my first restaurant job
I’m going home for Christmas this year, flying across the country, then enduring a 13 hour train ride from Seattle to Whitefish, Montana, knowing that I will almost surely be delayed by snow. The contrast between NYC and Whitefish is as drastic as it can be, and I’m looking forward to that. I’ll spend my evenings in the Great Northern bar, catching up with old classmates and feeling grateful I see most of them only rarely. My days will passed working out and going to Target with my mother, baking, and sprawling out in front of the fire nursing my Natural Light hangover.
My mother was younger than I am now when she had me, and I’m not very old. In the grand scheme of things, I guess she wasn’t a particularly young mother, but when I think about adding a kid to my current life equation, I feel like a child myself. Until I was in middle school, she was a waitress, as I am now, and would be indefinitely if I decided to have a child at the moment. Which is why I won’t.
The Buffalo Café is a down-home, small-town, diner-ish breakfast and lunch place. Thick brown ceramic mugs hold coffee and hot chocolate after the drinks are spewed from their respective machines from behind the counter. Little league baseball and youth soccer team pictures are thumb tacked to the walls next to Buffalo Café t-shirts. The Buffalo is a yearly sponsor of multiple teams. I made it into a number of the youth soccer photos; my brother was a member of the “Buffalo Bikers” little league team for several years running.
There was a paper kids menu that doubled as a coloring page, breakfast burritos and eggs Benedict. My mom’s day started early, before I had to be at school. I’d get up with her and we’d walk the six blocks the restaurant, in the dark that was a Montana morning. I’d sit in a back room at the restaurant, eating oatmeal or drinking Stash licorice tea into which, unsupervised, I would empty the honey bear.
It was restaurant quiet time, when servers are still waking up and guests have yet to appear out in front as they often do at morning joints. Even today it’s my favorite hour of a shift, when my uniform is still tucked in and I have time to sip coffee, detail tables, and communicate with coworkers beyond just saying, “Behind!”
At the Buffalo, my honey-induced sugar high and small size made me perfect for cleaning the bases of tables. I’d crouch on the carpeted floors, rag in hand, and dutifully, without resentment, scrub off bits of egg and buttermilk pancakes from the day before. The quarters the waitresses would tip me were the first income of my life.
I can’t help but believe that this, my first restaurant experience beyond dining, was a bug that bit me or a window to reveal something that was always there. Regardless, I’ll be consuming a Buffalo Burger this holiday.