Ashley Wright graduated from Newman Catholic High School and is currently a physical therapy major at NIU. Ashley is adamantly opposed to discrimination in any form. Her narrative vividly describes a pivotal moment in her life when she learned how insidious stereotyping can be and that she should never judge a book by its cover.
Yes working is necessary, but walking through the metal employee door, I almost feel as if I am walking into a torture cell. As I walk in, I am immediately greeted by the overly cheerful salad bar lady.
“Good morning. How are you?” she asks.
“Doing good and you?”
“Good,” she says, and that’s usually the end. I really enjoy this short interaction though; for a split second it makes me feel like maybe my day will be uneventful. My family has owned this establishment for over forty-five years and counting, so if you do the math, this has been my life. My first birthday party was here, and I am sure my funeral dinner will be here; it’s a major aspect of who I am. So as I walk though the highly glossed wooden doors, memories overcome me, not only with my family interactions, but with the general public whom I cannot avoid.
Eleven o’clock rolls around so fast, I often wonder if God is against me. I take a deep breath, tie on my black apron, and hesitantly walk up to the computer screen. My finger touches 8-0-0-7 as I clock in. Looking around, I think this is the best time of the day. The new green upholstered booths are empty. The dark wood overtaking the restaurant is so warm and welcoming, proudly holding pictures and objects from the past. I walk around the corner. The salad bar is picture perfect. Vegetables are heaped to their maximum capacity, placed like a work of art, with the bright green lettuce finishing the image.
Squeak! My attention goes straight to the door. In walk some interesting characters, people who are obviously from out of town.
“How many?” the hostess asks.
In a loud raspy voice the man responds, “Three.”
“Right this way,” the hostess says.
Oh my God! It’s my turn, I think to myself. Great! They’re not going to tip me; just look at them! The father of the family is wearing the dirtiest plaid shirt I have ever seen. What really tops off the look is that it is sleeveless and has a collar. Typical redneck, I think to myself.
My eyes then turn to the next person, his wife, who looks like perhaps she likes her husband’s image and is trying to mimic him, but instead went with the cut off t-shirt.
“Come on Lynn,” the hostess says.
Their daughter quietly walks behind them in her oversized t-shirt and shorts. She is beautiful; her long blonde hair and her blue eyes take over her small silhouette. As they walk by, they all look like they rolled in a dirt pile for hours and decided to take a break for lunch. I don’t know what their extracurricular activities are, but I know they won’t tip me well.
Just get them in and out, I think to myself. I quickly walk to their table.
“What can I get you to drink?” I ask.
“Three waters,” the wife responds.
I quickly race to my station. Who would have thought they would have ordered waters? I sarcastically say to myself. This is another classic sign that my tip will definitely not be favorable. I distribute the three waters and ask simultaneously if they would like to order.
“We’ll take a small cheese pizza,” the wife says.
“Okay thanks,” I say. Thanks for wasting my time and table space, I angrily think to myself.
New tables started to trickle in after I in put their order. As a waitress, I always see a diverse group daily, but nobody looks more out of place than my table of rednecks.
Buzz! Buzz! The pager goes off in my pocket, indicating their order is done. I walk so fast to the kitchen that the breeze I create dries out my eyes.
“Thanks,” I say and walk out as fast as I walked in.
I grab plates from my station, set the pizza down on the table, distribute plates, comment “enjoy,” and race off to tend to the people who are actually going to give me tips.
It is a busy day and time is moving fast, which I like. Before I know it, the rednecks are finished. Like expected, they finish every last bit of it. I take the ticket out of my apron and deliver it to the table.
The man responds, “Thank you,” as I walk away.
Buzz! Buzz! I head to the kitchen, put my order on the tray, and head back out to the dining area. The family is gone, nowhere to be seen. I drop off the food in a panic. Did they leave without paying?
I see the ticket on the table. As I walk closer and closer, I scan the table, thinking the whole time that they probably didn’t even pay. That would figure, I should have watched them. Thank God they didn’t order a lot or I would have been really screwed!
At that very moment, I stop. Under the saltshaker is a fifty-dollar bill.
All the blood in my body feels like it sinks to my feet. I pick up their ticket. The price reads $14.95.
The hostess approaches me, “I forgot to tell you that they wanted me to tell you to keep the change.”
I cannot respond; I just shake my head quickly and manage to whisper, “Okay.”
Extreme guilt rushes over me. You never get tipped like that from those types of people I try telling myself. I search desperately for any reason to make myself feel better, but I can’t find one.
As I clean off my last table and pick up my two-dollar tip, I realize that my best tip is the thirty-five dollars I received earlier. Still feeling guilty, I realize they taught me an important lesson whether they knew it or not. Who am I to judge somebody based on what they look like? I have heard of similar instances of other people who stereotype but never realized that I was that way. I made a promise then and there to never make that mistake again. The family that I treated so poorly changed the whole outlook of my job. It’s not necessarily a torture cell, but a chance to grow.