The Gestalt of My Favorite Waitresses
- mamachef Mar 7, 2013 10:31 AM
Diners and coffeeshops are always fun topics here, so I'd like to start a discussion about the people who work those trenches. I adore waitresses; they seem of a breed: women with hearts who work hard for their money and start that day off right.
My two alltime favorites were Glenda and then Pat. It was the ladies themselves, it was what I observed when I watched them work: how they interacted with their whole clientele, circumstance and whatever day it was.
Glenda, well I've written a little about her. She worked at Norm's, my diner du choice in Sonoma County. She and Norm were married for years, building their several diners and raising a family that they brought into the business in one capacity or another. Glenda was a snappy lady: funny, sometimes brittle or distracted....but DAMN that woman could FLY. I've never seen anybody slang the hash like she did, and she always knew her customers and how they wanted their coffee before they sat down. When Glenda divorced Norm, she continued to work for him, weekends only, as she always had. The difference was that she insisted on taking the shifts alone (I think there was a money factor she hadn't experienced before) and you know what? It only made her work harder, and she still cleared a room like nothing I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, because of the divorce stress, her breaks were punctuated by the hassles she and Norm would have, out loud, in public, right there in front of G-d and everybody, but people just kinda carried on while they did their thing (most were regulars who knew both personalities and had been coming for years), and eventually she'd come around with the coffeepot again. This went on for years, 'til Glenda retired and Norm closed. They had a funny synergy: they couldn't live together, but it was pretty clear they couldn't be apart for long, and the fighting seemed to be the energy they fed from.
Ahh, Pat. Now she was something. At least 6' tall, broad in the bust and beam. She rode a hot red and silver Harley Fatboy, and when she took off her matching helmet when she came into work, you'd see her pink and purple hair, shaved on the sides and in pincurls at the top. Her makeup was a vivid rainbow: sparkly, colorful and perfectly her. She'd rock the rhinestone false eyelashes and spangly nails no waitress should have, but Pat wouldn't have been Pat without one of those things.
The first time I met Pat, I wasn't even really awake. Me and my boyfriend had woken with a bone-chilling, soul-destroying hangover and decided that what we needed was FOOD. NOW. So we went to the Carousel, and sat there sucking Pepsi and coffee, listing into each other since we sat on the same side.
All of a sudden, the WORST cacophony broke out from the back of the dining room. It sounded like the hounds of hell had been unleashed. It sounded like a battlefield. It sounded like Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem. It was that bad. And it was Pat, because Pat's shtick, only it wasn't shtick, was to sing "Happy Birthday" in her own inimitable way, to anyone who could prove that it was their day. And that is exactly what she was doing, with her entire huge voice, heart and soul. "HHHHHHHHHhhhhhhAAAAAAAAAAaaaPPPPPPPPy BBBBBBBBBIIIIIIIIIIRTTTTTTHDAAAAAAAAAAYYYY..." etc. etc. Her singing was more like braying, and it was totally cool and sure as hell woke us up. But the best was just watching this big, spangly broad do her thing with every ounce of her being.
I went there for many years on my b-day, just to get a b-day hug and song from Awesome Patricia Randle, who sadly passed in 2001, and is missed by an entire community to this day.
Someday, you gotta write a book. I'm serious. Your writing just leaps off the page, Mamachef!
I do not remember his name, but I remember there was a waiter who looked like Joe Garagiola (circa 1977) at the now-defunct Cap'n Chris restaurant in Haverhill, MA.
Goofy restaurant name aside, the place served good beef and seafood. I remember this waiter because he would always present me with a Shirley Temple with the same gravitas he gave my mom and dad their scotches....and that he always remembered my unholy love for maraschino cherries and whipped cream, so that I got a small saucer of whipped cream with two cherries (two!) alongside my mint parfait dessert.
Bless that man, wherever he is. I was so painfully shy in those days that I wouldn't have dreamed of chatting with him, but I remember hi.
