Moment Of Brightness - 11.14.97

During my junior year of high-school, I got a job at a restaurant so I could try to start saving some money for college. I started out as a lowly dishwasher, but eventually moved up to busboy and then waiter. It was a quick change from dealing with no people to dealing with the public on a regular basis. Some days I had a lot of fun, but other times I felt like tossing customers through the windows.

During the time period that I worked there, many interesting things happened (more of which will probably show up here eventually) and I met hundreds of interesting people. One of the more cool things took place one day during one of our notorious holiday rushes.

Although it happens at every restaurant in the country, Mothers Day usually marks the largest rush in families eating out. To make matters worse, the restaurant where I worked was quite famous for its rather large Mothers Day buffet and fairly reasonable prices. From about 9 in the morning until 2 or so in the afternoon, we'd always have a waiting list of people to get in. At the worst points, the list sometimes reached over two hours, but people would still wait. I'm not sure why people would sit around so long, but for some reason they did.

On this particular Mothers Day, things were turning out no differently. The waiting list was already an hour long at nine in the morning and people just kept showing up. Since it was a buffet day, all I had to worry about as a waiter was keeping beverages filled and making sure that dirty plates didn't pile up too badly on the tables. It was warm in the restaurant already, and the packed capacity of the restaurant wasn't helping me out any. The tension was rising in my body, but there wasn't a whole lot I could do to combat it. At that point, I still had about six hours of work left, so all I could do was hope that time passed speedily.

After another two hours of insanity, I could best describe my emotions as "comfortably numb." I wandered around pouring coffee and clearing dishes, speaking on instinct and not doing much else. I had affixed a "please tip me" sort of cheesy smile on my face as everything around me droned on. Just as I was going to fill some water glasses at a table, I looked up and saw her. She had come in with her parents and was waiting to be seated. I broke out of my daze for a second, hoping that she would be seated in my section. Instead, she and her parents were shuffled off to the other end of the restaurant where I couldn't see them.

The reality of screaming kids and impatient customers again slapped me in the face and I started back at my duties. When I got a free moment, I went up to a friend of mine who was waiting tables and in a completely innocent tone said, "that girl over there is really pretty." He looked over at her only long enough to agree with me, then we were back to work. As I worked along, I caught quick glimpses of her as she was going through the buffet line with her parents. It was one of those silly, voyeuristic fascinations that you get with someone you think is attractive, but know you'll never see again.

My work continued and before I knew it, her dad was paying for the meal and they were out the door. I caught one last schoolboy glance as she went out the door. Never once did I achieve eye contact with her, but it didn't matter. It was something to get my mind off the monotony of my work for an hour or so.

At about three in the afternoon, things had finally settled down a bit. There was no waiting list and everyone was simply trying to clean up a bit after the constant onslaught of people, spilled drinks and dropped food. The dining area looked like a warzone with bits of napkins, chunks of food, and oblong stains garnering the carpet. After sweeping up an unusually large pile of bread crumbs and throwing them outside for the birds, I walked over to hand the broom and dust pan to a friend of mine.

After giving him the two items, he quickly grabbed something out of the waitstation and extended his arm to me. From the angle I was at, it looked like he was handing me a dirty napkin, so I respectfully declined. We had a back-and-forth game of pranks going on and I didn't want to grab onto a napkin smeared with baby vomit or anything else. After a couple moments of refusal, my friend got a strange sort of smile on his face and said, "oh, you'll want this."

My interest thoroughly peaked, I reached out my hands and placed them under his. He opened his hand and a napkin came fluttering down into my palms. After flipping it over, I saw that my name had been scrawled on it with a black pen. Upon opening it, I found the name and number of a girl. After a grilling, my friend admitted that he found it at the table of the girl I had mentioned to him earlier. She had somehow seen my nametag and scribbled it down as she sat eating Mothers Day dinner with her parents.

After jumping around a bit in jubilation, I settled down and started thinking about it a bit more. I had to call her, but I wasn't quite sure how to deal with it. The innocent fascination I had was fine because I had admired her at a distance, without having to risk talking to her and sounding like a dork. Sure, the thought of me chatting with her had crossed my mind, but now that I was presented with the opportunity, I didn't know what to do with it. Eventually, I decided that I would go ahead and call her. After all, she had been the one making the real effort leaving the note in the first place.

In the end, it didn't even matter that things didn't work out at all between us. It was more the principle of the whole situation that I'm still fascinated by. It's one of those kinds of things that most people have thought about doing at one time or another, but never end up going through with. It turned my crappy day into a cool one and completely surprised me. I just hope I have the guts to do it sometime.