By Khimm Graham
First jobs can be as perfunctory as a first kiss – short and sloppy. That was my brief stint as a waitress at Grant’s on Main Street when Buffalo had brick-and-mortar stores instead of a timely renaissance.
I served teen lunch at the snack bar wearing a blistering blue polyester uniform with a small white apron tied around my waist, my long hair knotted at my neck as I skated around the counter in a pair of white, summer Keds.
I memorized the laminated Peter Max menu but seldom remembered anyone’s order. After I miscalculated the velocity of whipped cream from an industrial restaurant can, wearing most of it on my face in front of a busy luncheon crowd of somewhat delighted businessmen, I was demoted to the hot dog grill.
The grill was a large stainless steel monster of rolling cylinders where Shelly dogs cooked to perfection surrounded by metal vats of hot chili and sauerkraut. Except for the added protein of an occasional cockroach flying out of the precut waxed paper wrap, these were quite the culinary treat.
For the occasional sicko who visited my special station where I also scooped several flavors of ice cream onto cake or sugar cones, there was store security, who I summoned by number. His three-digit code, often screamed from my lips, was never ignored. He often stood guard throughout my shift and walked me halfway home.
Most of the determined gents were innocuous, however the items I served conjured off-color comments. I was unusually adept at sensing the difference between the worst of lascivious limits. One bright day, a rather large, tall man ordered a three-scoop cone. As I reached into the tubs of ice cream, he directed me to three different flavors. Wrapping the cone in extra paper, he made a rude comment that caused me to drop the dessert and yell for security, They escorted the creep from the premises.
That was the day I turned in my uniform and cleaned my last grill at Grant’s. My exit led to one more restaurant – the Dill Pickle on Delaware Avenue, where the more upscale clientele was just as sexist but peppered with quiet innuendo.
We wore hippie maxi dresses that peeked a little cleavage as you served tables. Tips were good and the kitchen crew of mostly foreign college students was interesting. But the owners were insufferable – calling most of us a derogatory term that describes female dogs. Beer and wine were served so the manager spent most days sipping the profits with friends and sizing up our clothing. Calling his employees to bend at the waist for a wardrobe check was a favorite pastime.
Admittedly I was a pretty terrible waitress but a smile gave me a pass and an extra 10 minutes of mistakes. After a month or two, at a table of inebriated men in suits, I was grabbed by the thigh and pulled toward a customer who wanted his soup. I “accidentally” dumped the bowl of New England clam chowder into his well-tailored lap. Needless to say, it was my last day at the Dill and the end of my once inglorious year as a waitress.
I tell this story to encourage anyone who dines out to tip your server. Be kind to the person who accurately runs to the table with a happy demeanor and the proper order. And for God’s sake, don’t touch them! The day is often long enough without wearing your DNA home.
Khimm Graham, who lives in West Seneca, always tips her server.