The waitress I remember the most is one that worked at a restaurant/bakery in a small town near Seattle, WA that my grandparents went to once a week on "clam chowder" day. Every time I visited we would go and as my grandfather's dementia got worse and worse, she just kept her sense of humor and did her best to anticipate what she figured he wanted but he couldn't articulate (and she was always right!) She always greeted them by name and with hugs like they were coming to her home. My grandfather always ordered the chowder and she would bring out his "extra bowl" as soon as he finished the first one, which was great because he wasn't eating well at home. He has since passed away, but I will always appreciate and remember her kindness to my grandfather when he wasn't at his best.
This maybe isn't in quite the vein of the original topic, but your post reminded me of it, and I'm tearing up a little right now. When I was growing up, there was a creamery around the corner from my house, and my grandpa ("Paba") would frequently walk there with me and buy us ice cream. This is one of only a few memories I have of him, as he died when I was seven. I continued going for ice cream with my friends, but moved from that town when I was eleven. I went back some years ago, around 15 years from the time I left, and sat down for ice cream (gedunks!) with an old friend. Somehow it came up with the waitress that I used to go there when I was little, and she looked at me for a minute and said, "You used to come here with your grandfather, didn't you?" I was just so touched that she remembered me, and that someone you wouldn't expect had a memory of Paba. I don't know if she was a good waitress or not, but I think it shows something that she must have paid attention to her customers.
I agree with Pine . . . You NEED to write a book. Happy to hear you have one in progress--you owe it to the world.
I've lived long enough in a diner-heavy area that I could name at least 8-10. But I'll stick to my 2 faves.
The first was Rose. She was always warm and welcoming to all who walked into her section of the large diner I frequented in my old neighborhood in Philly. If she didn't know everyone, she sure acted like she did . . .and, as a result, she always ended up really knowing them. She was funny and with the older men, flirty. She asked questions about family and work like she really cared. And I'll never forget her joy when she announced she was taking two weeks off to take the train to Pittsburgh to meet her first grandchild. Equalled only by her over-the-moon return to share pictures of the sweet little girl. Yes, she knew my coffee and bacon preferences, and always left a full pot of coffee on my table (a move sure to curry my favor).
But Rose's real talent? She could start a conversation (usually about sports . . .it was Philly after all) that encompassed her entire section. People would actually converse among the tables. More often than not, people finished with their meals would get up and visit the other tables to continue discussions. On a gray, cold morning after a bad Eagles loss, that was talent.
The second is my current fave in the burbs of Philly. Pat. She's older and has bad feet and you know it can't be fun to be a waitress at a busy diner with bad feet. But she is unfailingly warm and friendly. She, too, knows everyone in the place. She, too, knows my coffee and bacon preferences. She is another Philly sports fan who can connect customers to each other. And she is especially sweet--and not condescending-- to my 84-yo mom and the other elders who seem drawn to her section of the diner. Whenever I go there with mom, she insists we ask for Pat's section. Is there any better seal of approval?
A singular encounter that remains with me to this day:
The time: mid-70's
The place: the basement coffee shop of a now long-defunct downtown department store, infamous for for its elderly waitresses.
My best friend and I were shopping on our lunch breaks and decided to have a quick bite there. I ordered a cheeseburger and she decided to try a pizza burger. When the tiny hair-netted waitress brought our orders she smiled at me and said "Here you go" as she placed my plate in front of me. She then turned to my friend, looked down at the neon red sauced burger with a look of undisguised disgust and said to "Well, honey, I guess you're stuck with this one". We waited until she left and then dissolved into almost-hysterical giggles.
Perhaps not so funny in the retelling, but it became a touchstone for us. More than 35 years later my still-best-friend and I will be dining out somewhere and, when our food is served, one of us will look at the other's plate and say "Well, honey, I guess you're stuck with that one".
I haven't had a favorite waitress in a long, long time. The one who comes to mind first is Nadia, who worked at Luigi's in DC when I was in college (GW) in the 1970s. My friends and my girlfriend would eat there at least three times a week.
