The Waiting Game
“After you find out all the things that can go wrong, your life becomes less about living and more about waiting.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Introduction : May I take your coat?
I recently turned 30. Thank you! Thank you for your praise for making it this far. However, the reason I begin with this fact is not because I am trying to generate a few extra happy birthday messages on facebook, but because 30 is one of those ages where you start to look at your choices and make some changes. Since I was fifteen, when I took my first service industry job, I’ve experienced all kinds of waiting. I’ve waited in a family run gourmet restaurant in Edinburgh that dealt in silver service style sittings, I’ve worked in high turn over tourist traps, corporate run fast food joints and at the counter in a West Village tea shop in New York. Over the years these experiences have helped me to fine tune my ‘waiter personae’. Waiting has taken me across the world, allowed me to travel and allowed me to live once I’ve gotten to my destination.
But what does all this have to do with turning 30? Well, a few years ago I made a promise to myself, that the 17th of October 2014 would be my last night working in service to other people. The industry has been good to me, it’s given me a living when I could find no other work, it helped me survive financially during college and introduced me to people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds, some of whom I still count among my close friends. Waiting is a great job, and for some a wonderful career, but for me there has to be an end point. An end point to working in something that isn’t directly related to what I would like to be doing professionally, an end point to working in a job that directly hinders me when it comes to creativity, and mostly an end point in putting my energy and time into making money for someone else, particularly when it’s someone who really only sees you as a replaceable cog in the works, as a part of their product.
It’s been a tough few years for me and my relationship with the service industry. After three and a half years, my last job left emotionally drained, my confidence bruised, my loyalty burnt so much so that I decided to take a whole year off work to travel, recover and work on myself. However, despite my plan to jump ship altogether after my birthday, unfortunately it seems that I’ll need to hang on just a little longer than I had planned. Why is this? Well, there are many reasons, but at the very foundation it’s this: Money. I need money if I want to travel and have the odd cute pair of Nike runners. I need more money for bigger goals than I can make as a poet or relying on the government. The other reason that compounds this relationship is, and yes you can tut at me for saying it, the hangover of the recession. I just can’t seem to find paying jobs in the industries I want, and to be honest, it was even difficult to find suitable JobBridges willing to abuse my time and talents. So here I am, back on the floor, smiling politely in my waistcoat and standing, one arm behind my back, offering to pour a taste of wine for people who don’t know shit about wine.
So I’ve decided to write about it. For a few reasons. I want to write about how this relationship with the service industry developed for me. I want to write about how it all began; the positive experience I have had, about how some of the jobs have helped me develop as a person, introduced me to other cultures, taught me about cuisine and business and allowed me to see the world. I want to uncover the negatives, the things about the industry that have damaged me, the times when I have been abused and treated like a slave with no rights because of a perceived notion (both theirs and my own) that I need them more than they need me, about the places I have worked that have required me to leave all that I love about myself at the door in order to be a robotic minion who lives to work, not someone who works to live. Finally, I want to write about it for catharsis – to take all the experiences I have had over these 15 years of service and tell you what I’ve learned; that if you must do these jobs despite your greater goals, how to remember to be yourself, how to be firm with an employer who doesn’t respect you, and about how you CAN make the industry work for you if you are willing to be upfront both with your potential employers and yourself about what it is you actually want to gain from the job, and to never give over your power.
Lastly, I am hoping that maybe in the process, by some trick of fate and hard work, using these experiences to create something of worth – to be a writer despite being a waiter – will cause them to translate into something positive in my creative life. So, here we go. Let me top up your glass and I will be right back with your starters.
Words: Andy Apples
Illustration: Dylan Drennan