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.”