Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tips, and how they can fool you

When I was a young child in Tacoma, Washington, once or twice a month we could go for breakfast to a local restaurant called the Flying Boots Cafe. It was a twelve blocks north of our house and a block from what would eventually become my High School. When you entered the front door, there was a long curved counter leading you from the front door, either to the right where there is a door to the kind of sleazy bar area, or to the left along a wall of booths, drawing you back to the rear area full of tables. Each booth used to have those little individual machines where you could drop a coin and select music from a menu for the jukebox.

We loved this place. They had great breakfasts. It was the kind of place that had waitresses in little uniforms you might find in most 1950's greasy spoons. The neighborhood was a mini downtown area along three blocks in one direction down 38th street and nearly none in any other. Across the street was a Christian store that sold everything Christian, Catholic, or the like. This was two or three miles south from the actual downtown Tacoma area.

Imagine my surprise when, having not been there in years, I drove through one day with my son, to show him around my old childhood neighborhood, and the entire area was all Asian signage and language. I LOVE Asian things. I wouldn't have a problem with seeing that kind of thing in a lot more places. BUT, my childhood neighborhood, had disappeared. Worse, it was transformed into something, well, alien. No big deal, just, odd.

So, now in an entirely different way, imagine my surprise to discover, that the Flying Boots Cafe, is still there. The only change as far as I can tell, is now they have karaoke. But, I digress.

Back to when that neighborhood was all American. And I was a kid. My family would go there frequently for breakfasts on Sundays. My mom knew a couple of these waitresses by name and vice versa. We would all drag ourselves in there after church, order up a group O'food, and have a great relaxing time. If it was after church, my step-father wasn't there, but if it was a little later after we got home from church, then he might go with us. Sometimes, we'd get change to throw in the booth machines to play music. Great fun, pancakes, eggs, sausage, all of it. And the place was just fun to hang out at.

The waitresses treated us like family, even though we would make a bit of noise at times no one ever seemed to notice, it was a great, family kind of restaurant; even with the guys rolling early into the bar, before we even finished with breakfast (okay, to be fair, most of the time more like a brunch), notwithstanding.

When it was time to leave, we would get the tab, my mom would pay the bill, the waitress would take it and return the change. Mom would put the dollars in her purse and leave her change as a tip. Now I don't remember how much she left for a tip, but I assume it was reasonable and appropriate. Breakfasts were inexpensive, two or three dollars for a combo plate, so tips in change weren't unreasonable and my mom said she liked to get rid of her change, and the waitresses didn't mind, they are just happy for the money and can change the coin into bigger denominations because, they can always use chance in the cash register.

But these were things she told me in the years after these young childhood memories of breakfasts at the Flying Boots Cafe.

Skip forward. Since then, I had been in the military. I had earned a University degree, been married, divorced, and was fully an adult. One day, I was sitting at my parent's, and my mother and I were talking. The subject of the Flying Boots came up. We were talking about what it was like and how much fun we had there.

And then I mentioned it.

Back when I was a kid eating at that cafe, I always seemed to be the last to leave the table. I was always messing around with this or that and my mom's attention was free floating and trying to get us all up and off.

But I could never figure out why my mother left change on the table. All these coins. Just...sitting there. It seemed to me, such a waste. And messy. So, I didn't think anyone would care, and my mom didn't seem to want them, so....

I used to steal the tips my mother left for the waitresses. I had no concept that I was stealing, that this was payment for services rendered. I would just scoop up the coins and now I had some shiny coins. You could argue that I knew better, that I was trying not to be seen doing it, that I never told anyone afterward, but really, I just thought they weren't wanted anymore.

And that was what I told my mother that day at her home, some decades later. My mom's jaw dropped open, and a horrified look took over her face.

"So, you're telling me, those waitresses that I was always so friendly with, who gave us such good service week after week, for years, weren't getting their tips and they served us so well anyway? Oh my God." Then she gave a nervous laugh, seeing the sad humor in it. "God bless, them. They must have thought I was a cheap S.O.B. Or, maybe they thought we didn't have the money to leave a tip."

And the horror to her of THAT, of thinking that the waitresses believed we were poor, hit her hard. Now we really didn't have much, but we made due, though my step-father had to work two jobs, and I was the first to get a college degree in my family and I got that, by doing 4+ years in the Air Force. But my mother also saw that we gave our old clothes to a family that had too many kids and far less than we did. That almost got me beat up on several occasions, but but that, is another story altogether.

So, when did I quit taking the tips? What made me stop? Let's flash back to one day, way back when, we were leaving the cafe, still at the table and my mother turned back and looked at the table. She doesn't remember this now, but I do. She said, "Hey, where'd the tip go?" IT was a bunch of coins, spread out, hard to miss. I just looked up at her, being the last one to have been at the table, actually still partly on the chair.

I suspected there was something, awry.

"Who took the tip?" She looked at me. I wonder what the look on my face displayed at that moment? I can imagine, something like, "Oh boy, I did something wrong. Again."

She looked down at me and said the words: "Did you take the tip?"

I said, "I took some coins you left on the table. You didn't seem to want them, so I took them." She looked at me stunned. Then, she chuckled.

"Honey, those coins, you need to put them back. Those were left for the waitresses, its called a tip. The waitresses give us good service, and we pay for the food, but then we leave them a tip to show them that we appreciate how nice and helpful they were. If they don't do a good job, we don't leave a tip, or we give them a tip according to how good their service was."

I said, "Oh. I didn't know, I thought you just didn't want the coins." And I put them back on the table.

And I never did that again. No. Really. HONEST!

Back to the present and my mom having just realized that I had been taking those tips, for who knows how long before I learned my lesson of the tip.

"Well, Mom, uh, gotta go now. Thanks for the chat, take care, have a good day, see ya!"

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