Fifty years ago I had a summer job as a breakfast-shift waitress at a Holiday Inn on I-75 at the Tennessee/Georgia state line. I'd just finished my freshman year at college and needed a job that would get me as much money as possible for a 19-year-old in 1970. The opportunity of a 3-week special semester in London in January 1971 was being dangled in front of me, and my parents agreed, as long as I earned half of the travel cost.
Then - as probably now - the fastest way to make a buck was waiting tables. The pay was $1.25/hour, but, oh, those tips! So I wore a little (and I do mean little - it was 1970) black skirt, white blouse, and a red and black pinafore with big pockets for the order pad and all that moolah left on tables.
I worked with two other waitresses: Charlene and Lona, both in their late 40s/early 50s I'm guessing. Charlene was a country girl with black hair and a few missing teeth. She was jolly and fun, and we had a lot of laughs. Lona, on the other hand, was an old sourpuss who did a lot of mumbling about how my short skirt got me better tips. She was probably right on that one.
The hours were lousy: 5:30am-2:30pm, so breakfast and lunch shift. I don't remember getting a lunch hour or break times. As I recall, we ate on the run back in the kitchen, asking the cook to whip something up for us when there was a lull. Many, many club sandwiches and fries. And all the Coke I could pull from the machine.
Folks weren't big tippers in those days, certainly not at breakfast and lunchtimes, and tips were usually coins not paper money. As adorable as I was in my short black skirt and my mouthful of braces, if I pulled in $25-30 in tips, it was a good day.
I budgeted those tips to ensure I built up enough money to fulfill my London trip obligation but also to have enough left over for cute-dress buying. So once a week after work, I'd head over to a trendy little Chattanooga dress shop called The Vogue where my friend Linda worked to spend some of my hard-earned tip money on adorable college-girl clothes.
London and cute dresses made early morning hours slinging plates of sticky pancake syrup and concealed fried eggs worth it. Both the trip and the clothes were the sweet results of my 19th summer.
I do, however, carry something more permanent with me from that waitress year. Every time I look in the mirror I see the little white scar on my left eyebrow. Thanks to sourpuss Lona. And here's how it happened.
The heavy swinging doors between the kitchen and dining room didn't have windows, so we worked on the honor system: Always come and go from the door on the right. That avoided crashing into each other as we were moving between the rooms. This worked for everyone except Lona, who felt entitled to use whichever door she wanted.
After several near-misses and a few minor accidents (and all of us begging her to always use the door on the right), Lona managed to tear through the wrong door as I was taking a tray to the kitchen. The edge of the door caught me hard right on the left brow bone. I saw stars.
I got a lot out of that summer - my first trip to London, really cute dresses for school, a scar over my left eye, and a lifelong understanding of how to treat wait staff.
Some things are worth more than money. Never pass up the chance to soak in all the crazy things life throws at you. Even spending a summer on the breakfast shift.