Thursday, December 17, 2009


I walked down the A Concourse last night, hungry and with aching legs, to Quiznos. I noticed another of my co-workers in a yellow button-down chewing on a toasted sub and asked to join him.

We chatted for a bit about various things. He lives in Aurora, just about as close as you can get to the airport. He proudly reported that it takes a mere 45 minutes to get from his home to our station in the airport. That’s as good as it gets.

I’ve railed against long commutes my whole working life and now I’m making the most ridiculous one there is. As a bonus, I am commuting from a different place almost every day. I cart this green rolling bag with a broken zipper everywhere I go. I went almost a month without doing my laundry and recently had to buy new underwear.

I confessed to my new co-worker over peppercini -stuffed subs that I have spent one single solitary night alone in a real live bed in the last five weeks. Otherwise I have danced from one bed to another with several air mattresses in between, never staying more than two days in any one place.

He was quiet for a few seconds. Then I noticed he wasn’t really breathing as he tried to decide how to respond.

“Oh, god,” I said. “It’s not like I’m sleeping around with a bunch of guys.”

This has been a fabulous domestic adventure. I’ve seen so many of my good friends and family and I’ve been able to spend some quality time with the people I’ve been missing, the people I try to talk to on the phone every now and then and visit once ore twice a year. It’s nice being able to come and go from my parents’ house without feeling guilty about leaving them. I’m “home” for a long enough period that we know we’ll see each other and won’t have to wait months for my next vacation.

But it’s also exhausting. I have watched four episodes of Glee and two of a British comedy called Fawlty Towers on the computer with Joe and otherwise haven’t watched so much 30 minutes of another TV show or movie. I have had zero passive entertainment in the last five weeks. The only times I’ve been alone have been in the bathroom, shower and during my long commutes.

“It sounds like you need a nap,” my co-worker said.


So I’m not waitressing, but I am on to another totally random job, getting people to sign up for Frontier Master Cards at the Denver Airport. I do believe in what I’m selling. I got one myself about six months ago. And even though it’s a pain in the butt to get there, I like working at the airport. It’s interesting people watching and I feel like I’m standing in the center of the portal to the Universe.

If you come through, please come find me and sign up. It’s a cutthroat commission gig, where I can make $300 a night or $20. Somehow, $20 seems more egregious when I have to go out to the airport to make it than when I had to drive down the street from my parent’s place to wait tables at Applebees.

I’m not yet finished ricocheting around the country. I’m heading to Aspen for another knee surgery next week and to Illinois to visit my grandmother, see family and catch up with friends in Chicago the week after Christmas. I don’t expect that I’ll get many nights alone until I leave for South America in February or time in front of the TV until I come back in the summer and decide what to do with myself.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Who knew not working could be so much work?

Three weeks ago today was my last day on the job at the News & Guide. But I've been going non-stop ever since. I apologize for my long silence but Internet access and time to myself have both been hard to come by.

I have feverishly visited friends and family across the country. I spent the first week seeing scenic Kansas, visiting the OZ museum and getting a lecture on how to be funny from my professor friend. The next two weeks, I spent quality time with family and met relatives who existed between 4.5 years and 45 years without me ever laying eyes on them in the flesh. And then I went to Disney World.

I went to Disney World the only way anyone should ever really go to Disney World -- for free. My friend works there and served as my personal tour guide, optimizing my time there and making sure I rode all the best rides and saw all the best sights. Her husband works for Sea World, so we stopped there to check out the marine life and feed the dolphins with his co-workers before I flew off to Colorado.

I already had a funny little gig set up for this weekend before I got on the plane. Today I paced up and down two short isles of women's clothing in Costco for six hours. It was probably the most boring job I've ever done and I'm going back for more tomorrow and Sunday. But at least the free samples are yummy and the people who man the stations are happy to give you seconds, thirds and even sixths.

