I’ve worked in retail customer service waaay longer than I ever wanted to. I hate it but I love it. The motivation has to come from somewhere deep down, in a place only the brave dare to explore. Why on earth would anyone subject themselves to being treated like shit when making barely over minimum wage?
I’ve done McDonalds, Papa Murphy’s, Wal-Mart, Verizon, Cingular (now AT&T), Starbucks, Ziggy’s Lumber, Outback, Various Bartending locations and even opened my own restaurant.
I’d like to share why I do this…
There is a story I love to tell about something that happened at my place. It’s amongst countless stories in the short time I had my place before selling it. It was around three-ish in the afternoon I think and a guy came in to have some lunch. He sat down on the upper level with a bouquet of flowers. My server took his order and he mentioned he was here for his daughter’s birthday. He ordered for two and put a handful of quarters into the ’67 Rockola Jukebox. He picked ‘Sherry’… Over and Over… His food came out and no one else showed up. Other customers noticed but nothing was really made of it. Maybe she was running late? He finished his Cheesesteak Sandwich and came up to pay his tab. The server was a bit taken back because no one else showed up. On his way out, he gave the bouquet to a lady sitting with her husband as they had lunch. She had a look of confusion and naturally was a little perplexed why she was given these. He explained to her that this was his Daughter’s Birthday yet she had died recently. He wanted to have one last meal with her at ‘Dave’s Burger Joint.’ Her name was Sherry.
I charged less than six bucks for a hand-packed half pound cheeseburger with real cheddar cheese and fries. I think they were pretty damn good. I felt like I charged too much. The concept of making money from this was ultimately what drove me to hate it. Sure, I wanted to make money and pay the bills and maybe have some nice things, but what I really truly enjoyed and cared about was making something that made people happy. I would look out from the kitchen and watch people take their first bite of the food I just cooked. All the stresses about bills and debts went away when I could see smiles and nods of approvals as they would so often uncontrollably devour my food. An ever better feeling was when the empty baskets came back from the table actually empty. All the time.
Times were tough, I won’t lie. I wasn’t in dire straits by any means but it wouldn’t have hurt to be a little busier. It also wouldn’t have hurt to have someone willing to stand by me the whole time. I began to lose touch with my love of cooking for others because of the ridiculous fucking pressure of guilt to become someone I didn’t want to be. When I would stay late to clean up or finish some paperwork, I would spend a half hour or so sitting in the dark restaurant with all the neon lights on. I reflected on everything I had put myself through to get to this point. It was everything I thought I ever wanted, except nothing that I really dreamed of. When I locked my doors for the last time before taking the keys to the assholes that bought the place, I didn’t look back. I couldn’t.
I moved on to driving trucks and eventually worked for a tree service company. Awesome job but the one thing I was lacking in my life was people. The majority of my days were spent out in some forested area climbing trees or dragging brush. Aside from the occasional neighbor or passer-bys watching us skillfully drop a tree, there was no human interaction. I made up for it by having the weekends off to find a good dive bar or do a little ballroom/west coast swing dancing.
Staying on track, I find that I gravitate towards jobs that involve people. Regardless of how annoying some may be, I’m happy when I can offer something to someone else. An experience, a product or solution to a problem or even just an ear for them to vent to. I hate hate hate the idea that my intrinsic motivation to help people is because of a paycheck. I also despise the fact that I can’t offer more because my desire to help others is dictated by the very people that pay me to exist in their organization. It’s all about money and that’s it.
A caveat to all this… I still want ‘me’ time. There’s only so much of people that I can stand. I’m a very reflective person and quite honestly I get really fucking irritated when someone comes along and pesters me or gets in my shit. As much enjoyment as I get out of personally offering something that I have, I have a greater desire to create something else that will benefit others as a whole. Kind of like my burgers… And pipe dreams of having the resources and leverage to open more places. I’ve committed myself to opening another place… soon. How soon? Well, part of it depends on how soon I can get my own shit together and part of it depends on corralling enough of that ridiculous stuff they call money.
Even moving across the state I still hear from customers. A couple actually came in to the lumber store where I work and said they were from Port Orchard. “Oh cool,” I said… “Did you ever eat at Dave’s Burger Joint?” I asked. “Oh yes! We loved that place. The burgers were amazing until the guy sold the place.” I couldn’t help but smile as I told them “I’m Dave.”