Seven years ago, I was a senior in college with an admirable GPA and a wide-open future. My interests, at the time, included a fantasy baseball league I had haphazardly entered into (I remain the only girl, all these years later), vodka tonics, the Food Network, and American fiction. I was poised to graduate from a prestigious university without debt and with a hefty resume. And it is no inflation of self, no over-aggrandizement to proclaim that I probably could have done whatever I wanted.
I also felt that, after an entire lifetime identifying myself as a student and little else, I needed a break from my own life. Perhaps it was the state of the world, where, in Yeats-ian fashion, the center wasn't holding. Or maybe it was my own generational despair, the malaise that afflicted many people like me who believed themselves to be worth more than an ennui-inducing desk job, who believed that all those years of bookishness entitled them to a more exciting twenty-something existence.
And so I made a decision that has informed the path of my life, a choice that never seemed particularly important at the time. I became a waitress.
The first restaurant I worked in was a high-end pizza joint. I once had to ask a customer to help me dig the cork from a bottle of Chianti. That's how poor my skills were. A few months later, I was slinging burgers at a local tavern, where the cash was good and the perks included free margaritas and Bud Lights after work and an endless supply of fellow drinkers willing to blow tips at the bars. I got a Master's degree after one year of clearing plates but the frenetic restaurant life--the youthfulness, the fun, the energy, the nonstop of it all--never went away. Degree in hand, other restaurants would follow. Until I looked up and realized that thirty was closer than twenty it didn't seem possible that someone like me could get so caught up in something like this.
All these years later, I am considering changing fields and so I am constructing a pro/con sheet, like every good student does when faced with an existential crisis. Because my fear of flying from restaurants may be well-founded or idiotic, so perhaps empirical evidence will help establish truth from fantasy.
1. Sleeping late
2. Comps at some of the greatest restaurants in New York
3. Likely encounters with famous people
4. Quick and good money
5. Automatic circle of friends
6. Social acceptance regarding the party-animal lifestyle
7. Social acceptance regarding eating pizza for breakfast (when breakfast is at 4pm)
8. Ability to rattle off a series of cool and unknown restaurants on command
9. Utter lack of boredom
10. Social acceptance regarding wearing clogs to work
2. Long hours
3. Holidays do not exist
4. Neither do 'Sundays'
5. Shitty health insurance, if there's any at all
7. Few nights off in which to explore the cool and unknown restaurants so often recommended to others
8. Touching dirty plates
9. Anything involving carrying heavy boxes up stairs
10. Having to use French all the time
If leaving the bright lights of restaurant row is a twelve-step program, I'm one step there.