Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unexpected Delight at Table 50

I work as a server as California Pizza Kitchen at the Domain here in Austin. My real career is songwriter, singer, and writer, but working at CPK is how I pay the bills for now.

After spending 14 years in a cubicle in the corporate world, and interacting with customers mostly by just email or phone, it has been a real treat to interact face-to-face and so personally with people every day. I consider it a ministry of sorts - how can I truly serve and bless these people today in a really tangible way? It's very cool.

A number of folks warned me that waiting tables would eventually lead me to hate people. Interestingly, I have found that it has had the exact opposite effect. Don't get me wrong. I have had some crabby, difficult, rude, impolite, and even abusive customers. But they are a small minority. Most people are basically kind, gracious, and appreciative. Many are even downright fun. But sometimes the fun comes in unexpected packaging. Allow me to explain...

I was recently working a weekday lunch, it was nearing the end of my shift, and I was pretty satisfied already with the tips I had made. I was also pretty tired, a little grumpy, and not feeling up to waiting on another table. Basically I was being, as Beth Moore would say, Queen Complainey from the Hawhiney Islands.

I saw an older lady come through the door and I was one of only a couple of servers still on the floor. Because I have a reputation for never refusing a table, I knew I'd be asked to handle it. And sure enough I was.

She was sitting at Table 50, and there was nothing in her appearance or demeanor that suggested the revelry she would soon provide. I approached her with a smile that belied my cranky mood. "Hello," I said, "I'm Kristin and I'll be taking care of you today." No sooner was the sentence off my lips when she looked right at me and said, "Let me ask you something." "Yes ma'am," I said, expecting a question about our interminably long menu. Instead, she looked right at me and said, "Are you behaving yourself today?"

HA! What a hoot! I immediately felt my mood lighten. I said, "Am I behaving? Well, I'm doing my best!" And she looked at me squarely and said, "That doesn't sound convincing, Kristin." We continued to have some delightful banter around this question of whether or not I was behaving and whether or not she was behaving. That led to a conversation about her recent trip to Macy's to buy 1oz of perfume that she had seen on sale online, but dangit, the actual store only carried the 2oz bottle, so of course, she had to buy it in the 2oz size.

And throughout her late lunch that day, we talked about perfume and lipstick and her children and grandchildren. She shared with me that the first thing she does in the morning is get on her computer, and I told her I did the exact same thing. And we learned that we were both Christians - and in fact, both Baptists - and that we both enjoy life in the city and possess a wealth of friends in our lives. Everything she said was tinged with humor and whimsy, and soon every remaining ounce of grouchiness had completely left me.

She told me that her name was Joan, and I positively begged her to ask for my section next time she comes in. I left work that afternoon feeling immensely grateful. Joan not only cracked me up and warmed my heart, but she reminded me of the great, life-affirming, spirit-lifting, self-absorption-smashing, bad-mood-shattering JOY that comes from actively practicing the most vital aspect of my faith - LOVING PEOPLE.

Thank you God, and thank you Joan.

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