They made this fettucine that had a red sauce, with a bubble of white sauce (Alfredo) on top that burst the minute you put a fork in it, and the combined thing was pink.
Well, the first time we went, we got there just past closing time. One of the waiters wanted to not seat us. We were ready to leave, but Nadia decided she was going to take us in.
She just took to us, and we to her, and we went back hundreds of times, I'd imagine, during my time in Foggy Bottom. It was my first experience with overtipping, or what I like to think of as "showing appreciation," and each visit was a wonderful time away from the dorm. Kind of a "mom" vibe.
Anyway, we became known as "Nadia's babies," and if she was there, she was the only one who waited on us. If she wasn't there, only Marlena was allowed to be our waitress. We felt so special, we would talk about being "Nadia's babies" back in the dorm. We would tell other people to eat there and say "Nadia's babies sent me."
Years later, I ran into someone who'd been a waitress there at that time. She introduced herself at another Italian restaurant, and it was nice. I so wish the restaurant had been better (*worst* risotto), for I'd certainly have gone back. I did go back, just not that often; it was nice to see someone from the old days but not a rekindling of an old relationship.
In later years, they sent the fettucine away, and I was never able to order it again. I used to try making it, but never really got it exactly right. Mine is perfectly good, with Parmigiano-Reggiano-inflected bechamel and a meatless tomato sauce, but it's never been the same.
And I am so glad to have the memory.
Growing up in North Oakland there was a great family diner called The Buttercup Cafe. It had the best casual neighborhood feel. The waiters and waitresses were wonderful to my mom and my brother and me. One time, my brother ordered a cheeseburger - the waiter asked him what type of cheese he wanted, and proceeded to list the choices: american, swiss, cheddar or jack. My brother, who was 6 or 7 at the time, misheard and replied "swisscheddar." I still remember the laughs all around, and not at him, but how cute he was. The waiter brought him a burger with swiss and cheddar on it. Another waitress was one of our regulars (or we were one of hers). Other than her being kind, friendly and efficient, I don't remember her personally. But funnily enough, my mom and I were reminiscing about the restaurant recently and she told me that our regular waitress there was none other than Suze Orman! Imagine my surprise!
First trip to India, and I was culture-shocked. We went to a locally famous place for lunch one day, and the elderly waiter must have seen/sensed my discomfort. He made sure to inquire just how *hot* I wanted my main (saag paneer, the best I've ever had) and even offered to bring 2--one mild, one hot. I loved them both, and he only charged for 1, so we tipped him quite well. This was a bare bones place: no tablecloth, no napkins. We decided we'd eat there daily.
Next day: same waiter, but this time he brought napkins and the same brand of bottled water I had the day before. Hardly spoke a word, but attentive and smiling. Another good tip.
This continued daily, over a couple of weeks, with new perks added each day: a tablecloth, cloth napkins, once with a folded towel over his forearm. Just charming.
Our last day, we told him we'd be leaving, and he actually teared up. We left a ridiculously large tip.
We went back the next year, and same guy! He ran up to us, salaaming and smiling. We've had him serve us now for over 10 years. A delightful man.
I don't remember her name now (it will probably come to me in the dead of night when I'm not trying to remember), but she was a middle-aged woman who worked at the low-rent golf club my dad and his cronies belonged to in the 70s. It was decidedly NOT a country club -- which made it even better, in my opinion.
We'd go in for breakfast on Sunday after the 7:30 am Mass, three kids, sometimes my mom, and my dad and the rest of his foursome. She somehow balanced treating my pre-teen brother like a grown-up, doting on my 5-yr old brother and being really sweet to awkward girl me in the middle. She was inclusively friendly to my mom and good-naturedly gave as good as she got from the wise-ass golfers all at the same time. Just an amazing piece of knowing and giving something different to everyone who needed it without missing a beat and getting all her tables served and turned in time for every one of the golfers to make their tee time.