Pierogies, Pens, and Pamela’s

Last weekend, Jim and I were faced with an impossible task. We had to show Jim’s cousin Greg, and Greg’s girlfriend Sarah a great time in Pittsburgh in the short span of their less-than-24-hour visit.

If you’ve ever lived in or been to this city, you know that there is no possible way to do everything worth doing in just one weekend. Between all the fantastic restaurants, neighborhoods, museums, and sports teams, it takes days, weeks, even years to experience it all. With our limited time constraint, we did our best to show off our personal favorite spots and try some new things as well.

Continue reading

First Day, First Job, Big Sigh of Relief

job

Someday I will be able to look back on the time I spent post-graduation running around tables with martini shakers in both hands and ketchup splatters on a starched white shirt, and I’ll laugh. Someday I’ll think back on the time I spent shivering in a swimming pool trying to get a little girl to put her head under the water, and it will be a pleasant memory. Someday I’ll remember the days that I put in four or eight or twelve hours of work and didn’t make a dime, and I’ll be able to better appreciate it.

But today, on the first day of my first real job, all I’m doing is breathing a sigh of relief. Today, all of the temporary jobs and short-term internships and sporadic hours are too recent. The six months I spent in frustration and bewilderment after I graduated without a job are too fresh in my mind. So today, after my first day, all I’ll do is breathe. And someday six months will seem like nothing. The jobs I worked will seem so distant. Someday it will be funnier.

Today I started my job as an Administrative Assistant for Steeltown Entertainment Project, here in Pittsburgh, PA. After interning with this nonprofit organization for several months, the position opened up and was offered to me a few weeks ago. This was the first of hopefully many good days.

On the mountain that is life, I am at the bottom. I haven’t seen much of the world, I haven’t met many people, I haven’t climbed very high. But I have big plans for myself. I have things to do, places to go. I am happy to have this opportunity to take my first step.

I may not have gone very far yet, but I couldn’t have made it here, and I wouldn’t be who I am, without some really great people in my life. My parents are my rock and my home and they let me move back. Jim believed in me more than I believed in myself. Hannah is my therapy, with hour and half phone conversations every week, the best friend I could ask for. Some really awesome PR pros (hopefully you know who you are) served as my role models and social media guides. And some great friends, new and old, were the best distraction.

Thank you to everyone who gave me advice, everyone who taught me anything, and anyone who had to put up with my incessant lament, “why, oh why can’t I get a job?

Now I can stop being stressed and frustrated. I can breathe a sigh of relief and let it all soak in. This is the start of something big, I can feel it.

 

(photo via)

Enough of 2012, Bring on the New Year

new_years_eve_getaways_600x450

The last time I took a moment to reflect about an entire year, I was a freshman in college and had experienced so much change between high school and the University of Delaware that it would have been wrong for me not to think back on it and appreciate it. At that time, I was growing up, moving out, making new friends, having new experiences and learning from everything.

This too, has been a year of changes. If I could have made a prediction years ago about where I would be at this point in my life, it would not be here. I would not be living at home with my parents, I would not still be serving at a restaurant, I would not even be in Pittsburgh. But now that I’m here, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Today, January 1st, 2013, looks just like yesterday, December 31, 2012. The sky is gray, snowflakes are falling gently from the sky onto what already looks like a foot of snow on the ground. The house is cold, the coffee is brewing, the TV is on. But people love a new year because we all want to say goodbye to the old and look ahead to what we have to come. We want closure for our troubles and we want a new beginning, a fresh start.

Well last night, my fresh start began with a glass of champagne and my dog, hanging out in the kitchen watching my parents and their friends play “Catchphrase.” I had to work last night. And I guess it was a fitting way to end the year. This year that I spent more time in a restaurant waiting tables than I did anywhere else. Why not end it that way too? But this is starting to sound depressing and my year was anything but. So I’ve said before, the best place to begin a story is at the beginning.

Last year I celebrated the new year in Buffalo, New York with a kiss from my boyfriend in a room full of strangers. It was a scene from a movie and it was perfect. A perfect prelude for the year to come.

I was finishing up my senior year of college. From January through May, my days mostly alternated between waitressing and going to classes. During my final semester, I only had to take three classes and had four day weekends. Which of course left more time for working. I worked a lot, but I made a little time for fun.