I'm still twisting around, trying to catch up with everyone and leaving little time to catch my breath. Starting next week, I will be trying to get people to sign up for Frontier Airlines cards at the Denver International Airport. So if you're ever flying through, give me a call. I might be there.

Sorry I don't have anything insightful or thoughtful to say this time around. I just wanted to let everyone know where I am and that I haven't abandoned the blog.

Hasta Luego.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Identity crisis

So, the other day I imagined myself at a dinner party months from now and someone asks me what I do for a living.

For more than six years, I’ve been able to say I am a professional newspaper reporter. Sometimes I add that I am also a waitress. I want to emphasize that I am not dissing my role as a waitress in this post. I love waiting tables and will probably do it long after I quit calling myself a journalist.

But being a journalist has become such a deeply-rooted part of my identity. I started a newspaper in the fifth grade (though it only printed two and a half times) and went on to edit both my high school and college papers. I’ve been a journalist a lot longer than I’ve been a waitress, a lot longer than I’ve been anything – including a “woman.”

Even in school, my role at the newspaper often trumped my role as student or even my role as a teenager or young adult. In high school, my newspaper friends and I trolled the empty building until after midnight when the paper was getting ready for press. In college, I frequently dropped the prints off or sent the final pages by e-mail at 6 a.m. before going to my 8 a.m. Buddhism class, where I reached a new level enlightenment by learning to sleep with my eyes open and pen moving.

Journalism is something that gets under your skin and infects you forever. Many of my closest friends from college worked with me at the newspaper. Even though they no longer work in journalism, their e-mails still adhere to AP style.

I know there are a lot of journalists our there right now trying to figure out who they are without their jobs. It’s going to be hard for me and I planned it this way. I can’t imagine how hard it is for those who were surprised by that loss of identity.

I saw a friend this weekend who gave up her life, including a job as a counselor, to start something new in a new place. She’s waitressing while she looks for other work. It’s tough. It’s super tough in this economy. It took her a long time to find the waitressing gig. I went to drinks tonight with another friend who gave up her teaching career to pursue her passions in the restaurant industry and build something with the man she loves. Then I came home to an e-mail from another friend who just landed a new job she’s excited about after months of looking. But she left her journalism career and is struggling with the idea that she might not ever be a writer again.

I am leaving for an adventure, which makes me feel amazing and I’ll be proud to tell people what I’m doing. But I admit that I am nervous about what I will be when I come back. What will I tell the stranger who asks me what I do for a living? I can’t say, “I’m a waitress ... but I used to be a journalist.” It’s as lame as saying “I’m an accountant ... but I used to be the quarterback on my high school football team.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an accountant).

My worry isn’t that I will have to tell people I am a waitress. It’s that I won’t be able to tell them I am a reporter.

I guess I will say to myself what I said to my friend who e-mailed. Once a writer, always a writer.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A quibble with the 100 things not to do

Some of you have asked me to comment on a New York Time article by Bruce Buscell titled "100 things restaurant staffers should never do (part 1)"

Many of things are just common sense and normal human decency like # 1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting. Or #2. Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar.

Other "don'ts" aren't quite as black and white. I disagree with the following don'ts for the following reasons:

7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.

Studies have shown that waiters who tell guests their names make better tips. I believe it's because the person your serving is forced to remember that you're a person/fellow human being and that might lead him or her to think you, like him or her, have bills to pay and feelings that would be hurt by inconsiderate tips. Maybe saying your name would be out of line in some stiff restaurants where guests prefer to think of their waitress as a servant.

11. Do not hustle the lobsters. That is, do not say, “We only have two lobsters left.” Even if there are only two lobsters left.

If it's a busy night in the restaurant where you're dining and you want lobster, would you want to know there are only two left? Just asking.

17. Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait.

I hate sitting there with an empty plate in front of me and I hate having a full plate in front of me when I'm finished, that stands whether the person I'm with is finished or not. Take it away, I say. And that's why I clear plates before everyone is finished. Some people even hand me their plates while their companions are still scooting peas around with their forks.

