A few nights ago, I was standing behind the bar of the restaurant where I work, polishing glasses and chatting up the bar patrons. A couple of men about my age sauntered in, pulled up at the bar, and each ordered a whiskey neat with an Old German back. I knew they were cooks, mostly from the drink order, partially from the weary looks on their faces, but also because I've seen them on the line before at their hot spot of a restaurant.
I asked them how everything is, and one of them kindly but absentmindedly responded, "Great, thank you." Reminiscing on my own day and in spirit of small talk, I asked, "Did you get to enjoy the sunshine today?" I thought about the walk I took after my morning gig and before I came into the restaurant, strolling downtown in the sunshine and basking in the warmth after months of soggy, cold, gray wetness.
One of them looked at the other and mumbled, "Well, sort of, a little bit, this morning before I had to be at work today." The other one did a side-to-side shake with his head in agreement with the "so-so-ness" of the morning sunshine, squinting as if he was having to think really hard to remember. They sighed in unison.
It's subtle, but I know this tone. I know it because I've done it, probably countless times. It's the "I'm a line cook and I work really fucking hard, so hard that you have no idea how hard it is to work this hard, you behind the bar polishing glasses... I just got off a twelve hour shift, and I can barely recall what I had to eat today, much less what the fucking weather was doing twelve fucking hours ago, plus I don't need sunshine when I just killed it on the line tonight, so you and your sunshine can go kiss my ass" tone.
I wanted so badly to tell them, "I've worked hard too, I know exactly what it's like, I swear!" I wanted to give them a run-down of all the shitty hours I've worked and all the sunny days I've missed and how I truly understand exactly what they mean, even though they don't know me from Adam. I wanted to scream that I work hard now, and I was in fact just finishing the tail end of working a double, but I know it's pointless, because I'm not a line cook. Not anymore.
And obviously it's neither the time nor place, so instead I nodded and smiled and came back with more pleasantries about how nice the weather has been for business and how happy we were to be busy that night. "Oh, yeah, we were slammed tonight too!" The return to work talk is all it takes to right the ship, and they finished their drinks, regaling me and each other with tales of getting crushed on the line.
They left happy and tipped heavy.
Portland waterfront in its sunny Saturday glory