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Column: The spectacle of restaurant fajitas

The other day, Melissa worked a little later than usual, so I decided to watch some television.

Because I will get in trouble if I watch any of our favorite shows, I usually try to find a basketball game to watch, and if one isn't on, I'll often watch a cooking show. On this occasion, I watched a show where they showed the absolute theatrics of someone ordering fajitas at a restaurant. It was a pure spectacle as the server brought the cracking and popping piping hot cast iron skillet to the table.

I'm sure most people have probably witnessed this at a restaurant, and everyone in the establishment knows that someone will be eating fajitas.

Watching the show instantly brought back memories of waiting tables part-time to help pay for college.

Before taking the job at a Tex-Mex restaurant in my hometown, I had run the gauntlet of fast food. After stints at Wendy's, Taco Time, and McDonald's, I had enough and wanted to try a restaurant. One of my best friends had worked waiting tables for years, and he always told me how much fun it was, so I decided to give it a shot.

About an hour into my first shift, I wondered why I hadn't tried to get a job doing something else. I learned very quickly how difficult waiting tables is.

I'm not quite sure who had the bright idea to start me on a Friday night, but I got thrown into the pool's deep end very quickly, and I'm surprised I could tread water long enough to get through my first shift.

On that first night, I had burned myself on the fajita skillet about ten times. While ordering fajitas at a restaurant may seem like a lot of fun, it is not nearly as good a time for the server. Along with the burns, I smelled like fajitas for about ten hours after every shift. There was no shower long enough to get rid of the smell.

I remember near the end of my shift, I had such a sense of both relief and accomplishment and then realized the work was far from done. I was given a massive list of things to clean, and once I got that done, someone told me to "marry the ketchups". I had no idea what this meant, and everyone was so busy trying to get home that nobody had time to explain it.

That first night was also my first experience at "bartending," and I probably made about 50 margaritas. I have never liked the taste or smell of tequila, so it was rough having it spilled all over me.

After a few hiccups in my first few shifts, I started to get the hang of it and would be mad if I wasn't scheduled for the "money shifts" where I could make enough in tips to pay for a schoolbook, put a bit away for tuition, or buy a few cold ones later that evening.

While it certainly was great money, there were also some ups and downs. For the most part, customers were terrific. Since it was my hometown, I knew many regulars, and they would always tip well. Some flat-out mean people could quickly turn a great night into a bad one. It's one of those jobs where you need to have thick skin, but that still doesn't make things easier when someone doesn't leave a tip or is extremely rude.

One of the best parts of the job was how the restaurant employees were like a family, even if it can seem very dysfunctional at times. There were many get-togethers following a busy night, and I cherish those memories. I also look back fondly at how many times I dropped a tray by not paying attention or going too fast on a freshly mopped kitchen floor and never seemed to get in trouble.

I would end up waiting tables for a few years until I finally got a job at the local newspaper. While the experience was great for an aspiring journalist, I made more money waiting tables and often questioned my decision.

Because I'm far from social these days, I can't handle waiting tables anymore, but I have so much love for those who do.

 
 
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