I enjoyed a memorable end to the production of my student-run television show. We successfully produced five shows during the spring semester and celebrated our accomplishments. I worked with some great people on that show, people with big ideas who will definitely go places. Without them, the show would not have been the same.

Jim and I took a short trip to Washington, D.C. in March to walk through all of the museums. It was an absolutely wonderful day. We went to Virginia Beach for a few days together during our spring break. The weather wasn’t on our side, but we had more fun than I thought possible in such a short amount of time.

In April I was honored to be a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding and watch her walk down the aisle to her new husband, so obviously in love and so obviously perfect for each other.

Jim dragged me to a Rick Ross concert at the end of our senior year. I tried to keep an open mind, allow my musical tastes to expand. But I don’t think they expanded that much.

I graduated from the University of Delaware at the end of May, one day before I turned 22. I graduated cum laude with a degree in Communication, a well-rounded resume and no job to speak of. I decided to celebrate anyway.

And then I had what I’m sure will later become known as The Summer of Frustration. The day after I moved back home, I pulled out the computer and typed up cover letters, tweaked my resume and scoured the job boards. I had goals, I had a system, I read “how-to-get-a-job” blogs and “how-to-ace-an-interview” articles (although I didn’t get many interviews). I updated my social media profiles and launched Measure with Coffee Spoons. I went on a solo trip to New York City to meet with a friend’s boss and talk about her company. And in between all that, I watched seasons three through seven of Grey’s Anatomy. Jim and I travelled back and forth between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. I went to a few Pirates games with my family. I went on my family vacation to Myrtle Beach. I babysat. I taught private swimming lessons. And I started running. All the while, wallowing in self-pity because I was job-less, living at home, and I missed my Delaware friends terribly.

By the end of the summer, I got hired at a new restaurant as a server and things started to look up. I took my nose ring out, got off the couch, and got a Macbook. I started interning at Steeltown Entertainment Project and loved it. I volunteered to work as a production assistant for an independent film being produced in the area.

Through all of that, I met some of the greatest people. I worked with some great servers and chefs and kids they call server’s assistants. People who love restaurant work and people who are in it for the money. People with big dreams and small incomes. People who are juggling school and work and children and husbands. People who are taking a break from school but when they go, they’ll make something of themselves. People who are perfectionists, who want every lemon on every plate to be facing the same way. People who don’t care, who bus the tables and get their stuff done so they can go out with friends. People who have climbed the ladder, who’ve fallen and gotten back up. You don’t know their stories, but they are inspirational.

I met great people on the set of “Lemonade.” People who are doing what they love, even if they don’t get paid for it. People who know what they want and are working to get there. People who don’t know what they want, but are figuring it out. People who have exactly what they want and every scene is a relaxing joy for them.

And I’ve met great people at Steeltown. People whom I hope to get to know better. Because I’ve accepted my first real job with them. And I start tomorrow.

This past year was about meeting and spending time with some amazing people. They helped me get where I am and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Here’s to closure for 2012. Now bring on the new year.

(photo via)

It’s the People at the Restaurant, Not the Tips

There are a lot of things I could say about working in a restaurant, and things that I already have.  Most things you notice about restaurants, whether you eat at them or work in them, are obvious. The food, the service, the tips, busy nights and slow nights and late nights. There is good service and bad service. People leave good tips for good service, or bad tips because they were never taught otherwise. Or no tips, I get those too. But I don’t want to tell you about tips. I want to tell you about people.

Servers are there to make money. Let’s not step around that fact. We are there for the tips. The good ones, that is. But sometimes, every once in awhile, you get a chance to slow down a little, you step out of the kitchen and away from the computer. Your tables are happy and no one needs anything. And when you look around you, you get a chance to see the moments of other people’s lives. You get a glimpse into other people’s worlds. You can see what other people are going through, or you can imagine what their lives might be like when they get home to their kids. And this is something that I have found spectacular about working in a restaurant. You see so many kinds of different people, so many people, all the people. You say a few words to these people and watch them for a few seconds. You see them eat food for a few minutes and a whole world opens up behind them.

On busy days, there isn’t much time for people-watching, but sometimes there is the rare day when it’s a slow afternoon and at several tables are seated just the most intriguing human beings.

