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The Diner Diaries

My father was only 14 when he came to this country from Greece. True to form, he worked in the restaurant business for many years, hoping to one day open his own establishment. Eventually, he fulfilled his dream when he opened a small restaurant in Central, NJ. When I was 14 years old –note the symmetry here– I began waitressing there, after school and on weekends. Little did I know that I’d still be there, 14 years later. But here I am, and I am embracing it—one day at a time.

That’s not to say I’ve never left: I parted ways with the restaurant on several occasions, namely when I moved away for college. Despite my best efforts and avid partying, I managed to earn a BA in Communication and Political Science. Then, bam, I had graduated. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. College is a strange sort of never­ neverland that way: you think you’re being prepared for that next step, but once that next step comes, it’s a mystery. I did know this, however: I wanted to get away from the restaurant business and find a "real job.” I ventured into the corporate world with a few different entrance points. I held to one idea: office job = real job. Boy, was I wrong! Well, maybe I was right. But “real” didn’t mean enjoyable. Certainly it wasn’t for me. I’d rather stand behind a restaurant counter than duck behind an office cubicle (unless I am passionate about my cubicle job, which never was the case). Then, an apparent breakthrough. I stumbled upon a small, mismanaged TV station in Queens, NY. My time there was short as the station was dealing with various problems . However, I met some amazing people in that mess and the experience managed to convince me to pursue a career in the media.

Fast forward a couple months, a couple years: I was definitely living and learning, but my career prospects had soured. I ended up back in the very place I’d tried to leave behind—the family restaurant business. It took me a while to shake the feeling that I’d failed. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that this wasn’t failure but oppportunity,

The restaurant allowed me the flexibility to come and go. It pushed me to take risks other people wouldn't take because I always had something to fall back on, a plan B. I'm also really good at what I do there and the store is extremely busy. I am a great waitress and recently I’ve stepped up to help manage. But those are just skills, bullet points on a resume. What’s been most important is the person it’s all made me—thanks in large part to the people I've crossed paths with: many wonderful people and an unhealthy smattering of terrible ones. Waiting on tables has made me a psychologist. People always come to me to vent about their day or ask for advice. Sometimes even strangers whom I've only served once or twice before will surprise me when they start ranting. I don't mind it though, I like to listen. I witness things daily that an average person rarely experiences. I've seen people throw tantrums because their buns weren't toasted enough, and even had one man threaten to burn down the place because he had to wait an extra few minutes for a sandwich. Other times, you the patron might be the one to witness something spectacular—namely, my father and me arguing out loud. We disagree on virtually everything.

But the bad experiences pale when compared to the good. I’ve connected with some wonderful people. When my parents got sick, there was an endless stream of well­wishers and people willing to help. I've helped my employees learn English and they have taught me Spanish. I can go on and on and on ­and I plan to little by little­ but that’s why I started this blog. To share my stories, insights, memories, rants, advice, lessons, attempts at humor. I hope to show that I make a difference in everyday people’s lives, and how they in turn impact mine. If this public side of me turns into something, maybe one day I will truly pursue a career in the media. And if I don’t, I’ll be just fine right here after all.

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