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