My mom recently came across an assignment that I had done in the 2nd grade. The sheet was tucked away within the pages of a scrapbook that had lain forgotten in my parents’ home for many, many years. Following instructions from my teacher, I had drawn a picture of myself and had made two predictions of what I would be when I grew up and what I would be doing in 2010, specifically. At the age of 7, I guessed that, in the year 2010, at the age of 31, I would either be a cheerleader or a waitress. Incredibly, I was right-on with one of those predictions. But what made the whole thing even weirder was that my mom uncovered the forgotten sheet at the end of February, right at the same time that David and I were opening AlteArte, and it was only because the scrapbook had gotten wet that it was ever even found.
It makes sense that I would have made such a prediction, for my sister and I used to love being waitresses. We would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, invite my family for dinner high up in the tree house in the backyard of our home in the mountains, and then proudly serve them our home-cooked meal. Yet, the chance of the prediction actually becoming a reality when I was 31 was highly implausible, for I had tried out working as a waitress at Hard Rock Cafe in Paris, France when I was 22, and, after only three months, decided that working in a restaurant was far more stressful than serving our parents their sandwiches in our tree house.
I had gotten the job at Hard Rock after my friend, Mimi, encouraged me to apply so that I could stay in Paris for the Summer. But, drawn to the idea of some extra tip money, I had told a small, white lie in my interview. I said that I had worked as a waitress before. After all, I reasoned, what could be so difficult about it? All I had to do was take orders, serve meals, and deliver the bill, right? But when I successfully landed the job based on this insignificant lie, I soon suffered the consequences, for I quickly discovered that waitressing was far more difficult than I ever could have imagined.
Taking orders is easy when everything is systematic and orderly but not when random requests are made and when the people at tables that don’t even belong to you are trying to stop you to ask for a refill on their sodas. Serving meals is simple except when a dish comes out wrong, immediately throwing in unexpected chaos and causing everything else to get backed up. And to top it all off, I was far from being a good waitress. I was slow, didn’t turn my tables quickly and was often assigned a station on the terrace – the least desirable one of all. My saving grace: I could speak in English to the Americans. I found that, as long as the customers could talk to me, I could be slow and disorganized to a certain degree and still manage somehow to get a tip.
Needless to say, I walked away from that Summer job with a new-found appreciation for the profession – and a pretty resolute assumption that that was probably the last time that I would ever work as a waitress. Yet, a decade later, I’m once again taking orders, delivering food and drinks and collecting money for the “cuenta” – bringing truth to the prediction that I made as a child.
What I didn’t manage to predict when I was in 2nd grade was that I would be working with my husband in our own business. And I failed to specify in the assignment that I would be taking orders in Spanish. Had I found that drawing even a year ago, I most surely would have simply scoffed at it, yet here I am.
Waitressing is no easier than it was 10 years ago. Keeping track of all the orders requires just as much mental organization. But thank goodness that, this time around, I honestly have had some experience… because I need it. For I have already gotten a small taste of what the busy summer months will bring during Easter week when the Spanish tourists flooded in from Madrid and started ordering everything off the menu all at once: hot dogs, montaditos, quesadillas, raquettas. People upstairs, downstairs, outside, and at the bar, it was a nonstop dash to keep everyone satisfied.
But, miraculously, day by day, our little tip jar is getting heavier with coins. And, coin by coin, we’re getting closer to taking a vacation after the busy Summer months are sure to leave us exhausted. And every time a generous customer leaves something extra, it’s confirmation that we must be providing excellent service, for tips are rare here – especially during this current economical crisis sweeping through Spain.
As I’ve gotten older, life seems more and more unpredictable, but it seems like I’m right where I knew that I would be – 25 years ago.