And I don't mean my first industry job. My first JOB. The first time I got a minimum wage paycheck for cleaning out a toilet. Well, in my case it was for cleaning up about 7 gallons of frozen ketchup, but we can talk about that another time.
The deeper I get into my editing career, the more I realize that the basis of everything I do on a daily basis was learned at my first job. When you peel away the layers of technological aptitude and the years of experience, the thing that sets one person apart from another in this industry is their ability to be a decent human being -- or deal with those that are not.
I got my first job when I was 16 -- a waitress at a 24 hour diner and soda fountain, basically. A corporate chain with corporate rules, many of which were arbitrary only because they were so freaking obvious: priority system (first in, first out -- for food or for customers), wash your dang hands, smile occasionally. Others actually were arbitrary: carry a tray with you every time you're in the dining room, even if you're just bringing a refill and carrying a single glass on a tray makes it WAY MORE LIKELY TO SPILL THANKS. In a way, the arbitrary rules were a part of the learning experience for every corporate experience that I ever had after, but that's not my point here.
My point IS I find it very interesting that most of the situations I first went through as a 17-year-old waitress are situations I find myself in as a 27-year-old editor. The setting is different and I don't have to wear a uniform anymore, but I find value in the experiences and lessons I got in the weeds
, as they say.
A nice spring evening, I'm working the dinner rush as usual. Our restaurant was famous for making shakes to order (yipee) so almost every table ordered at least one (YIPEE). On this particular evening, we got super slammed. As a diner waitress, you make your tips from turning tables quickly (yay cheap food), so this wasn't completely out of the ordinary or beyond our capability. Except for when the dishwashing machine stops functioning at 6PM. We had plenty of plates and such for the moment, but ALL the glasses were dirty. Having had this happen before, we started using foam cups usually reserved for to-go orders. More expensive for the store, but not as expensive as not making shakes, right?
As luck would have it, this night I got a table of regulars: an grumpy elderly couple that came in every Tuesday evening with coupons for a spaghetti dish and added the same lime freeze shake to their order. I brought their lime freezes in a foam cup, explaining that the dishwasher had broken for a moment and the clean glasses were way too hot to put cold liquid inside.
"No. We don't want this. We want real glasses."
I said even if I manage to cool off two glasses enough to not BREAK when I put the cold ice cream inside, they'll still have residual heat that will make everything melty fast.
"I don't care. We want glasses. And we want you to remake these."
I took their wrongly cupped shakes away to "make new ones." Being slammed, I didn't have time to deal with these crazy people. I found two warm glasses, poured the perfectly good shakes I had already made into them, put fresh whipped cream and a cherry on top, and returned to the table with their hot glasses and warm shakes. They took a taste.
"Perfect. See, that wasn't so hard."
And they kept coming back every week. And I never gave them a foam cup ever again.
Lesson: People will pay you for your expertise and a good product, then require neither.
A couple months after I started this job, I had only begun to understand the manager-server-customer dynamic, and that different managers operated things differently. I was working after school during a dinner rush with three other servers, one of which was named Jen. Jen had probably worked there too long, but she was good. She took an order of burgers to a table of four -- a guy, wife, two daughters -- and the man's hamburger had an ingredient on it that wasn't supposed to be on there. Jen sighed a little too loudly. She was sighing at the incompetence of the kitchen, not at the man's complaint. The man took her sigh as backtalk and threw the hamburger directly at her face
, screaming expletives about how the customer is always right.
I was still only 16 and new to this, so I couldn't believe this was going down right in front of my eyes. Still, I expected the customer to be asked to leave. Or something, right? He just committed battery with a burger!
I watched my manager, Brandy, apologize profusely to the man (who was now staring directly at the table in shame), comp his meal, and give him coupons for next time. Jen sat angrily in the back of the store until he was gone. Jen and Brandy were enemies until Jen stopped showing up for work. I never saw the burger thrower again.
Lesson: Stick up for your own people when they're wronged. If you don't, you end up with a good editor that resents you and a client that's never going to use you again anyway to show for it.
