Belize, Italy, London, South Africa and Washington D.C. These are all places my closest friends spent their summers, some of them working at internships, others hiking and exploring and others volunteering and taking classes. I, however, spent my summer in Battle Creek, working as a waitress at a pizza parlor. It would be a good experience, I told myself. A number of my friends were waitresses and loved their jobs (not to mention made incredible tips), so I thought I’d give it a try – how hard could it be?
Incredibly hard, it turned out. I didn’t spill a tray full of drinks on my first day like I was afraid I would (don’t worry though, I did that a few weeks later), but I did manage to mess just about everything else up. (Salads, it turns out, are not all the same, and, not surprisingly, no table is particularly fond of you after you’ve forgotten about them for fifteen minutes).
The waitressing part I picked up on quickly. It didn’t take long for me to learn how to juggle five large tables at once, to notice when drinks were running low, and how to carry three pizza pans at once. I learned how to stay on the cook’s good side so he’ll expedite my orders when I need him to, and I learned which hostesses were willing to help when I was suddenly swamped 10 minutes before close.
What I never learned, though, was how to sweep the carpet.
It was my second night working, and my manager cut me from tables, then asked me to sweep the carpet. I laughed, thinking she was joking. Sweep the carpet? With a household broom? That’s absurd! Nope. Not in their eyes. In the eyes of my managers and everyone else who worked there (trust me, I tried to find an ally, someone who would agree with me), sweeping the carpet was completely, 100% logical. And so, I swept the carpet. Every night. For six weeks.
After spending six weeks talking about quitting, I finally worked up the nerve to do it. “I got another job,” was the reason I gave them when I quit, but what I wanted to say was, “you made me sweep the carpet. Of course I’m going to quit.”
If there’s one thing I learned this summer, it’s that spending your summer working over 40 hours every week is a lot like sweeping the carpet – just when you think you’re done, someone points out another crumb – usually a really tiny one that you wish you could just skip because no one will notice anyway. But instead, you go back to the kitchen, grab the broom and keep sweeping, counting the minutes until your shift ends and the days until you can return to school.