Forget your favorite NFL team and the millions gathered and spent. And forget your favorite symphony orchestra, if you have one. Just visit your local low end “family” restaurant to see perfect harmony and synchronization. Meals are ordered and prepared in record time. Amid all the hustle and bustle there is ballet feel filling the whole place. To the customer’s eye, everything appears chaotic, disorderly. Tables are quickly bused clean before you exit the door, peculiar orders are honored and your coffee cup is never half empty. (There is a class system to these places as though it’s a government of its own. Only women wait on you. Only young Hispanic men bus your table. Only Hispanic old men cook your food. No other ethic or gender group. The cashier is always an older man unless it’s a female relative. Those are the rules, spoken or otherwise.
There are no “official” rules, just the routine that became a habit. The perfunctory, “How was your meal?” (without caring what your answer is) is met with my usual response, “Fine.” I’m scared to delve deeper and share my personal feelings or thoughts about the meaning of life and so upset the order of things making the cashier look up and see me.
The only referee I see is the old guy sitting in a booth next to the cashier. I don’t think he really cares about anything more than that beautiful sound when the bill is registered. The whole event seems “sudden death” to me as each order is written down, hooked to the carousel and swung around for the old cook to find, finding the prepared dish and swinging it carefully to the table along with plenty of smiles. The only “time out” is the distance between breakfast and lunch and then between lunch and dinner. Even during those times, time is spent filling up salts and peppers and rolling utensils into paper napkins.
The entire staff could easily be called the “working poor.” Did you ever think you’d hear an expression like that in a First World country? A bumper sticker reads, “Instead of spreading the wealth, why not spread the work ethic.” Were is that easy. The work ethic I witness there in one shift is more energy that I expend in a week’s time. It is constant, unending. All for the meager tip given by the working poor who eat there (minus one) for the working poor waitress who serve them.
If the whole experience were shown in slow motion with a beautiful symphony in the background, it would make your jaw drop as you try to say, “Wow!” There is a perfection of work by these “working poor” folks that would envy any “ethic.” The rhythms and the cohesiveness to all these workers who, for a short time, become a unified whole.
How much do they make an hour? How much do tips bring it? Do then have their own bathroom? Locker? I don’t know. But for a $7.00 breakfast along with her smile, my hat is tipped to them all, along with a nice tip for a game well played.