Another dinner rush scenario. Slammed as usual. Good for tips. Except not, because a majority of my section is being taken up by a youth baseball team and they all want shakes. I take their orders down and get the shakes done and out of the way as quickly as I can because they're so tedious. Just as I was feeling much better about maintaining control of my section, I hear the screaming of nine 10-year-old boys.
I ran to the table and found that one of the kids had attempted to drink his shake too quickly, and had quickly puked it right back up onto the table. In the middle of a dinner rush. With a full dining room of people surrounding them.
I looked at the table and didn't see any puke, so I was kind of relieved. I mean, how much puke could a 10-year-old kid make in a matter of moments with a small shake, anyway? I saw a little pile of paper placemats sitting in the middle of the table -- or what I thought was a little pile. I lifted them up to survey the damage. There were more placemats than I thought. Oh, the humanity. Puke was covering the entire table. It was so much worse than I thought.
Half the kids saw this and started screaming again before I could cover it up again. This caused most of the tables in my section to turn and see what the fuss was all about, and get an eyeful of chunky beige kid-barf. The kid's mom, seated next to him, looked at the pile, looked at me, and said "I'm an RN. You should be wearing gloves when you clean that up."
So I carefully did and still managed to take care of my tables. The vomit-table left me a whopping 10% tip after all the accommodations I offered to them, but some of the surrounding tables left a couple extra sympathy dollars.
Lesson: Sometimes you're running one step behind a bad situation -- covered in barf/bad footage, and the only thing you can do is smile and do your best not to make it any worse.
After high school, I transferred to another restaurant location in the middle of downtown Indianapolis where I worked for a few months in college before moving on to a new hospitality gig. Things were bigger, rougher, and much more violent at this location. On a bright January afternoon, I was running the dining room alone in the dead space between lunch and dinner. I only had one table of three youngish people -- two guys and a girl. Our restaurant, being a diner, had a cash register where you paid your bill instead of at the table, so I was running that too. While I was behind the counter looking at the dining room, one of the guys leapt out of his chair and started beating the hell out of the other guy with anything he could get his hands on: a half-filled glass, a plate, a condiment rack, a ketchup bottle, a chair. My tiny speck of a manager tried to break it up as the girl ran away, but the dude was destroying the guy's face pretty rapidly. Blood everywhere. Mr. Manager yelled at me to call 911 since I was standing next to the phone.
A woman had walked in during this fight, seeing everything that had happened including me on the phone. She wanted to place a to-go order, and I told her it would be just a minute until I finished speaking with the 911 operator. She got super duper mad at me for not taking her order right away. And then she got even madder when the 911 operator asked me to walk away from the counter to the bleeding man and ask him if he thought his nose was broken (??).
About this same time was a manager shift change, so the dinner manager had walked in the front door to find a man with blood pouring out of his face and a very upset customer who complained about me walking away from the counter. The dinner manager wrote me up for not taking the customer's order while I was talking to the 911 operator.
Also, this was the first and only time I called 911 and I got put on hold.
Lesson: Sometimes when you think you're doing the right thing, someone will perceive it as not the right thing at all. That doesn't make it wrong.
Waitresses commonly get taken off dining room duties toward the end of their shift to do "side-work" which is some kind of cleaning task usually. One of the assigned side-work duties at my restaurant was the bathroom. Usually this was just checking the supply levels and sweeping, but it was still considered to be the worst of the assignments. On this fateful day, my lovely manager informed us all that deep cleaning would be necessary for a visit by a health inspector the next day. She took me in the bathroom and told me that the dried urine on the wall beneath the urinal needed to go. So there I was, kneeling under a urinal, scraping dried whatever
off the wall, begging the universe to not have some creepy man walk in.
Lesson: THINGS CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE.
When I was 17, I thought that after I moved on from waitressing and customer service and got a real editing job, all that stuff would be a distant sticky memory. Instead, I find myself referring to the things I learned in the ice-cream-covered trenches now more than ever. How to treat other people, dealing with complaints, learning to accept that the best you can offer is the best you can offer; regardless of whether you're crafting a show for a producer or mixing a shake for a customer, it's all relevant.
Learning to control what you can, triage what you cannot, and sever ties with those that deserve it: that's the trick to be a good editor that I started learning much earlier than I ever thought.