1977. I was anxious for a job that didn’t entail putting other people’s children to bed before I raided their fridge. So I walked along the shoulder of a busy road to the corner restaurant and applied for a “real” job.
We’d just moved to Novi, a haven for divorced mothers and their children. Thanks to my mother’s practical thinking capabilities, she traded our rental lifestyle in Dearborn for homeownership in Novi. After she found a condominium for sale at a price she could afford, we moved three-quarters of the way through my junior year of high school.
I got that job and bussed tables at breakneck pace, especially during the plum Sunday morning shift, the smell of breakfast specials – two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast – in the air. After learning other staff members had started out as bus girls, I figured it was time to beg for a higher status job. Eventually, I acquired the more gentile position of hostess before the managers, cousins Mike and Mike, Jr., gave me a shot as a waitress. I took full advantage of the opportunity, serving state police and blurry-eyed 20-somethings during the midnight shift with gusto.
I had every intention of going away to Michigan State University after I graduated from high school. Which required that I save every paycheck, every little tip I didn’t spend on cigarettes or cowl neck sweaters.
Freshman year of college, I was awarded work/study as part of my financial aid package. I found a job pulling data processing cards from research books in the basement of the library. Another year, I’d made photocopies during shifts at the School of Labor and Industrial Relations. Junior and senior years, I worked in the press box during football games, serving coffee, donuts and hot dogs to varsity club members before the game and during halftime, a gig far more fun than shivering in the stands, pretending to enjoy the activities of 18 guys colliding on the gridiron.
I also spent a spring semester working in a restaurant that catered to the college crowd and hosted the occasional comedy act. One night, the up-and-coming Mike Binder, a Detroiter who later became an “award-winning … film director, screenwriter, producer and actor” (so says Wikipedia), performed.
To say my waitressing skills were better suited to the greasy spoon back home is an understatement. That night, I worked late, messing up drink orders, pissing off the clientele, with no transportation back to my dorm. We didn’t need The Internet to inform us of all the dangers out there. Those strategically placed emergency phones that lit up green at night weren’t there for nothing. I imagined zillions of predators lurking behind every bush.
During the course of my shift, I’d gotten a little chatty with Mike Binder’s brother. I was curious about the life of a local guy trying to make it as a performer, so I asked Mike Binder’s brother questions in between customer complaints. How exactly does one enter the life of stand-up comedy? Did Mike Binder like it? Was it fun? Was he on the verge of something big?
Even though Mike Binder had served as a temporary diversion, my anxieties got the better of me: By the time my shift ended, I pictured myself entering the halls of South Wonders, bloodied by the likes of perfect strangers after the long walk back to my dorm. So I asked Mike Binder’s brother if he could give me a ride home. After all, what else did Mike Binder’s brother have to do? He was the brother!
I sensed his discomfort: it was a bit weird for some nobody-waitress to ask for transportation, to say nothing of the inconvenience. But I was persistent, using every pleading facial expression I could muster up – fear, desperation and gratitude – until he gave in.
The car ride home was awkward. But that was okay. Turned out the sweet gods of knowing your strengths and weakness in the workplace were with me anyway. I never worked in that restaurant again.