The Dark Side of The Table

Nov 17, 2005 by

As stated in my prior posting I have returned to the wild and wooley world of waiting tables, something I thought I had left behind for good. It does, however, provide a very interesting window into the mentality of the city’s residents as one catches snippets of dinner conversation during the meal.

Normal conversation has taken on an entirely new meaning in the Post-K days. Rather than the social small talk of two months ago topics are now surreal and bizarre. Casual referrences to being stranded in strange states and cities, tales of destruction on a grand scale, complaints (in this all night city) about nothing being open past 8pm, and the ongoing quest to “find everyone,” compete for stage time with horror stories about dealing with FEMA. Everyone has stories of where they were during the storm and where they ended up afterwards. We have become the most well travelled group of people in the USA because of all this.

There are many tables that I have waited on that have failed to tip at all, normally the priority complaint of a waiter, and I have not really minded. Most of them were obviously native New Orleanians who had lost eveything in Katrina. I could use the income but just having the opportunity to help give them a seemingly normal evening is a very satisfying endeavor. I have had so many people thank me for raising their spirits after all the tragedy. There are also many who have been kind enough to tip very well, mostly folks working on the rebuild in one capacity or another. (Educational Note: waiters make $2.13 an hour, and what little paycheck there is gets devoured by the IRS. Basically the only money a waiter makes is the tip you leave on the table.)

I have also seen a return to normal that is less enjoyable. There are more and more of the dreaded “high maintenence tables,” appearing by the day. The types that just don’t get the fact that we are working with practically nothing in the way of staff, supplies, equipment, etc. The spoiled and self entitled who get pissed when you explain that you can only fix them soemthing from the limited menu because THERE IS NOTHING ELSE! This is still a disaster zone people, be glad you can get a steak or lobster and quit asking to see a manager because I won’t get you something we do not have. I’ll do everything I can to ensure you have a fantastic meal, it’s my livelihood. Sitting around bitching for 20 minutes because you cannot get an anchovy olive in your martini is hardly appropriate behaviour while this many of your fellow New Orleanians are displaced and traumatized. Get a grip.

Anyway, while constant double shifts have kept me from going out to recon the rest of the city to any great extent waiting tables has let me see a large cross section of the human toll. All in all I am encouraged. The mood overall is one of optimism, a dedication to bringing NOLA back better than ever. Most people, even the ones who still have to commute in from Baton Rouge or farther, are determined to rebuild. “I’ll be damned if I’m leaving,” is a common theme. This are the strangest times I have ever experienced, a felling shared by all I have encountered. We will live through them and we will persevere. New Orleans will rise again.

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