August 29, 2009

Contemplating a return to the familiar

I’m sitting in this cafe, and instead of enjoying my food, people watching or working, I’m marveling at the organization of this place. My anal-retentive control freak side is drooling over the way they’ve utilized racks, trays and containers to store equipment and food in a way that eliminates clutter and is efficient for the servers. It’s fucking crazy how organized and well designed this place is. I want my house to be like this.

Usually in cafes and diners, the area behind the counter is a complete mess. I spent many of my years working in a juice bar making futile attempts to get our little area half as de-cluttered and structured as this. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve worked in one of these places. Usually the workspace is illogically laid out, not to mention an ergonomic nightmare. But you just get used to it after a while and your body teaches itself to bend and contort in ways it shouldn’t in order to make your job easier. I remember coming home after eight or nine hours on my feet and not being able to get back up when I finally sat down. It was inconvenient to put down floor mats (they were easy to trip over and people would never sweep or mop under them). Customers couldn’t be re-trained to order on one side of the bar, so I was constantly spinning my head around. It would never fail that you’d be helping someone on one side and another customer would come up behind you and “ahem” you repeatedly until you turned around.

It was chaos. I worked the day shift alone, Sunday through Thursday. I’d get there at 7 to prep and be out of everything by 10 or 11. I’d re-caffeinate and keep trucking through the lunch rush. It would be one thing if it had been an organized space. But the milk was 25 feet away from the espresso machine, the coffee grinder was in the back of the store, and you had to contort your body into a pretzel just to get mustard for somebody’s sandwich.

But this place has a dishwasher. And line cooks. And two barista/servers working together! And, it would appear, a manager who helps the employees. This is a strange new world. I almost want to apply for a job here. It’s all the good parts of the service industry: informal attitude, cool atmosphere, beautifully choreographed and efficient service, tips, working with your friends…and I’m pretty sure my waitress is drinking a beer on her break.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to go back to the food service industry. Maybe I can make it again as a waitress. Those tips are mighty tempting. Not a lot of stress, comfortable, more time to work on other things like artwork and zines (theoretically, at least).

Part of me feels more ambitious than that. I should set my sights on some dream job like I’ve been trying to do for years now. Keep on plugging away at what I know I want to do; go with the five-year plan (which has now turned into a ten-year one). I should get paid to do what I paid to learn to do, right? I was a double major with a minor—I should have no problems finding a job. And part of me thinks that this is ambition—making a conscious decision to reject the path I’m supposed to follow. The search for which has caused me endless hours of frustration, self-loathing and depression. I’ve already wandered so far off that path that it wouldn’t really matter. Why do I care what job I have as long as I make money? In a way, that’s kind of like asking who cares who you have sex with as long as you get laid, and that is a slippery slope.

I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I think I’m ready to pick up a job application on my way out.

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