31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.

What if the guest doesn't want to talk about it? She has diarrhea or the guy she's with called her fat?

32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.

What if they're wearing something really soft?

37. Do not drink alcohol on the job, even if invited by the guests. “Not when I’m on duty” will suffice.

Isn't free booze part of the employee benefit package at most restaurants? No health insurance or paid vacation, but a free glass of wine to take the edge off those mean rednecks who stiffed you can make it possible to smile at the next table that asks for sweet tea.

38.Do not call a guy a “dude.”

Even if he has long blond hair and wears board shorts?

40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.

I disagree with this one in earnest. It makes the guest feel accomplished. It's not that other choices are bad, but this person is special and identified the best thing on the menu all by him or herself. I feel proud of myself when waiters congratulate me on my choice and I like to reward my cleverest customers with a little proverbial pat on the back.

42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else.

So not true. If I compliment your date's sense of style, I'm simultaneously complimenting yours.

43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant.

Unless it really is the best.

49. Never mention the tip, unless asked.

Or if it's a foreigner who has left you 3 percent and you feel it's your duty to all the servers this European will stiff after you on his vacation. Letting him leave without a gentle, "was there something wrong with the service?" and brief explanation of U.S. tipping customs is like setting your friend up with a guy you know has Herpes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The one that got away

I have decided that quitting a job is a lot like breaking up with a significant other.

I have nearly no experience with break-ups. I’ve only broken up with one boy –– ever. Luckily, we did it twice, so I got twice the experience out of the one relationship. One of the break-ups was a nice, civilized “let’s be friends” break-up and the other was one of those “I hate you and hope you have many divorces and never find happiness” types. In that order, clearly.

While I have precious little experience ending romantic entanglements, I have walked away from well over 100 jobs. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had more jobs than anyone else I have ever known - even people with decades on me. I even had a competition a few years back with the one person I thought might hold a candle to my employment inferno. I won by a bar napkin full of employers.

To be fair, most of these employers weren’t looking for anything serious from me. They never asked for or wanted a commitment. Some of the jobs lasted only one day, others just a week or two, and we both knew at the start that was how it would be. I always left knowing I could knock on the door if I wanted back in and they could call if they wanted me back. But usually it wasn’t worth the effort. It was more exciting to find another short-term offer somewhere else.

Even my more serious long-term and meaningful jobs have been paired with mistress service positions – PBS and Applebees in New York, The Post Independent and The Brickyard Restaurant in Western Colorado and now The News&Guide and The Gun Barrel in Jackson Hole.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m a sort of slutty employee.

But, gosh darn it, I’m a good employee. I have a serious work ethic and always want to feel like I’m doing a good job. I’ll sell more Panasonic cameras than any of the other promo people. I’ll get more poor fools to sign up for an MNBA credit card with a bad interest rate than anybody else with a stack full of oversized free tee-shirts. I’ll file the beegeezes out of your moldy paperwork. I’ll sign up a record number of roughnecks for your Shell gas card and I’ll write so many newspaper stories in a single sitting that I forget how to spell my own name.

But I digress.

I’ve left a lot of jobs. I’ve never been fired. I’ve never been laid off (though I’ve always kind of wanted a severance). And I’ve never left on bad terms. I’ve always left feeling like I could go back and my old employer would be happy to have me.

Can you imagine if this was romantic relationships? What a bitch, right? Who do I think I am? A girl like that will end up alone and miserable – or at least, we all secretly hope she will.

And maybe I will end up unemployed and desperate. Or at least, maybe you secretly hope I will.

I don’t know. But it’s rough this time around. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and I feel like I should have some semblance of stability in my life. Most of my friends are buying houses, getting married, having babies, those things adults do. Or maybe it’s because this has been the most amazing job I’ve ever had. I mean the News&Guide. Though I also doubt I’ll ever find a restaurant as well organized, relaxed, consistent and lucrative as the Gun Barrel has been.

