Life Lessons from the Bar Cart
On this Thursday before Mother’s Day during a season when I am preaching on “work,” I thought I’d share with you some ramblings from our daughter, Rachel, who turned Cyndi into a mother and me into a father 21 years ago. She graduates next weekend from Whitworth and is headed to Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts next fall. Meantime, she has taken several jobs to help pay the way, and one of them is very interesting…and not exactly what I expected for my newly-minted theology major. I hope you enjoy her “life lessons from the bar cart.”
Fresh out of college and money, the Spokane Country Club hired me on for their spring season – my very first post-graduate job. Not that my bachelor’s degree has served any particular use at my current employment, since I’m the only person on staff who has one. In fact, while my staff polo is actually blue, I’m much more of a closet white collar than I ever realized. I am the only employee who doesn’t smoke (I still haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to do during smoke breaks), I don’t have cool sleeve tattoos, nor am I a single parent who has supported herself since age 14. Yet in spite of my lack of any kind of practical qualifications (a degree in biblical languages doesn’t help one mix drinks or carry trays), I unexpectedly found myself with the privilege of working alongside these great folks waiting tables and driving the bar cart.
Oh yes, a bar cart is exactly what it sounds like – a jankety golf cart outfitted with a full bar – a mobile, mixology paradise that sounds like a shrieking banshee when attempting to summit hills. The adult equivalent of an ice cream truck. Her name is Betty, and the tales I could tell you about my adventures with Betty would take up a whole other story entirely. And while my time at the Spokane Country Club has been relatively limited, waiting tables and driving bar carts has taught me a few things a college education never did. In fact, I have found my time in the blue-collar world to be delightfully refreshing after the ivory tower, and I’ve grown to love and appreciate it in a way I never have before. Thus I’ve decided to compile a few life lessons from the Spokane Country Club, namely thoughts on rhythm, joy, and real things.
First of all, my co-workers have a good deal to teach us about how to live out a healthy rhythm of work and rest. When clocked in, the SCC staff consists of some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met. And I think this philosophy of hard work informs more than just the job itself, because these folks are people of action. It doesn’t matter if you say you care about the staff and want to contribute to the team. What matters is you prove it – that you bus the corner table even though it’s not yours, stay late to help close out, or move Dustin’s bike in out of the rain.
The SCC staff works hard and works well. Yet when they clock out, they also have a good deal to teach us about rest. Because when you clock out of work, you stop working. That’s it. After our shifts my friends go out for drinks, go on dates, or play with their kids. They work hard and rest well. In fact, I’ve come to the realization that my “working days” are in fact less stressful and more relaxing than my “days off.” I always try to accomplish too many things and cram too much into the latter. Yet on the former, I go to work, I go home, and I rest. What a concept.
However, the SCC has not just demonstrated hard work, but also showed me what it means to work well. Sarah, one of my supervisors, can’t be older than 27. She’s a tattooed, chain-smoking single mama of a four year old with a fantastic (though maybe less than church appropriate) sense of humor. Sarah is the life of the party, but also much more than that. One day I overheard one of the dishwashers ask how her day was going. Sarah responded, “Every day is what you make of it. I never have a bad day because I always choose to make it a good one.” The people I work with have a very clear understanding of what they can and cannot control. And while the majority of their lives lands in the second category (as is the case for everybody, whether they admit it or not), they choose joy on a regular basis. In the midst of life’s craziness – in the midst of working what some would consider to be a dead-end, minimum wage job – I watch the SCC staff reflect Christ. By accident, of course – they’re vaguely familiar with the Jesus guy who has something to do with why we get time and a half for working Easter. Yet they reflect him all the same with their stubborn positivity. My co-workers decide to be joyful, and I am the better for it.
In case you haven’t picked up on this already, there’s a lot that I love about my fellow waiters. And in the midst of all their ragged edges and delightful quirks, my very favorite thing about them is their reality. What you see is what you get. When they cuss you out, you deserved it. When they say things like, “You work hard and your attitude is really great. We like you,” you know you’ve received the highest form of praise. Over drinks after work (arguably the best mission field on the planet), they tell stories of budding aspirations, collapsed dreams, and that time Danielle rode on the back of her (now ex) boyfriend’s crotch rocket to Sturgess, North Dakota (which apparently sees a lot more action than one might initially expect). Nothing false, fake, phony, or pretentious. Real life presents enough problems as it is, and these people have better things to do than fiddle around with the ingenuine. And while their vocabulary may not be sermon appropriate, my co-workers’ conversations and dispositions are a breath of fresh air and good for the soul. This makes sense, I suppose, because the best things can only come out of real things. And I would take bedraggled reality over a whitewashed façade any day.
You could argue that these generalizations are far too broad and optimistic to apply to the working world as a whole, and you might be right. I can only tell you what I see on a daily basis in the microcosm of the SCC. And, of course, the view is not always pretty. Yet not only do I learn about life from the staff on a daily basis, but I now see the Gospel with a new freshness. Because if you think about it, the Gospel is perfectly wired for blue-collar folks (along with everybody else). It talks about fishing the night shift and drinking with rough crowds. About feeling left behind by the religious establishment, but included by a kinda weird, yet intriguing blue-collar carpenter. About easy yokes, light burdens, and the kind of God who sees us as immeasurably valuable regardless of profession.
In reflecting on my bar cart job, I continue to ask myself this question: How do I – a closet white-collared nerd about to climb back up into the ivory tower this fall – continue to love and minister to the blue collar world, with its weird work schedules and distinct life experiences? I’m not quite sure yet, though I know I never want to be divorced from that realm completely. Because the fact is, Jesus liked hanging around the blue-collared crowd. And so do I.