Dusting Off the Apron: Serving Up Humility

I have rewritten this first line too many times. I am done trying to make it interesting.

It is probably because I am not quite sure how to apologize for my absence. That apology belongs to me as much as it does you. I made a promise to myself that I would never stay away this long again, but that's what got me here in the first place. Absolutes. Never. Always.

Those words can be a real bitch when it comes to life.

I wrote this very confidently on this blog two years ago:

I will never be a waitress again. My serving days are OVER.

Go ahead and take a wild guess of what I would currently list as my occupation. Yep, that's right people. My name is Charlotte and I will be your server today. What can I offer you to drink? Wine?

Me too.

Lots of it, please. I'll pull up a chair.

I cried my eyes out in the unventilated employee bathroom on my first day of my new serving job. I mean, I made myself a promise. I wrote a blog about that promise. That promise was public! Now, working on the same side of town in which I grew up, so was my shame.

How in the actual f*ck did I let myself get back here? 

Oh, yeah. Bills and life and shit. Now I remember.

I was bending over to pick up an abandoned chicken wing on the floor when I heard, "Oh my God. Charlotte? You work here now??"

Awesome. I mean, did I really have to be holding an orphaned hot wing for this conversation? Like it wasn't going to be bad enough. Come on, Lord Baby Jesus. Throw me a bone here. A figurative one, please.

"Yep! I am back at it. Just living the dream!" I said this while raising the cold wing proudly in the air. That's my thing. I resort to humor when I'm embarrassed. I was a chubby kid. We learn that tactic early on in life.

That was the first conversation of many that I would have identical to it for the next four months.

OMG, do you work here? No. I just like to wear the uniform and help out for free.

Do you like it? It's my dream job. Couldn't ask for more. WTF do you think?

Are you saving for a house or something? Nope. Donating it all to the whales. They need it, you know.

These questions never bother me. They are cheap shots and I don't have time to worry about half-priced gossip. It's when this one comes along that my heart sinks a bit:

Are you still writing?

That one stings. Good or bad intentions. Every time.

It stings even more now because I can look back and see the string of lies I have tied on to the end of it each time it was asked.

Yes! Of course! Every day. The blog is great. I am just doing both now! 

Not true at all. In fact, the day before I started my latest serving job was the last day my fingers hit the keyboard. Just like that damned chicken wing, it was left to collect dust.

But, why? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY. Why in the world do I let myself believe I can't do both? I have worked too hard for this to just let it be consumed by late nights and grease stains.

I know better. I know what I am capable of doing and balancing and creating. There is no excuse.

I got my very first job as a server when I was 22. I had no experience. Instead, I had a sweet friend that scored me an interview at the sports bar where she worked. I also had a fantastic push-up bra and a horny boss. (This combination worked out in my favor. Shocker.) I figured I am no stranger to hard work. I grew up working on a farm. How hard could this gig be?

Serving is easy.

That is an assumption many people make, but I am pretty sure CEOs of major corporations would piss their pants on a shift where 2 servers have called out, your bar is backed up 10 tickets deep on a football Sunday. Farm work is the hardest work, don't get me wrong, but the goats and pigs I was caring for did not have drinking problems that needed to be sustained or the luxury of demanding a manager when the feed was running a little late or not up to their standards. 

That first day of my first serving job was awful.

Table 42 needed to be greeted. Table 51 wanted their side salad out first. Table 33 only ordered onions on half of their pizza. Table 52 wanted their wing sauce on the side not tossed. Table 43 asked for their check 10 minutes ago and would now like to speak to a manager. To top it off, we were expected to run all of our own food and drinks and buss and reset our own tables.

It was a mess. I was a mess. Unfortunately, my push-up bra was useless when it came to actually doing the job. 

So, I did what pretty much every server in the history of servers does at some point their first job. I cried by the dishes and the bus tubs in the back.

Spoiler alert: that doesn't help either.

My very experienced bartender at the time was on his way to change a keg and saw me crying by the leftover baskets of cheese sticks like a wuss. It wasn't in his nature—nor his reputation—to take time out of his shift to help out the newbies. It was very well known that he didn't have sympathy or time for anyone who couldn't handle the job.

