Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Feliz Nuevo Ano

I woke up yesterday, New Year's Eve, feeling terribly depressed.

I felt tired from working at Toro the evening before, with so little time to recuperate from our hellish trip back from California/Colorado. I felt exhausted by the thought of having to work there again that night, New Year's Eve. And I felt cranky that when you work in the service industry, holidays are not special days--they are work days, with certain holidays (like New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day) representing the exact opposite of the special, relaxing experience the perfect holiday night should be. Inevitably marred by overbooked restaurant seatings, complicated tasting menus that confuse the most streamlined kitchen crews, and overdressed guests with inflated expectations, it's a miracle that restaurant industry professionals survive these nights each year

But mostly I felt deeply discouraged that, after almost ten years in the service industry, I am still totally married to it. My writing and public relations careers have progressed, to be sure: I been promoted one and a half times in my PR job, have acquired a literary agent for my writing career, and am reaching a modicum of professional success that any other 28-year-old would likely find extremely satisfying. Yet still, after all of this time, it is the waitressing money I depend upon to make ends meet each month.

It's not Toro's fault. I love everything about working at Toro: the people I work with, the delicious food, the easy money. That job is a waitress's dream. It's not even the restaurant industry's fault. Ultimately, having to work two jobs, well, that's what I get for choosing an artistic, half-dead industry for my career. Theoretically, I don't regret that choice for a second. When it comes to working holidays, however, I have to wonder: would a career in a boring-yet-lucrative industry have been so bad?

All day long, I pouted about having to work on New Year's Eve. I lingered about the house as late as I could that afternoon, curling my hair to cover up my mood with a "festive" 'do, watching snippets of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent marathon, fussing endlessly with my eye make-up. I didn't leave for work until the last possible minute--so late I had to take a cab to Toro to make it there by 4 p.m. A cold gust of wind whipped my freshly curled New Year's Eve locks into my face, rendering me blind as the taxi pulled up to the curb to collect me.

"1704 Washington Street," I told the cab driver, then sank into the backseat to resume pouting.

"So, are you ready for the New Year?" the cabbie asked in proper, accented English.

"No, I'm really not," I replied. "I'm heading to work at my waitress job now, and I'm not really sure what to expect. New Year's Eve is always kinda crazy."

"Yes, yes, this is true," the cabbie laughed. "Lots of people out and about. But I bet the money is good, yes?"

"Yeah, I guess. I've just been working New Year's Eve for so many years now. I hardly think it's worth it any more. So many people, so much pressure, and it's so stressful."

"Yes," the cab-driver chimed in, "it's difficult. So busy and people are so crazy!"

"Yeah! And in my experience, you usually end up over-staffed and not really making much more money than you would on a busy Saturday. I'm just over it, I guess. I hate working holidays."

Neither of us said anything for a moment. I descended another step in my path to self-pity.

"I know," the cab driver said, his voice heavy. "I came to this country five years ago. Originally I am from Brazil. And the very first time I worked New Year's Eve here, I cried."

"Really?" I said.

"Yes, yes, it's true. I pulled right over to the side of the road and just cried. Because in Brazil, I never worked on New Year's Eve. Never! I always spent the night with my family, my friends, celebrating. But when I came here, the New Year just didn't feel much of a holiday. So I worked. No family here, not many friends. Might as well work."

"Yeah," I said, my voice soft in my throat. "Might as well work." I tried to imagine what it would be like to drive a taxi back and forth across the city all night, in a cold, snowy foreign country, without a single friend or family member to see on New Year's Eve. People are so rude to taxi drivers, way ruder than they are to waitresses, and especially when they're drunk, which people always are on New Year's Eve. Suddenly I was jarred out of feeling bad for myself, and directly into feeling bad for this poor Brazilian cab driver.

"Anyway, that's life, you know?" the cab driver said. "Everybody has to work. You have to make money, and to make money, you have to work."

"It's true," I said. "That's life."

A moment later, there we were, at Toro. "Thanks so much," I said, "And thanks for chatting with me. I wish you the best and I hope you have a Happy New Year."

"Thank you!" he said. "Good luck tonight! And I hope you have a Happy New Year, too!"

"I will," I said, thinking of the awesome friends I work with, awaiting me inside, my wonderful boyfriend, awaiting me at home, my beautiful, comfortable, truly home-y Boston home. "I definitely will."

And I did.

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