There’s the e-Harmony date. A man and a woman walk in and sit at a table near the bar. They sit across from each other and order a bottle of red wine at 12:30pm. The woman is rather loud, the man is more soft-spoken, with a kind face. They’re leaning in to each other and laughing a lot throughout their conversation. It’s probably a good date, maybe there will be a second. They sit there until 5pm, three bottles of wine later. Definitely a good date. She had mentioned several bad first dates she had been on, so maybe that’s a good sign. Maybe she’ll go home after the date and call up her girl friend and talk all about the kind, gentle guy she’d gone out with and how he’s completely different from the other guys she’s dated and she’ll talk about possibilities. Maybe he’ll go home and Google-search her for a third time. Make sure she’s not too good to be true. Or maybe not. But I saw that they were on a date and enjoying each other’s company.

There is a table with a very young couple. Probably about 17– at least driving age. At first the boy looks mad; it looks like they’re fighting. The host told me he had slammed the car door shut and walked in about 10 feet in front of her. But then they’re at the table and while we’re speculating what the fight is about, he starts crying. Maybe his uncle was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe his grandmother died. His girlfriend is comforting him as best she can and they are clearly not fighting. They have a quick lunch and leave together. Just a glimpse into someone’s life while they eat.

At another table sits an older couple. It’s the end of the night, the crowd has died down and they’re sitting next to each other in a rounded booth, clearly still in love after 40, 50, 60 years but quiet, as if maybe they’ve said all they needed to say out loud over the years and now words aren’t needed. So when I greet them they are anxious to talk and they tell me about their lives. The man told me that they were from Delaware, since I’d mentioned that I just graduated from school there. He said he went to school at Duquesne and it took him thirteen years to graduate, taking night classes, because he was already married with kids and working a full-time job. But he did graduate and he is still with his Mrs. having dinner.

Every table has a story. But as waiters and waitresses, all we see are the minutes when they’re sitting at the table and all we can do is speculate. But each table, each snapshot is unique. Each family looks different and acts differently. Some families are loud and messy, with lots of children. Their lives are probably hectic and they probably don’t get out to eat very often. Maybe they’re like my family and celebrating a good report card. Other families are quiet. The kids are older and don’t want to be seen with their parents but their parents love them anyways. Some tables contain old friends that haven’t seen in each other in years. They order a drink and wait hours to order their meal, just to make the time pass more slowly. They pay the check and sit for a few more hours, their glasses of water all but empty. Maybe they were college roommates, or maybe they both got screwed over by the same guy and found a common bond that lasted all their lives.

These are the moments that make up these lives. Their trip to the restaurant might become part of the story they tell their grandkids. Their moments are special and brief, for us, but maybe for a few minutes I can live vicariously through them. I can be at their business meeting or their jewelry party and be part of that moment. I can take a picture of the old friends and I can make small talk and smile. I can give them that because they all have given me these small glimpses into their lives.

Maybe this is what makes people like working in a restuarant so much. Seeing a moment of another person’s life, speculating what the rest of it might look like. It’s just a snapshot, but sometimes, a picture equals a thousand words.

An Explanation of My Life’s Next Chapter

And suddenly, with little notice, the unemployed has found herself incredibly busy.

For the first half, or more like two-thirds, of the summer, my days consisted of my morning coffee and newspaper routine, while watching the Today Show, followed by a trip to the gym or to the park for a run, then a few hours scanning career search engines and company websites, sending out a few resumes here and there…and then I would relax, read a book, sit in the backyard and get a tan, watch movies, take naps. I had quite the life, you might say. Student loans, cell phone bills and the prospect of a needing a new computer were hanging over my head, but no matter–I had time to nap. What working adult can say that?

But then I finally got through my server training and now my schedule has me waiting tables about 35 hours a week. I continued teaching swimming lessons to my neighbor as long as I could but I taught the last one last week. I still have my coffee in the mornings, but I don’t always have time to run or play around on the internet. Definitely no time to nap. And as soon as I got used to this new routine, I got an interview for an internship with a non-profit entertainment media company. I interviewed on a Thursday and on Monday, I got an email telling me I could come in to start the very next day. So now I’m interning two mornings a week and am able to keep working full time at the restaurant. Thankfully there are no more swim lessons.

I’m busy now, but grateful to have something to keep me occupied. Since the work schedules only come out the week before, I can only take my life one week at a time, but this suits me for now. I can still request some days off to visit my boyfriend or see a Steelers game. And let’s face it, too much time spent with the family would have started making me crazy after awhile.

So this little blurb is brought to you by a busy working girl to explain the lack of recent posts. And I have just gotten my new computer, so now I will be so excited to use it that you should probably expect a post every day. Or twice a day. Because it’s such a pretty little computer and I can’t let it just sit there.