I have two weeks left at the News&Guide. The editors there are the best I’ve ever worked with. They care about the paper. The owners, who live in town and work in the office with us, love the paper and care about it. The people who write for the paper care about the community and care about their work as reporters. There is so much passion in that office. I have a feeling the New York Times staff would be jealous if they came to visit.

I have grown at the News&Guide. I’m better for having worked there. But it’s also the most independent job I think there is, aside from maybe working at Google. I make my own schedule. There’s a priority in the office on balance and the outdoors. I’m sure I’ll never find that with another job. The News&Guide has ruined me for other employers. I don’t know if I will ever be able to work for someone again.

When I decided not to go to graduate school this spring, a big part of my decision was that I loved the News&Guide and I loved Jackson. I was so in love. But all along, I’ve wondered if this paper and this town was “the one.”

If I’d been sure, I never would have applied for graduate school to begin with. There’s something out there. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I think that just increases my chances of finding “it.”

So, yet again I’m leaving on good terms. And if I find out I can’t live without this life, I hope, I can come back.

I only ever break up with employers in that “we can still be friends” way. It’s just hard because I want to run to the editors and say, “it’s not you, it’s me.” I know they’ve heard it all before a hundred times. They’ve taken so many break-ups over the years from young adventurous reporters coming and going, they do it like professionals. It’s not that big of a deal.

And even though I know this is the right thing to do and the healthy thing to do, I still sometimes cry when I think about it and sort of want them to come chasing after me saying “don’t go, don’t go, we love you.”

And I know that for the rest of my life, I will wonder how it would have been if I’d decided to stay forever.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The last supper

I served my last buffalo prime rib last night.

It was a bitter-sweet and rather unceremonious event. As the season winds down, the traffic at the restaurant has slowed to a miserable crawl. The chef kept track of the number of dinners we served by leisurely writing numerals on the backs of stabbed meal tickets in the food window. We were up to 55 by the time I finished my shift at 8:30. This is a restaurant that serves more than 500 dinners a night in the summer.

The last day of the season before the restaurant closes for five weeks is supposed to be Halloween. But it’s been slow enough lately that the owner told the hostess not to make reservations for later in the week without getting phone numbers. He might close early.

We spent most of the night hiding in the manager’s office so we wouldn’t feel compelled to annoy our few customers with relentless service. There were only four of us, where there are usually 10. Someone pulled up “The drunkest man in America” video on YouTube and we watched a stumbling idiot sway into a liquor store on a surveillance tape. He managed to get a case of beer before hanging on to the cooler door for dear life as he fell backward. He straightened out and grabbed another cooler door before falling on his back. This video is four minutes long and for most of it, the guy looks like an upside-down June bug clawing at the air.

I had four tables last night. The first one was a couple hunters who I think felt sorry for me. One of them tipped generously – $10 on a $30 check. My next table was filled with four folks, two couples from Alabama. They asked for sweet tea.

Sweet tea is the kiss of death. Any time someone asks for sweet tea, I know they will tip poorly, sometimes so poorly I would have been better off if they’d never come. On busy nights, those who ask for sweet tea are automatically my lowest priority. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps those who don’t get north of the Mason-Dixon line much didn’t have to take math classes in school or maybe they just don’t get out much or maybe people in the south come from a non-tipping culture like the French, which would be really sad for waiters in the south who I’m sure still only make $2.50 an hour. (No offense to my Southern friends. I know not everyone from the south is a bad tipper). Not sure. But most of the time I’d rather wait on a British person who I know will tip me 10 percent.

Last night, however, I was not busy. So my table from Alabama was my top priority. They all ordered frozen beverages. Each of them got a different tasty blended drink. The bartender hates making frozen drinks.

“Is this how you want me to remember you, Amanda?” he chided.

