Part Three of the Dinner Party Special Edition Outtakes & Excerpts Series.
I once worked in a restaurant where the customer had to be greeted within seconds of approaching the bar—or else our manager would rush over and drop a menu, smiling almost aggressively as if to make up for my supposed negligence of their presence. Later, I would be reprimanded for not tending to their needs immediately. My manager would raise an eyebrow. Immediately.
I work in a restaurant now that’s quite successful. We’re busy most every night and weekend, with waits ranging from fifteen to forty-five minutes to an hour. As a result, I’ve gotten into a habit of moving at an accelerated pace. I look for standard clues that a table is ready to order: how decisive they seem when I first interact with them, if they’re still bent over and scanning their menus, or if they’ve set the menus to the side.
One night I won’t forget, a strange thing happened. A four-top came in, and they put in a few appetizers but seemed to be wavering otherwise. One girl asked a question, which I went to the kitchen to answer, then came back to deliver their response to her. She received the information, looking thoughtful, as did the rest of the table who sat staring down with their menus open.
I started to walk away but was called back by a somewhat angry, “Hey! We’re ready to order!” I immediately backtracked and smiled, apologizing for walking off. I hadn’t realized that they were ready.
“What would you like to eat?” I asked, and then took their order. After they had eaten and left, I took their receipts to add to my tips. On one of them—the girl, I assume—had written, “Next time, wait long enough for us to order. It’s respect,” next to a sardonic little smiley face.
I was thrown off. The whole group seemed to have mistaken my necessarily fast pace for disrespect. It’s ironic to me that, on one hand, I’m too quick. But on the other, if I were to give up my fast pace, I would be giving up my job because service would be too slow, and Yelp reviews would show for it. Nobody would be happy. I’m damned if I move quickly and damned if I don’t.
What about when I want to eat? I don’t spend much time in restaurants. I chew broccoli raw and crack open cans of tuna. I don’t even want to take the time to use the microwave; I just want to be fed and move on. I’m also unwilling to subject other servers to the pressure of my needs and wants. But that’s likely because I’m ruined by my years in the service industry.
I’m also ruined by fast walkers. Like I’ve said, my job requires them. As a result, I find myself growing increasingly annoyed at anyone, anywhere, who doesn’t maintain a rapid pace, moving across a room with purpose. At the grocery store, in the gym, anywhere, I find myself inwardly cursing at those who don’t seem to know where they’re going, or who don’t show any interest in getting wherever it is at any particular time. I hate the slow roaming types, and then I hate myself for hating them. They’re just people. Who says they have to be so quick?
That’s a great question. Who says?
We are fundamentally contradictory, wanting to be paid attention but not wanting to give attention to certain things for which we don’t have time.
Of course, of course, you might be thinking: It’s an old argument that things are too fast, that we don’t know how to enjoy a leisurely drive or a slow walk, and that you can blame technology, with its ever-increasing pace and oh-so-rapid rate. Move to New York City. Get on with it.
And, yes, I see what you mean. But I can’t afford New York City. And more importantly, I’m not just placing the blame on technology. It’s not just us; it’s not just “them.” It’s just about every element of our capitalist society that has encouraged us to embody these immediate-response qualities—and to exacerbate them. We are fundamentally contradictory, wanting to be paid attention but not wanting to give attention to certain things for which we don’t have time.
What takes our attention takes our time. And, as the girl in the restaurant suggested, time is respect. Who—or what—do we respect enough to give our time?
Our phones, our computers. The bloggers and talkers on social media. Twitter, Facebook. The new route to money is acquiring people’s attention. Email lists, personalized ads, likes, loves, views. Yes, you might be aware of this, but are you scared of this? Should we be scared of this?
I received a bill in the mail, one that I didn’t expect but wasn’t too inconvenienced in paying. It was only $2.42. As inconsequential as it was, I was concerned with the fact that it came from the ExpressToll Service Center, in Boulder, where I had driven a few days before. I was meeting someone for coffee early in the morning, and, of course, I had slept a little too long and was running late.
The day’s schedule, in my mind, couldn’t allow for any delay, and all I could see on the packed highway for 20 or so miles was delay. It’s always awful, going from Denver to Boulder, so I (stupidly) swerved into the fast lane, the toll lane, which I noticed to be a toll lane but didn’t consider too seriously. And there I was, days later, paying for my impatience.
I find myself attending many open mic nights at various coffee shops. There are several which are so popular that if you want to make it on the list, you have to show up very early. The host also has to make it clear, again and again, that each performer is allowed to play two songs or read two poems.
Recently, at one of these events, there were several comedians. (Talk about the importance of timing, right?) One man fell into a series of more straightforward jokes. He asked, “You want to hear about my experience with speed dating?” and then answered, “It was great! Until my date did it all.”
Bad pun aside, this joke reminded me of the concept of “speed dating,” which, I can’t help but feel isn’t just a niche concept anymore. Rather, it’s a constant. Each of my experiences with “dating” seem to move at hyper-speed, with hyper-intensity that makes for hyper-intimacy—and then a sudden crash. But no problem, no problem at all. There are hundreds, or thousands, of others out there. And you’re welcome to move through them all, with as many dating apps and social media accounts as your little phone can hold.
Not just endless dating options, but restaurants too. It made sense that my manager was so urgent in greeting customers because, I eventually realized, every person who walked through the door, every person who we had the opportunity to serve, had to be served well, with utmost respect to their time. Because if we didn’t give them an experience worthy of their time, it was all-too-easy for them to decide to walk out, or never come back. If we didn’t treat them exactly how they wanted to be treated, they could eat at any of the many restaurants on the same street, or on the next street, or the next.
I briefly lived with a friend; it was a sudden, strange, circumstance-based thing that brought an intense new awareness to each of us as individuals. One morning, in pursuit of coffee, I asked him if he had a French press. “No,” he said. He didn’t like coffee made that way. I was baffled. How could anyone not like coffee made with a French press?
In those days, I was working at a coffee shop/bar, and one night, he came in to say hi. Something happened which left me with extra coffee grounds in the French press and no customer to drink it, so I passed him an empty mug, added hot water to the French press, and set it in front of him. As soon as I set it down, before waiting any amount of minutes to let the coffee steep, he pressed it down.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Um, drinking coffee,” he said, confused.
“You didn’t let it sit!”
“What?” he asked, as if the concept were new to him because, apparently, the concept was new to him.
I don’t blame him for not knowing. I just can’t help but think how amazing, so amazing, it is, what a difference five minutes can make.
So I’ll admit: I’m not patient. The etymology of the word itself indicates the misery associated with it, as it comes from the Latin root patient—meaning “suffering,” also coming from the verb pati, which means “to endure, undergo, experience.”
If only I could focus on the “experience” part of this word rather than the more negative “endure.” Moments are meant to be experienced, even when they are dull, or imperfect, or slow. Maybe I should work on this. Maybe, one day, I will. If I can find the time.