“Life just doesn’t care about our aspirations, or sadness. It’s often random, and it’s often stupid and it’s often completely unexpected and the closures and the epiphanies and revelations we end up receiving from life, begrudgingly, rarely turn out to be the ones we thought (we’d have).” —Khaled Hosseini
When I was 19, I took a job as a waitress on the graveyard shift at a truck stop restaurant where two major interstates intersect.
I had never waitressed before. I came home each morning with more quarters that I could fit in my purse. The tips were good. Drunk people aren’t yet gaining back their inhibitions during the 2 a.m. pancake portion of their night out. Most are pretty generous tippers, barely conscious or not.
I also came home with more blisters than I thought could fit on my feet. And a severely bruised ego from a cook who hated me from the first time I knotted my pea-green apron. I don’t know why he gave me the eye when he bothered looking at me at all. It may have been because I had never waitressed before and decided my first try should be the night shift at a truck stop.
There isn’t a training manual for that profession. And the others working that shift aren’t much for training newbies. Looking back, the partiers that filled the tables and booths were the highlight. The worst part was the walk across the parking lot after my shift. A truck stop is its own world in 5 a.m. darkness.
The massively scary cook and I never did settle our differences. No stories of a breakthrough and lifelong friendship that ensued. Maybe I should have given it more effort or more time. Three nights did it for me. I never waitressed again.
But it’s OK. I knew going in it was a rent payment, not a career choice. It was also a tap on the shoulder that convinced me to consider those previous college visits one more time.
Through a string of jobs through the years, I came across a variety of people and may have worked with nearly every known personality. Sometimes, all wrapped up in one unmedicated person.
I learned things from these people. Things like the most creative excuse for being late for work, which I picked up from a newspaper coworker several years ago in Salina. I didn’t realize that if you knocked a glass off of a nightstand in your sleep, a piece of it could literally slice all the way through an alarm clock cord, causing it to—well obviously—not beep. Totally understandable. And not at all unbelievable.
You get where you get by going through the “often random, often stupid” things, like the quote above says. But I don’t think any of it is without reason. At the very least, you get a glimpse of an alternate life you want nothing to do with—say, serving a bad cup of coffee to a dirty old man while a burly fry cook glares at the back of your head—and those “epiphanies and revelations” direct you to another path.
Eventually I found my way to a newspaper office, which ironically enough, is my most exciting memory of an elementary school field trip—touring a newspaper and printing office. I was jumping out of my skin with excitement then—my young gut was working for me before I understood it.
This week I get to cross off a bucket list entry by meeting a favorite author of mine, Khaled Hosseini. He’s one of those people who, in my mind, speak in quotes and can write no wrong. In an interview last week, he said his goal with his new book was to get across “how we all are united by loss, by failure, by what we’re missing.”
That’s how I feel about all of the experiences I had through my years at different jobs, like it is for most people who try different things, by choice or necessity. I took something from each one, met people who lost, failed and were very obviously missing something. They were just moving in another direction.
Maybe in time, the creepy cook and I could have united over our losses or through our failures. But I didn’t care enough to stick that out. The only bonding I found on that job was through the things the drunk partiers were missing. The twenties—that must have looked more like one-dollar bills through blurry eyes and fumbling fingers—they dropped on the table as they stumbled out.