Chicken Exit

My first job that didn’t involve being paid in cash and being driven home by a kid’s parent, who in retrospect, maybe shouldn’t have been driving me, or anyone, after spending eight hours getting liquored up at the country club, was as a waitress at a little family establishment in Russell, Kansas, called Red’s Chicken House. I was 15 years old, and it was the summer before I was a sophomore.

Red and Pauline were the owners. Red was a grandfatherly man, and stood behind a greasy deep fat fryer and made homemade chicken all day long. Pauline, his wife, was the manager, task master, all business, and kind of mean.

As a kid, playing “Restaurant” was always kind of fun. You got to use a little notepad, take orders, bring the food out. In real life it was the farthest thing from anything resembling fun. For starters, the uniform. A double-knit, short-sleeved, ill-fitting, collared blue blouse. And white pants, which I wasn’t allowed to roll up at the ankles, an unheard of style “don’t” in the late 80’s.

I could have moved past the uniform, but the problem with being a waitress, is that you have to…well, wait on people. I’m not a fan of the general public. They’re ill-mannered, annoying, and pretty much there to make my life miserable. For the most part, the customers were actually nice, but the bad ones overshadowed any nice couple who came in, pleasantly ordered their meal, didn’t make a mess, and left a nice $2.00 tip.

One family I vividly recall, had a bratty little daughter named Melanie. They came in religiously once a week. Melanie was a spoiled only child. She was probably about eight years old and a whiny, snotty little bitch. I hated her. She’d complain if there wasn’t enough ice in her water, if I brought out strawberry jam instead of grape jam for her dinner roll, if there weren’t enough pickles on her hamburger, if there wasn’t enough butter on her baked potato, if there weren’t enough club crackers in the cracker basket. Then she’d leave cracker crumbs, jelly, ketchup, mustard, a hundred wadded up napkins, spilled milk, ice, salt, all over the table and floor, which I had to bus and sweep under, and her parents would leave me 15 cents for my troubles.

Another customer, who scarred me for life, or at least for a year or so, was a large, burly, heavily bearded truck driver, passing through from who knows where. He came in at around 3:00 in the afternoon and was the only customer. I was the only waitress working at that time of day so it was just me and him in the dining room. He started off by commenting on the beauty mark I had on my chin, telling me how alluring and exotic it was. I got down to business and tried to take his order, which was, naturally, the “Two Breast Dinner.” He also ordered a “smile,” which I did not provide. Maybe a nervous laugh, but no smile. The dude seriously creeped me out. He sat there forever, and every time I came out he’d have another comment, including telling me what a “flattering” uniform I was wearing. Really? Every time I’d ask if he needed anything else, he’d say, “Just some company, a smile.” Dude, I’m 15, I wanted to scream. Finally he left. But he didn’t really leave. He sat outside in his semi for the longest time. The side of his red truck had a crest and a logo that said “England.” At the time I didn’t know that C.E. England was a trucking chain, and every time I would see one of their trucks after that, I’d get a gross feeling in the pit of my stomach.

When it wasn’t busy, I’d be back in the kitchen doing tasks with Bud, the line cook, and Michelle, the other waitress. They’d talk about their exploits and adventures in drinking from the night before, and the more they’d go on, the more I felt like a näive little kid. They were only one and two years older than me, respectively, but we definitely didn’t run in the same circles. The only time I really enjoyed being there were the few times when the other waitress working with me was Helga, a German war bride, who was so kind and nice to me.

Mercifully, August arrived, along with two-a-day tennis practices, effectively ending my waitress career. Not a moment too soon.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

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5 thoughts on “Chicken Exit

  1. Ah, the memories. When I was 15, my mom and dad owned a restaurant in Ontario. They had looked over the financial sheets and it had been making a tidy profit…so they bought it, only to find out most of the profit had come from renting the cabins out back on a per hour basis. Needless to say, that stopped pretty quick.

    I actually enjoyed it, but maybe it was different working for my parents. I knew that if anyone messed with me in any way, my dad would make short work of him. Dad was a tough, ex-airforce pilot.

    My most vivid memory was of a guy who came in at a normally very quiet time, and I was minding the restaurant while Mom and Dad had gone grocery shopping. The guy ordered liver and onions. I panicked because I had never cooked them before. So the guy proceeded to tell me how to cook them. It was great fun because he shouted orders to me through the serving window and I called back telling him what I was doing.

    Finally, triumphantly, I came out bearing a plate of liver and onions with mashed potatoes and gravy. The guy ate them and complimented me on my cooking. When he left he also left a humungous tip. It had been great fun and even offered me a small victory.

  2. I read your artical which mentions my mother and father and must say it was offensive! Sounds to me like you and little ” Melanie “. had bratty and snotty in common! How dare you make a judgement on my parents specifically my mother ( may she rest in peace) as being mean when you were merely a 15 year old girl who knew her for (2months?). If you wanted to write about your waitress experience you had no business naming my parents as you did… I would say you are a terrible writer, sounds like you weren’t to good at waitressing either, ha but most importantly my father was not a greasey man, and my mother was the farthest thing from mean!!! My advice to you ……. Don’t quit your day job!

    • I’m sorry you feel that way, but you’ve completely misconstrued my intent, which was to paint a picture of a summer job 30 years ago. I was in no way disrespectful, and certainly did not call your father “greasy.” The insults you throw at me in your comment are far worse than anything I wrote.

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