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Mar 7, 2013 10:31 AM

The Gestalt of My Favorite Waitresses

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.
Got any?

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  1. Sheri at the Last Exit. Unforgettable 35 years later.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GH1618

      Tell why? What was special about Sheri?

    2. Heh. That's a fine tribute to Glenda and Pat, mama. I've never met 'em--never even set toe in Californee--but I feel like I sort of know 'em.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        But now you have to share, PK!! C'mon, man: I know you had some haunts where they knew you by name....for whatever reason. :)

      2. Can it be a waiter? We love Gary at Katz's in Charlotte NC. Everyone does.

        1 Reply
        1. re: southernitalian

          Of course it can be a waiter! I shouldn't have been so specific, because actually I do have a fave as well, Tony Bently at Galatoire's. But now, tell me why you love Gary at Katz's, please?

        2. 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.

          1 Reply
          1. re: pinehurst

            Pinehurst, thank you for sharing such a sweet story; such a lovely memory. Of such things are good lives made, eh?
            And - I'm working on a book, but then I have been for a loooooong time, and who knows if it'll see daylight. :) but I thank you for a sweet compliment.

          2. 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.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Scooter8

              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.

              1. re: juster

                "...that someone you wouldn't expect had a memory of Paba." I love that phrase....and the thought. It lets you know that someone else thought it was important, and remembers you to this day. That's one of those indefinable, incredibly important memories.

                1. re: juster

                  Thank you for sharing your story and I think it's amazing the waitress remembered you! If she was still working there and recalled your visits with Paba, she obviously loves her job and you and Paba made an impression on her.

                2. re: Scooter8

                  What a sweet, loving tribute. I can totally tell how much you loved your Grandfather, and I for one am so grateful that that waitress was such an empathetic, patient human being. everyone deserves that, oui?

                  1. re: mamachef

                    Yes, everyone does deserve it and I hope when I am elderly and need some extra attention from a service employee, I will find my weekly place to go.

                  2. re: Scooter8

                    Scooter8, what a sweet story. Thanks so much for sharing!