A Year in Shifts.

I came home tonight and went through my personal paperwork to try and determine exactly how long I’ve been waitressing and to my surprise, it turned out to be exactly a year. Almost to the date.

When I had gone to the restaurant, I had told them that I’d work a month, maybe two for them. Six at the most I had proclaimed and believing it to be the truth. Yet, my month soon turned to two, then three and before I knew it, I had been working there for 8 months, doing 7 to 8 shifts a week. The money (if I worked hard) wasn’t bad and it sustained me, but it dawned on me that I’ve been there for longer than I planned, my psyche crashed a bit. Work became different as well. The waiters shifted and turned, the managers tried to implement new rules which didn’t really apply to me yet affected me negatively. I thought that I wouldn’t deal with the changes and see it through and I even started to look for a new job but…

I stayed.

I stayed in the restaurant because I didn’t have a better alternative to go to, that moving from one restaurant to another wasn’t really the kind of shift I wanted to make. And, the place had become home and the people my family. When you spend so many hours working with people, seeing them when they are under stress (and you as well) and seeing their triumphs and losses, you form a strange bond. I’ve noticed this even with my customers, that those who have been waiters always somehow feel a kind of kinship with you, sympathising with you and joking with you about things that only we can understand.

And, I learned a lot. I learned that I am not above losing my temper (and that if I do so, I do it in a spectacular way…) and that sometimes, patience can take you so much further than force. I learned that there are two kinds of people in the world (though my Other Half has pointed this out to me as well), those who take energy and those who give it. I have come home some evenings so drained that I fell in bed and cried, feeling as if I lost my soul to my tables and then other nights, I come back with a song in my heart, the world a strangely better place despite the fact that I didn’t make a lot of money. It all had to do with people and how they treated me, and I learned that being treated with dignity is the best gift that you can give anybody.

Four more months passed, and I came to believe that I will never leave there, that I will remain trapped in that place forever. The problem with waitressing is that you get stuck in a sort of groove, this never ending routine of going to work, working tables and coming back. Every day is the same, but different, the customers changing but always the same. Days flow into one and sometimes you can’t even remember what happened the week before because it wasn’t any different than what’s happening now. I accepted my place in the restaurant, even embraced it and started making a place for myself within its structure which would put me apart from the rest. I started helping the owner with his books, got into the foundations of the business and then…

Then things moved seemingly overnight and I got a job. The thing that I had been wishing for, for a year literally dropped in my lap, leaving me reeling for reality. I gave notice at the restaurant, planned my first holiday in a year and quietly, silently mourned the fact that I was closing yet another circle in my life,

Don’t get me wrong, I hated being a waitress. But, I got used to it, and the people that I worked with made up for it. I will miss the comradeship between the waiters, the way we can be irritated with each other yet still have a good time. I’m going to miss nicking the cheap chocolates that we gave out with some of the hot drinks and exchanging peppermints from the front of the shop for potato wedges in the kitchen. I’m going to miss being showered with numbers from strange men (and women!) because it was flattering in a way, giving my extremely low self esteem a little bit of a boost. I am going to miss my regulars.

And, I’m going to miss driving home in the dark, when there isn’t a soul on the road and the night is quiet and dark and beautiful. I’m going to miss singing at the top of my voice when I drive, feeling as if I’m the only person in the world. I’m going to miss the routine, the exercise that I got while working and even my extremely strict boss.

I was shown a part of the world that I didn’t understand going in, but which revealed itself to me in strangely hard ways. Having just come back from England when I started waitressing, the job brought me back into the pulse of my country, gave me the reality check that I needed, banishing my disillusions that I had developed in my time abroad. Some of what I saw was good and other things so dark and depressing that I cannot write about it here and now.

Finally, it’s time for me to confess that I am sad. That I feel as if I’m leaving home and leaving behind the people who have meant so much to me. Most of my friends are like me, trapped in the job that they hate because there is nowhere else for them to go, whether they are students working to pay for their living and studies or fellow travellers who came from abroad to the same disillusion that I had. The worst part is that I always try not to make friend and not to get involved but then, when it does happen, the people worm themselves into my heart so deep that leaving them hurts.

But, change is good, and this change – this change will hopefully be a step in the right direction. And, I won’t lose contact with my friends and I’ll still remember the way to the shop.

It will be different but then, every day is…