Farewell, Café Teria: Reflections on a Π-Week Job

P(re).S(cript). I just remembered that the Tar Heel Tavern theme for this week is "pirates." I have nothing about pirates to submit ... wonder if it's OK if I rate my Π-week job (I give it an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10) and merely call this a "Π-rating" post. Har, har, har! I mean, yo-ho-ho!

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OK, so my job lasted approximately 3.14 weeks. Not exactly pi, but it seemed fun to think of it as a Π-week job. Particularly since part of my job was, um, serving Πs. I mean, pies. Chocolate pies, strawberry cream pies, pumpkin pies, you-name-it pies. All kinds of pies.

The job ended at 2:00 today. Had it ended yesterday, I would have walked away thinking, “Thank God that’s over.” Which would have been unfortunate, because yesterday was probably the only “bad” day I’d had in Π weeks at Café Teria. It was one of those days when all of the lazy staff members are working, when the friendly, hard-working staff members are on vacation, and you’re doing the brunt of the work while the others shuffle and drag through what few tasks they fail to avoid.

But today was different. Good people were there today: energetic, hard-working kids who were actually happy to be at Café Teria on a sunny Saturday (or at least they pretended to be). And when your co-workers are positive, work can be fun. And today was fun.

So I left Café Teria in a good mood. And, of course, some thoughts: thoughts that, naturally, I’ll share with you now. :-)

My first (and only, prior to this summer) food-service job was as Kitchen Help at Yellowstone National Park in 1989. I made sandwiches and did prep work at the Grant Village Dining Room for a summer. I loved it. Really, I did. I loved “working the line,” particularly when it got busy and I had two, three, and four sandwich orders coming in at a time.

But I got bored. After a full summer of making sandwiches and chopping vegetables, my brain started to get really bored. I started writing poems on napkins when I should have been chopping lettuce on the “whopper chopper” or making antipasto salad mix. I sneaked in books to read during the slow period between breakfast and lunch … and sometimes during breakfast or lunch. I practiced an imaginary piano in the prep area. I made up songs in my head, wrote lyrics and chord progressions on napkins, then raced back to the dorms after work, went straight to the piano, and played what I could remember.

If there had been a computer in that kitchen, and blogging had been invented at the time, guess what else you would have found me doing … :-)

But the long and short of it is this: by the time I finished my glorious summer at Yellowstone, I thought to myself, “This job was fun, and I will never regret my summer as Kitchen Help, but food service is definitely not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I need job where I'm allowed to write a lot.

So, I won’t kid myself. Part of the appeal of my Café Teria job these Π weeks was that it specifically wasn’t a Cubicle Land job. There are plenty of underpaid Café Teria workers who would love the cushy, well-paid Cubicle Land job I gave up last spring. So I don’t want to romanticize the wonderful world of food service.

But …

There is something to be said for Café Teria work. Something that can’t be said for my now-defunct Cubicle Land career.

(1) For one thing, Café Teria work is all about seeing results of your labor. You wipe a table, and voila! … it’s clean. You take a customer the spoonful of brown sugar they requested, and voila! … they’re happy and thankful. You forget to check the salad-bar cherry tomatoes for nasty, runny ex-tomatoes, and voila! …someone (hopefully a co-worker and not a customer or the boss!) is going to let you know. In no uncertain terms. And if you do mess up, chances are that you won't be jeopardizing a multi-million-dollar contract with some big-name company.

At my Cubicle Land job, I would work for literally months, but would never see the actual results of my work. Deadlines would be pushed back. Software builds would change mid-course in the documentation, and I’d have to quit what I was doing and sometimes start over completely. (Sometimes it’s easier just to start over.) I would get positive feedback from my boss … but he didn’t really see my work, either. No one did. Who reads the user guides anyway? The only true feedback I got was when a client saw something amiss in the documentation and reported it back to the company. Then the tech writers would catch hell for it (this error could jeopardize our multi-million-dollar contract! yada yada yada ...) … even though the discrepancies were rarely our fault.

(2) At Café Teria, I hardly ever sat down. Whether I was working the bar or the slop bucket, or making pudding or cutting pies (Πs?), I was standing. Sure, my feet would hurt after a day of being on them, but that was so much better than the sluggishness I would feel after sitting on my butt for eight or nine hours in Cubicle Land.

(3) At Café Teria, I did not suffer computer-generated eye-strain or hand-cramps. Ahh. There is definitely something to be said for that.

(4) I got to wear shorts at Café Teria. We did have regulation polo-style shirts, but they were maroon, and maroon is a good color for me. And they were comfy and not hideously ugly. And I never had to decide what to wear in the morning.

(5) I liked being around a bunch of teenagers at Café Teria. They so much less … resigned … than some tech-writing adults I’ve worked with. Also, I felt alternately like a Martian visiting an alien planet, and like a very old woman visiting her childhood. I didn’t like everyone I worked with (and am thankful that some of them won’t be my students in the fall!), but it was still refreshing to be around “young’uns” for a while. It was definitely a learning experience, for me in general and as an up-and-coming high-school teacher.

(6) Café Teria is ten minutes from my house. Cubicle Land was nearly an hour from my house. Oh, the joy of having to ga$ up only once a week!

Cubicle Land did have a few advantages over Café Teria. For one thing, I made lot$ and lot$ more money there. Nearly four time$ more money. Plus, I had benefit$. But you know what? Money isn’t everything. Other benefits of Cubicle Land: (1) It was next door to one of my favorite restaurants in Asheville; (2) I didn’t have to be at work for the crack of dawn; and (3) I had full-time internet access, which meant keeping up with blogs and the news, and listening to naxos.com all day long. (I do miss blogs and Naxos.)

At both jobs, I was blessed with pleasant working conditions and nice bosses. At both jobs, I probably worked harder than I needed to. I made the most of them, but they’re in the past now, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

The next job—the next major job—will be teaching writing to high-school kids. Unlike the Cubicle Land and Café Teria jobs, high-school teaching will be a completely new experience for me. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of reflections about that job, which I’ll (of course) post here and/or on my teaching blog.

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