My name is Meg and I’ll be your server this evening…

It’s the job you get during college, to make money for weekend fun and to stock up on Easy Mac. It’s the job you get because your parents want you out of the house during the summer. It’s the job you get because you spent all your money on weekend fun and now real life is glaring right in front of you after graduation. And then it’s the job you get because the real job seems to be eluding you, the unemployment rate is rising ever higher and you can’t stand one more day in your parents’ house.

Waitress. Server. Restaurant work. Busboy. Server’s assistant. Runner. Cook. Dishwasher. Whatever you want to call it. You’re working in a restaurant because it’s probably the one job where the unemployment rate is practically 0%. Restaurants are constantly turning over employees, whether they lose them to high school or college, or people leave for their real jobs, or they show up late and hungover one too many times. And if one certain restaurant doesn’t seem to be having any of those problems then there are a hundred others within a 20 minute radius of your house that would take you.

Restaurant work is not very difficult. It’s repetitive. Table sits. Greet, drinks, take orders, serve food, refill drinks, offer dessert, check. Goodbye, next table please.

It’s all about what you do to earn that tip. You have to be pleasant, smile, leave your emotions at the door. Forget about the fight you had with your parents, forget about the fact that your girlfriend hasn’t texted you all day–any little sign you show of not wanting to be waiting on that table lowers your tip a little more. Be funny. Tell a little joke that will make the people at your table laugh and distract them from the fight they are having with their spouse. Don’t check on them too often and certainly don’t forget about them. Make them feel like they are the only table you have, even if you are running around like a crazy person and sweat is glistening on your forehead. Just try to wipe the sweat away before you ask them if they are enjoying their meal.

If the people at your table are just not having any of it–the food is wrong no matter how it’s cooked, your service is terrible even though you’ve done nothing wrong, the check is too high even though you rang everything in correctly–then you force that smile to your ears as you say, “Thank you for dining with us today and please have a wonderful evening.” And don’t let them see you slam the kitchen door behind you in utter exasperation.

These are some of the things I’ve learned through working in a few different restaurants. I’m sure other servers will tell you the same thing. Restaurant work is not much different, no matter where you are. Some tables are great and others are frustrating, needy, complaining, and don’t leave good tips. In fact, if you watch the movie Waitingyou’ll get a good idea of what it’s like to be a server (with about 92% accuracy, minus the spitting). But  you might actually have to be a server to think it’s funny.

I started waiting tables in college, after I stopped swimming. I suddenly had an extra 20+ hours of time on my hands and I realized I was out of money. Miraculously, a restaurant that was just an eight minute walk from my house hired me as a server, knowing that the only work experience I’d ever had involved swimsuits and lane lines. But they trained me well, taught me the ten core values, drilled the mission statement into my head and gave me a huge written test involving every topping, dressing, and vegetable in the house. And I had “earned my kilt.” (It was an Irish restaurant and our uniform included a mini-kilt.) I became a great server and I loved the people I worked with. I hated 35 cent wing night, $5 burgers and selling shots, but I made enough money to get me through my senior year.

Last summer, I worked at a small bar and grille that might be considered a step down from the college bar. I got two days of training and then they shoved me at a table, where I proceeded to screw everything up because they hadn’t bothered to let me learn the menu. I hated the people I worked with and hated the hours. But hey, they let me read my book in front of customers when I was bored, so I didn’t complain–much.

And now I’m making a huge step up, I believe. I’m currently waiting–both on real-world jobs and on tables. The restaurant is nicer than one I could afford for dinner and so far, the people I’m working with are great. They trained me well, and it was easier to pick up since I’d already been well-trained before. I made a few flash cards to learn the menu and the manager validated me with confidence.

Those early lessons I learned from my first restaurant at college will always get me through the rough shifts. No one taught them to me, they were lessons that could only truly be learned from experience. “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way– with customers, managers, fellow servers, and cooks and dishwashers. Help bus tables, even if it’s not your table or your job–someone will help you later on when you need it. If you’re not sure about an entree or an ingredient or how to ring something in, ask. It’s worse to completely screw up an order and waste food. And always, always smile. You might make someone’s day. And yes, it’s almost always all about the tip, but you never know what kind of nice, interesting, or wonderful people you might meet.

So, welcome. My name is Meg and I will be your server this evening. (smile)