of words—ten to fifteen seconds at the most.

Fine, you don’t want to talk to me when you sit down—that’s completely okay! Not everyone prides themselves on a job well done, but I’ll treat you as best I can, regardless of the fact you’re rude in a way I hope you’d never be to anyone else in your life. I’ll even strive to be quick and efficient. By golly, I’ll even be nice and say I’m glad you came to Red Lobster when you leave! Most people would say I’m fishing for tips. Nope. Wrong. I’d say with about a 90% accuracy I already know who is going to tip me decently. I treat all my guests well because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Wait. Stop.

Being nice, being courteous is right? I don’t believe it…

Given my experience as a server it would be extremely easy to believe nobody has to be nice, to care, or to be respectful.

Get my order and get out of my face!

Believe it or not, most servers are capable of reading their guests. We can tell in a few seconds whether or not you’re worth our time. Sometimes we’re wrong… But sadly, we’re usually right…

And good servers, truly good servers, you know what? They treat you the same regardless.

In my honest opinion, most of all ya’ll don’t deserve it.

Blunt. Harsh. But true.

Most people I serve deserve crappy service. But serving is one of my jobs. And I don’t do a job halfway. So you’ll get service as if you were a king or a queen, knowing full well you’ll tip me $5 on a $150 dollar check, and you’ll act like you’re doing me a favor (FYI at that point I’m paying to serve you… thanks!).

You know what… it averages out. I do my absolute best because I had awesome parents who taught me to work... They taught me to do my best even when nobody is watching and nobody cares. For every guest or table I have that tips 5% I have a good, caring person who tips me 40% for no other reason than because they know there are stupid, mean, angry people who tip poorly for a wide variety of reasons that wouldn’t hold up with any amount of scrutiny.

Serving, at times, is a thankless job. Many (not all) guests truly don’t appreciate you unless everything magically clicks, though you're the focus of their rather if anything goes wrong (sorry, I really didn't cook your food...). Most people? They want food. You’re a necessary step between sitting down and getting what they want. Oh, and seven drink refills and six baskets of bread (oh, and DIET soda, because I'm I'm trying to lose weight... Wait, you forgot my three extra orders of ranch?!). And extra butter. And cocktail sauce. And a new fork. And napkins.

All requests come separately, naturally. Why aren’t you being faster? It’s not like you have other guests to take care of…

Look, I get it; serving is an easy, mindless job. 

The problem? It isn’t. 

Not if you’re busy. Not if you’re good at it. I’ve got 23 guests to deal with. Seven need refills on their drinks. 6 need some kind of sauce. 2 need an extra plate/napkin/their check. If I'm lucky the rest are happily eating. But that's not usually the case.

Yes… Serving is an easy, mindless job... The problem? It’s not. Stop being rude. Stop looking for stupid, minor, nearly meaningless excuses to tip less. Believe it or not, servers don’t like paying to serve you. Usually, we get paid $2.13 an hour for the pleasure of dealing with people who think we’re the dregs of society. Depending on the restaurant we have to give a large percentage of your (assumed though often not given) 15% tip to bussers or bartenders. For people who refuse to tip well, don’t act terribly surprised if we know who you are and have lost the willpower to be the good people we constantly strive to be. 

I mean, after all, how excited would you be to realize you had to smile while you mow your awful neighbor's lawn? Not appealing? Welcome to the life as a server. The difference? The average person treats their neighbor's lawn better.

I hope someone spits in your food. 

P.S. I will never spit in your food. But sometimes I really, really want to...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Living With Depression

Robin Williams died yesterday.

The world rarely shows such an incredible outpouring for the death of one individual. So what does it say when news coverage, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are utterly inundated by cries of love and respect of this man and his work? He was loved. He was admired. He made people smile. He made people feel. Feel. Feel.


Feel. I relate to this word, to this concept. For someone living with, battling, fighting, struggling, and often times losing to depression, I understand the word feel far too well. I think, perhaps, that Robin Williams was the same.

You see, depression, real, lasting, non-circumstantial depression, at its very core, is a problem of feeling. Sure, yes, it’s misfiring synapses, chemical imbalances in the brain yada yada etc etc… but at its core—at my core, it’s a problem with feeling. Feeling too much. Feeling too much about the wrong things. Having a difficult, almost impossible struggle to control feeling.  To me, that’s depression.

Robin Williams was, by all measurable means, a man who ought to have been happy, beyond such struggles. He had everything he needed to stay alive without anxiety or stress: check. He had personal and non-personal love almost un-endingly showered in his direction: check. He had laughter, fun, and what would often seem like happiness, despite his well-documented struggles with personal demons. And yet he’s dead. He hit his limit, for whatever reason. Game over. You lose.


Depression, true, lasting, crippling depression is hard to define. I’ve often compared it to describing the color of the sky to a blind person. How could anyone who hasn’t/doesn’t experience it ever really understand? People go through hardships, a bad break-up, being laid off, the death of loved ones, and they feel depression, anxiety, fear… But it’s temporary. Time heals all wounds, as they say. But true depression, time doesn’t heal it. You either find a way to make yourself strong enough to battle it, or it takes you. There’s no gray area here. Depression kills. Unless of course we find a way to keep it from killing us.

I’d hope by now it’s readily apparent this is a topic with which I share a fair amount of familiarity. I’ve been hospitalized for suicide attempts. I’ve lived with depression. I’ve fought, I’ve momentarily lost. I continue to fight. And people, most people, continue to not understand. They want to, that much is obvious, but they’ve never seen the color of the sky, they’ve never heard the bird call. There are no words that can help them understand. It does little to explain to them what it’s like to experience their worst, most debilitating life events and have that as an on-going undercurrent in their lives, indefinitely.

This is my life.Was this Robin Williams' life?

Some people who experience depression find fame and fortune. They are loved, they create wonderful things… only to find it’s not enough. It’s the tragic link between creativity, intelligence, and depression. You get Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Heath Ledger and Elvis Presley, among others. People who ought to have been or were, titans. And yet they fall.

I don’t know fame. I certainly don’t know fortune. At times I actively shun and avoid many of the aspects of life that could lead me in that direction simply because it means letting down protective walls I’ve put in place to keep myself safe. I’m most creative, most actively productive when I’m at my worst, as counter-intuitive as that seems. I produce page after page of prose, I write songs and blogs and… and I try… because that effort, that expression, that hope of something more, of something better, is all that keeps my head above water.

I actively keep myself mundane, ordinary, less productive… because it hurts less. And then I hate myself for not producing, for not building, for not being something… more.

I wish there were a simple, easy way to wrap this up, some magical answer to depression, a secret coping tool to share with the world. But as far as I’m aware, there’s not. And I’m here. Writing this. And another battle has been lost and a great warrior has passed on.

I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t expect anyone to really comprehend unless it’s something they do battle with. But awareness… now that’s something. Who knows what might be different if people were aware… if those with depression were completely and honestly open in their darkest hours. Who would still be alive? What works would we have that we don’t?

No, I don’t expect anyone to understand. But to try… to feel… There’s an amazing amount of power in feeling.