Despite their bad beverage decisions, they were nice people. They were just starting their vacation and they’d never seen the Tetons before. They were excited. I do love Americans on vacation. We have so little time off. It’s always so precious to the people who eat at our restaurant and they’re typically really excited to be away from their usual lives.

They asked why they hadn’t been able to find any drink Koozies in Wyoming. (Koozies are those foam sleeves that fit around a can of beer or soda to keep it cold in hot weather). I told them it doesn’t get very hot here so the extra insulation isn’t necessary.

“But don’t your hands get cold?”

“I suppose so” I admitted. One of the gentlemen handed me a camouflage Koozie from his construction company as a gift to keep my hands warm while drinking cold beverages. I was touched, though I secretly hoped he didn’t think it was my tip.

They weren't too bad for sweet tea folks. They left $20 on a $150 check. That's more than 13 percent – better than a Brit.

I’ve loved my years at the restaurant. The summers are so busy and chaotic that it took me a few seasons to get my sea legs. I feel like I can handle it now and I’m sorry to go. I love talking to the people who dine there. They come from everywhere. There are all kinds of people at this restaurant in a way I don’t think there will be at any other restaurant I work in after this. The reason for the diversity is that America’s greatest national parks appeal to every type of person and if the parks don’t bring them, the ski resort will.

I have waited on friendly, happy people, angry sour and bitter people, people who are so stingy they make their waiters pay to serve them and generous people who leave so much I’ll remember their kindness forever.

These are the highlights.

The worst: A table of five red necks – two couples and one moderately attractive young guy. They spent the whole night drinking bottomless pitchers of Bud Light and kept suggesting I go out with the single guy. They even gave me his number. Their bill was $300. They left $7 as a tip. Then they asked me where I was going when I got off so I could meet up with them. I sent them to the one bar I knew I wouldn’t visit that night and daydreamed about what I would say to them if they ever sat in my section again.

The best: The crowd changes at the restaurant in the late season, which starts in September. We call our clientele “newly weds and nearly deads.” It’s all young couples and retired people who don’t have school-age children. There was one cute older couple who came into the restaurant on a night this September when I was having a particularly tough time enjoying myself. The woman just ordered side dishes, no entrĂ©e. The man asked for ground pepper and I had to run around the restaurant to find the grinder because it was missing from where it belonged. They were nice people. We didn’t talk much. I don’t think I even asked where they were from. Their bill was $63. They left me a $110 tip for a total of $173. I will remember their generosity forever.

One day, when I am rich, I will run around leaving ridiculously big tips for absolutely no reason at all. Other than to brighten the day of my sever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How is it so easy to drink a whole bottle of wine alone?

So, it was a good weekend at the restaurant. On a night when I expected to be sent home the moment I walked through the door, I ended up selling almost $1,000 worth of food and drinks. Somehow, the off-season isn’t nearly as mind-numbing and boring as I remember.

The extra padding in my wallet has left me feeling spendy. I bought a bottle of wine Monday night. I like Penguin cabernet because it tastes good and costs $6.99 at the liquor store next to my favorite grocery.

But I’ve always got an eye out for a deal. I bought something different Monday in celebration of my roommate’s homecoming. She’s been gone for a month. It’s just been me and the mice, who I serenaded once or twice in hopes they would feel compelled to help me clean the condo and maybe make a gown for the ball.

I splurged Monday and spent and extra $2 on a pinot noir that normally costs $10.99.

The wine was great. My roommate drank her share and we had a nice night of cooking and listening to “This American Life” together.

The next day, I went back to the liquor store. I took another bottle of the pinot noir off the shelf and walked toward the counter. Then I remembered that the people who work at this liquor store seemed to be recognizing me lately. The Russian girl behind the counter asked me, “what was your birthday, again?” the last two times I bought bottles here instead of, “can I see your ID?”

I contend this is because she recognizes me and not because I’ve suddenly started looking old.

