Chasing Pennies

“So how long have you been working here?” He asked me as I filled up his water glass. “Since the end of June,” I said. “Well, you gotta start somewhere,” he said as he reached for the last piece of bread. I was caught off guard and chuckled audibly and said, “I actually started in Accounting and now I’m here. Would you like me to bring more bread for the table?”

The man was bewildered and he looked at me as if my life’s journey was spiraling downward. He gave me a look of pity and confusion that conveyed to me that he thought I wasn’t going anywhere.

I got that look a lot this past summer. I suppose that’s what happens when you work at a small restaurant in the town where you went to high school. I couldn’t blame him. There was a time in my life when I probably would have made the same assumption about a hostess at a restaurant. In reality though, when I looked around at the people I worked with at Treppeda’s Ristorante, I saw a whole group of people who were going somewhere. They were like ships coming to port, stopping through to serve the people trapped on an island. Many of them weren’t there (or planning on being there) forever. They all had big dreams and serving tables was the wind in their sail that would carry them to their next destination.

My mother used to say to me when I was younger: “No job is beneath you. Even if you’re cleaning toilets, you do it the best you ever have, each time.” Far from the ‘cushy’ jobs I was used to having, working at the restaurant for minimum wage was the first time I was really able to prove myself. Working at Treppeda’s was humbling and therefore it was incredibly rewarding. I endured some rude folks and some cheap comments. But I also encountered gratitude beyond what I probably deserved, the faces of people in love for 45 years celebrating their anniversary, reunions between old friends and Hinge dates that seemed to go well.

I’ve been so touched by the moments I’ve witnessed at Treppeda’s in the past two months that I wouldn’t trade it for two months of responding to email for 80% of my waking-hours for over twice the pay. It reminds me of my favorite line in Overboard (My all-time fave 90s comedy) by Ms. Staten’s butler, when she regains her memory after having had amnesia. She comes back to her fortune after living in a dumpy small town, Elk Cove, thinking her whole life has been in a trailer park.

He says, “Most of us go through life with blinders on, Madam, knowing only that one little station to which we are born. But you, on the other hand, have had the privilege of escaping your bonds for just a spell to see life from an entirely new perspective.”

It’s easy to quantify ‘life points’ in how many dollars a person makes an hour, but perhaps we should quantify it based on how well a person can put themselves down in order to serve another. That should be moving up in life. I’m grateful for that ‘spell’ in my life at Treppeda’s and I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned there as I hoist my sail for the next port in Milan.

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