What the Waitress Found

If I learned anything from being a waitress, it was the difference between a transaction and an interaction.

I worked at a big Maine lobster house. Things were fast: fast service for a fast turnover to make fast money.

As the most junior waitress, I got the tables furthest from the kitchen. It meant a lot of walking carrying a lot of trays heavy with lobsters and clams.

I bought my limbs recovery time by chatting with the customers. Usually, their comments and their eyes stayed on their menu, their phone, their check. Only when I was about to leave, asking, “Anything else?” would they turn their heads up with a routine smile.

Every so often, there was someone who broke with routine, who looked directly at me or asked me about me. I measured it in eye color; if I knew the color of the customer’s eyes, it was an unordinary moment. A moment where I cared about more than my tired limbs and the customer cared about more than the lobster roll. A moment that shifted from two people transacting to two people interacting.

When life is fast, transactions are standard: I give you food, you give me money. We can leave it at that. But there’s more to be found there.

As James Baldwin wrote of Shakespeare in The Cross of Redemption:

“[Shakespeare] found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him.”

It’s below the surface of a transaction, outside the confines of routine that we find each other. Our common dignity and worth. Our shared experience walking the world.

Call it love, call it humanity, call it slowing down. But every transaction is a moment of connection in the waiting. A bit of poetry to be found in the lives of we people.

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