Sunday, January 14, 2007

The world's best waitress

(Preface: Señor Gleck has written some posts about wait service -- the good, bad, and ugly. It got me thinking.....)

One of my fondest memories of college is a little place called Alex's. There's no official website for them, but they have six locations (one near you). It's a Charleston chain, a la the Awful Waffle or Huddle House. Good food, cheap, open 24-7. And in the late 80s and early 90s, they employed one of the best waitresses ever at their Savannah Highway location.

I had never been to Alex's until my junior year. Todd & Ernie took me one night on the bet that the waitress would know their order when they walked in. We got there, and sure enough, Kathy (the night waitress) said, "Hey boys, your usual?" And they said sure, but I'd need a menu. I ended up order the same thing they did. the cheeseburger special. A REAL burger with the best baked french fries. Or at least they seemed baked because they were never greasy -- always perfectly crisp.

Anyway, Kathy always worked the late shift, and on occasion Dell (another waitress) would be there too. They were both great waitresses -- always taking care of us along with everyone else, knowing we were poor college students on tight budgets, and still treating us with kindness and consideration. Kathy especially took extra good care of us. She was a conscientious worker -- always knew her customers and our likes and dislikes. In our case, it surely couldn't have been for the somewhat meager tips, but again, it was just her way.

Not too long after I became a regular there, Kathy was out for a while after Hurricane Hugo. She lived on one of the islands, and had survived the storm but had lost her mobile home. The owners put a Mason jar near the register, asking for whatever pocket change people could spare. When we found out on one of our meals there, we took extra money the next time just for the jar. A short time later, she was back at work and stopped by the booth to thank us. She was getting a nice settlement from the insurance and a better place.

Of course, as in any field, you have your share of weird clients and customers. Later that spring, I was in a play. My parents came down for the weekend to watch us, and I took them to Alex's after the Friday performance. Alex's was just the kind of place my dad loves. Kathy was there and did not fail to be the same kind soul she was. The next night, after we broke down the set, I took my brother there as a thank-you (he'd helped us do break-down). He and I were sitting in the booth, noshing on our chee-burger chee-burgers. Kathy and Dell were both there working, and Kathy was joking about getting a present from the Easter Bunny (just jiving with Dell and us). She said, "I tell you, I wish the Easter Bunny would hurry up and show up with my gift!" At that point, some idiot redneck (who was mercifully leaving) stood up and yelled out, "Well I'm right here now, bay-bayyyyy!" Kathy shot him a look that would have melted Antarctica. My brother lost it -- starting laughing so hard his body was shaking. After Redneck left, Kathy remarked, "Easter Bunny, my foot!" The guy sitting in the booth behind us said, "More like Easter jackass!" My brother lost it all again.

The next fall, when we came back, Kathy was telling us about her new boyfriend -- nice guy in the Navy, who was mad about her (and her for him) and how this just might be the right guy for a change. He had even bought her a horse -- which she loved - just before he left for sea duty. One year to the day after Hugo hit, lightning struck the barn where her horse was stabled and it caught fire. They weren't able to save all the horses, and Kathy's horse didn't make it. She was totally devastated. Once again, we brought extra money and a "thinking of you" card to give her on our next visit. When she came back, it was hugs all around.

We never know the people who are going to impact our lives. No one would have suspected 4 or 5 college students bonding over a couple of years with a waitress. We were out there 2-3 times a week but still..... And it's obvious I have not forgotten Kathy or her kindness to us. I hope that life in the ensuing fifteen years have been good to her. I hope that her dreams have come true and that she is happy.

1 comment:

Talmadge G. said...

There's nothing like walking into a familiar restaurant, with familiar faces, and hearing "your usual?" - said with real warmth and genuine sincerity, and not "what a moron, he gets the same thing every friggin' time!"

Alex's sounds like a place Bolivar and I would've frequented had it been in Jonesboro. But wait, we had LARRY'S (24/7 eatery, formerly a SAMBO'S franchise), which fit the bill.

There was one memorable waitress who worked there -- remember her, Bol? -- and, I swear on a stack of 45s -- she was a dead-ringer for Whoopi Goldberg, dreads and all. Boliver, Lynda and I all called her Whoopi. And when she waited on us, the service was always top-rate.

And I can guarantee, without even knowing Kathy or what she looks like, that she carries all of you in her heart.