With that being said, I have no idea why he stopped on a busy night and gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since. (I want to say it was out of the goodness of his heart, but let's be real, it was probably the push-up bra.)

He asked me what was wrong and I blubbered out how stressful the job was and how everyone needed something all of the time and I couldn't keep up and there was so many of them and only one of me. I asked him how he did it. How did he look so calm, cool, and collected? I mean, the bar was busier than the restaurant!

He looked at me half annoyed and probably regretting his decision not to walk right past me and falsely advertised boobs and said this:

Just do the next thing you can do. Get the next drink. Take the next order. Run the next plate. Just keep doing that until there's nothing left to do. Losing your shit isn't going to help you get anything done.

That was it? That was his big, seasoned, veteran piece of serving advice?? Just do the next thing you can do?? It seemed too simple to work, but that's exactly why it did. It simplified the chaos! 

All we can do is the next right thing. That's it. That's what is in our power in the hectic moments of life. We just have to choose to do them.

The beauty of a good server is their capability to multitask with ease. If they can have two orders in their mind waiting to be put in while balancing a tray of drinks and greeting your table with a smile that makes you feel like you are their top priority, then they've got the game figured out.

 I am a damn good server. I don't hand myself over many compliments publicly, but I will snatch that one right up and stand beside it. I am good at what I do. Even if I don't like the job, I still know how to do it well. 

So, why can't I multitask being a server AND a writer? Because I am hung up on absolutes.

In my eyes, I am either a writer or I am a waitress. For some reason, the two are mutually exclusive in my book. And it's bullshit. In fact, that book of rules needs to be rewritten—even if it is on a cocktail napkin.

You see, I was forgetting that incredibly simple (and very effective) lesson my bartender taught me. I can be in the weeds and keep my shit together as long as I keep doing the next thing I can do. I just need to apply that lesson into my daily life and not just my work life.

Right now, my life is sort of in the weeds.

I am turning 30 and trying not to panic about "getting old", planning a wedding, trying to work enough to pay for said wedding, saving for a house while not knowing where we are going to live for the next year while waiting for that future home and grasping on to the faithful notion that my dreams as a writer are not drowning in table 42's leftover ranch.

Life right now is a busy Friday night with a shorthanded staff. 

There is a term that servers throw around on busy nights:

I can see the light!

When we say this to each other we know it means that it's almost over. That the stampede of hangry customers are about to pass. I love hearing it. Not just because it means that my shift is nearing its end, but because it reminds me that there is light to be found outside of work as well.

My favorite light is the one that is coming from the screen in front of me right now. It means I am about to dig inside of myself and offer it to you. It is the greatest and most invigorating feeling I know. It is also the most vulnerable and intimidating.

Am I going to be a server for much longer? I don't know. Will I ever be a server after I have left this serving job? Maybe. I have learned that you just can't be sure on some things.

I have realized that using absolutes only heighten your chances for failure. I have also learned that if an absolute like 'I will never' or 'I will always' was left out of the equation altogether, we might not view the results as such complete and utter failures.

What am I sure of?

I am sure that it is my choice to decide whether my apron strings help hold me together or tie me down every time I wrap them around my waist.

I am sure that I will serve more people that pity my situation, or don't have faith in my success, but I am also damn sure that I will never let them wound my pride.

Yes, you read it right, I believe there is pride to be found in what I am doing.

There is pride in balancing that tower of dirty dishes, in wiping the crumbs from a table and sweeping up empty sugar packets from the floor. There is even some pride to be found in picking up a cold chicken wing in front of successful people you know. 

You know why? Because all of those things are the next thing I need to do to get where I want to be. Hitting 'publish' on this post is the next thing I can do. I just need to remember that I am capable and worthy and put on this earth to do it again and again. I am here to serve in many, many more ways than one.

Hello. My name is Charlotte. I will be your server today, but not always. And, yes, I am absolutely sure of that.

Charlotte Crow

I'm a modern day farmer's daughter who shares and seeks inspiration from the comical & beautiful things that get caught in life's curious little web.