There are some places where you like to be known – the cafe where you get eggs Benedict, the post office, the bakery, even the deli counter at the grocery – nice wholesome places where you long for a friendly face and where it feels warm and comforting for everyone to know your name.

And then there’s the liquor store.

So, I went back and picked up a bottle of the old standby Penguin. Two bottles. That should hold me over for a while, I thought, at least long enough for the Russian girl to forget my birthday again.

I got home and poured myself a glass, took a shower and started watching a movie on the Internet. I worship the Internet and it’s magic powers to bring absolutely anything I want to see to my little 8” by 10” screen, even if the words don’t always match the lip movements of the characters. No one is perfect, not even the Internet.

After watching a 30-minute TV show, with pauses for buffering, and a feature-length film, with pauses for buffering, and surfing the Argentine classifieds on, I looked over and noticed my wine glass was empty. I went back downstairs to get some more. I tipped the bottle and a finger-nail’s worth of my $8 pinot noir poured into the glass.

A few minutes later, my friend Cara texted me.

“How is it so easy to drink a bottle of wine alone?”

I was just wondering that.

Oh well, at least I had the Penguin for tonight.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No more macaroni

Thanks everyone for your kind suggestions. I've received a lot of tips recently on how to eat cheaply without boring myself into the bathroom.

I threw away the last of the macaroni and tuna Monday, putting one last portion into a Tupperware container for that day's lunch. I couldn't bring myself to eat it and spent $4.50 on soup and pita chips at the Whole Grocer instead.

I left the Glad container of macaroni on the passenger seat of my car until today when I went to lunch with co-workers. Then I moved it to the back of my Subaru wagon. It's still there tonight. I forgot about it. I'm reluctant to waste it. Maybe I'll eat it tomorrow.

Unlikely, though. I made a giant batch of spicy tofu and bell peppers with rice noodles the other night. It's cheap, healthy and exciting. Also, there's just no way it will take me more than a week to eat it.

I seem to be rebelling from my cheap eating promise, going to lunch and drinking a beer, buying wine at night and goat cheese for a snack.

My expensive taste is costing me. Tips are shrinking. People are coming more slowly to the restaurant, ordering less and leaving little.

I left last Sunday angry because I ended up paying to wait on my last table of the night. They left me 7 percent after sitting two hours as my only table and drinking. I had to pay the bartender, busers and government. In the end, it cost me about $1.50 to serve them.

Please note. No matter how much fun you are for your server, he or she never wants to pay for the experience of being at your beck and call.

Please tip your servant ... er, server.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Macaroni and tuna

Gregorio, my Spanish teacher in Chiapas, Mexico, told me in April that he had a student who ate nothing but tuna and macaroni salad for a whole year in order to save up money for a year of travel. That sounded like a pretty simple equation: One year of boring tuna and macaroni equals one year of blissful work-free travel around the world.

“Yuk,” was my response. I don’t have anything against tuna and macaroni. But to eat the same thing every day, three meals a day, for a whole year? Water boarding sounds like more fun.

* * *

It’s snowing in Jackson Hole. It started snowing last weekend and it’s been cold and dreary for a few weeks now. People, crazy people, are even skiing on the sparsely covered Tetons.

With this sprinkle of winter has come low reservations in area hotels – about 35 percent of capacity. The only tourists are the ones from warm places who didn’t know any better and the bargain shoppers.

There are usually 10 servers at my restaurant. As we slip into the off-season, we cut back to nine, then eight, then seven and sometimes just six. I was number eight of eight last Sunday. The hostess seated a nice couple in my section who ordered a bottle of wine and an appetizer. The night started off well, but the front door was quiet.

The owner’s son, who manages on Sundays, came to me 20 minutes after we opened and sheepishly said I was cut, server vernacular for “not getting any more tables.” I asked my fellow servers if they wanted to trade places with me and go home to their couches. No one was interested. Everyone is looking down the barrel of the financial gun with tips trickling down to nothing before we close for a month starting the day after Halloween.

My nice couple wanted a leisurely meal. They took their time, ordered dessert, sipped their wine. I folded napkins and folded napkins and folded napkins. They had a pretty good meal and a pretty good bill. If they left within two hours of sitting down and tipped properly, it wouldn’t be a total wash. Plus the manager offered me a free dinner as a consolation.

After they paid, I noticed the man following my moves across the restaurant.

“Are we your only table?”

I explained that it was a slow night and gave them directions to the grocery store and plucked the little black bill book from the table.

They tipped 20 percent – $22. I gave $2 to the bussers and $1 to the bartender and collected my free dinner, my coat and my $19 and went straight to the grocery store, where I purchased a bag of macaroni and two tins of tuna.

I made a massive bowl of delicious, spicy macaroni and tuna salad with lots of olive oil, capers, left-over gorgonzola cheese and crushed red pepper. I filled a Tupperware container with the dish for lunch each day this week.

I swear my macaroni and tuna salad procreates in the bowl. There's enough left for another week of lunches.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My "brave" decision

My name is Amanda H. Miller. And I am a waitress.

I have created this blog as a tribute to the work that has brought me so much freedom and happiness. It only recently occurred to me that I’ve slighted this profession all of my adult life, leaving it off resumes, out of casual conversations and neglecting to post it on my Facebook page.

While I’ve waitressed and cooked and hosted at restaurants from New York to Alaska since I was a teenager, I’ve also been a newspaper reporter all these years. That’s the profession I list on loan applications and the one I would have put on dating Web sites if I’d ever lived in a city with more than 5,000 men.

Some friends and family members may not have even known I am a closet service worker.

But this work has brought me such solace and balance. I always look forward to leaving the newspaper for my waitressing shifts where it’s almost always so busy there’s no room in my head for anything but elk chops and tenderloins, sweet potatoes, French fries, Bud Lights and margaritas.

If there is a moment, it’s nice to talk to people about where they’re from and if they’re enjoying their vacations instead of how many DUI arrests the police made or how the school kids did on their standardized tests.

And it’s so fulfilling to open that little black book left on the table to find $12, $20, $110 just for me (and the bussers, bartenders and stewards). I like the suspense leading up to it and I like guessing at what people will leave. I like being right and sometimes I love being wrong.

This work has filled my pockets with green bills and my bank account with enough digits to allow me a freedom few have these days.

The freedom to quit.

I’ve given notice at both my jobs in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression.

“Congratulations,” the guy who works at Blue Cross said to me today when I told him I was quitting my job, the one with health insurance benefits. “ You don’t hear that much these days. A lot of people are getting laid off. But I don’t know of anyone quitting.”

The plan was to spend the holidays with my family and then four months bumming around South America – purposely unemployed. Then, tentatively, to wait tables and try to write something other than newspaper articles.

The plan has gotten mixed reactions. Jackson Hole is a pretty amazing place, full of more natural beauty than any other place in the continental United States. A lot of people wonder why I would leave, especially when my job (the newspaper gig) is so good. I can drink beer at lunch some days, ski in the backcountry before work and hike in the Tetons on my lunch break.

Most people, though, think my plan is brilliant. They smile and call me brave.

I am grateful to live in a time when the line between brave and crazy is so fuzzy.

To add an extra dash of “brave” to this plan, I’ve decided to attempt to be a waitress in every country I visit in South America.

This extra “brave” addition to my travel plans is perfect for a few reasons.

  1. I’m wildly interested in immigration and illegal workers. What better way to dig deep into the issue than to BE an illegal worker?
  2. Working in a fast-paced restaurant environment will force me to amp up my Spanish. Even if no one ever hires me, the interviews will be good practice.
  3. It will help me pay for some of this “brave” adventure.
  4. I will have something relevant to blog about on this site I insisted on naming “Excuse me, waitress.”