Category Archives: Life Lessons

It’s January, Tip Generously

Near the end of December, as I skated toward NYE, I realized my digestive system, liver and wallet needed a break. So, on December 30th, I hastily declared I would do the Whole 30 January challenge. It checked all the boxes of what I needed to recover from an over abundant holiday season.

Eat whole foods? Check.

Save money and cook at home more? Check.

Give my liver a alcohol break for a month? Check.

Refocus on health and fitness? Check.

Honestly, I had no idea what “being on Whole 30” actually meant, but on December 30th I jumped on the wagon. Starting January 1, I loaded my shopping cart with tons of expensive, compliant ingredients that were justified by the fact I wouldn’t be spending money eating out or ordering pricey drinks or even making trips to the liquor store. It’s true, I made some lovely meals on this plan and the groceries were certainly less than the appetizer plus entree plus dessert plus two or three drinks per person night out.

And when I did eat out, the stunningly cheap bills at the end of a meal sans alcoholic drinks was refreshing. It was also surprising. Dang, how the hell does a meal with drinks cost more than 2x than this? It was eye-opening.

While all this was good for my wallet, January is a very tough month for servers at restaurants. Newsflash, EVERYONE is on a resolution diet. Even if you are eating out less to simply make up for overspending during the holidays, you are on a January diet. That means there are way fewer people eating out right now and this who are, are eating and drinking less.

Yes, restaurants know this lull is coming and they plan accordingly. They slim down food orders and adjust menus for a more health conscious crowd, but one of their big ticket items is labor. So, they cut shifts and they send staff home early. That’s the business.

For people who rely on tips to make ends meet, that makes January really hard. Sure, they made extra money during the holidays when we were all indulging. Sure, they too can plan for a lull in January by saving those extras. Sure, they could have skipped indulging in the holidays themselves, but before we start admonishing and judging their choices, let’s be realistic.

The Federal Minimum Wage for tipped workers is $2.13. It has been $2.13 for TWENTY-SEVEN years now. It was $2.13 when I waited tables in two restaurants while trying to pay for college. As I was trying to start a new semester and pay my upcoming tuition bill, I watched my wages dwindle in January.

Of course, that was my experience as a college student, but let’s be realistic. There are more than 3 million people according to the US government, more than 4.3 million according to the Economic Policy Institute. working for tips in the US. According the EPI, “Tipped workers are predominantly women (66.6 percent) and disproportionately young; however, the majority are at least 25, and over one in four are at least 40 years of age.” That means, many Americans are working for tips as a long term profession.

I have great deal if respect professional servers. To make a living putting up with every variety and flavor of asshole you can imagine, is impressive and commendable. For any of you who have had the pleasure of dining at a location who uses professional servers with years of experience, you know why it is important to have professional servers. They make a good dining experience great and we all know no matter how good the food is, if the service sucks, it takes it all down.

Professional servers are important. Period. Full Stop.

Furthermore, as an Obama-era regulation gets rolled back, tipped workers may have to give up part if their earnings to other non-tipped employees who make more than $2.13 per hour. That is not saying those other employees are making a living wage. And yes, I know tipped employees can make good money on tips; enough money to push them above the regular minimum wage threshold other staff may be getting. But, let’s not make this a zero sum game.

All these workers should make a living wage. Period. Full Stop.

So, until we move beyond this archaic system of tipping rather than just paying a liveable wage, this is the system we have. This blog post is certainly not going to solve that.

So, this is where we are. It is January. Tipped workers still make $2.13 per hour, as they have since before I earned a high school diploma, a bachelors, a masters, worked in industry for 12 years, earned another masters and started this blog. They still have to pay their bills in January when everyone is dieting, cooking at home, spending less money and drinking less. They have to do this on fewer shifts while diners order less than half the food and drinks they did just a month ago.

I already tip generously. So, let’s revise that title.

It is January, tip even more generously. Tip as if you ordered appetizers, desserts drinks and all. Period. Full Stop.

Happy cooking and happy tipping!

Day 26: Homecoming

There are various reasons why I delayed writing about this last leg of my ride. Sure, returning to “real life” meant less time to write, but it also appeared to mean more time for Netflix binges and staring at screens. Perhaps, I wanted to prolong the journey and relish in the suspense. But, really, it was a simple act of avoidance.

I realized I sort of dreaded this day. The day I had to sum it all up. Try to make it tidy. Offer up my final wisdoms from the road. Tell you something profound.

I mentally chewed on my homecoming regularly for the last three months. What comes up is neither tidy nor wise nor profound. It is none of these and all of these. It’s a mash of lumps in my throat and tears in my eyes and feels in my gut. It’s grief and joy and sadness and smiles and endings and beginnings. It’s all of this all at once while also being just a 26-day motorcycle ride over 5000 miles with little adventure at all.

Part of me feels like the action and drama along the road was merely embellishment. There was awesomeness and quirks and fun. But, the ride was generally safe and uneventful. On the other hand, part of me knows my mental shifts were siesmic and intense.

I guess this last day of 2017 is as good as any day to button this all up.

I wasn’t meeting my lunch date until noon and the cool autumn weather meant I was afforded the opportunity to relish in the luxury of a king bed until close to 9am. Coffee, bagels and cream cheese fueled me as rode away from West Hartford on the last day of my ride across America. I was headed toward Charlie’s Diner in Spencer, Massachusetts.

Exactly thirteen weeks earlier, I left Massachusetts on an airplane. Although I had no return ticket, I did have a crazy plan to return on two wheels. At that time, I did not know the circumstances of my return. For those of you following along with my journey, you know my marriage, my livelihood and whether I would stay in Massachusetts only long enough to pack up and move on were all in question. And, if you followed along, you know the cliff hanger about my marriage was on it’s way to being resolved…er reunited, as the case may be.

Somehow, in the span of 5000 miles, we found a way to heal ourselves, overcome the hurt between us and return to each other.

We parted with enough respect, love and hope between us to makes things salvageable later, but it wasn’t the 5000 miles, it was the thirteen weeks that mattered. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but I doubt it would have if we remained in the same house during those thirteen weeks. And thirteen weeks is a blink compared to the 42 years of mental plaque I needed to sort through. I can’t speak for what he did in that time, it doesn’t matter.

As I wound my way through the New England countryside, only a tiny speck of this philosophical reflection was on my mind. New England was sparkling and the air was crisp. I was taking in the moment and relishing in this last day on the open road. I meandered through Windsor, crossed the Shenipsit State Forest and skirted around Stafford before breaking northward toward the Massachusetts border.

Since the day I rode back to Massachusetts, I’ve had time to sort through some of this. On this last day of 2017, through this post, I am able to only put some of it in context and out to the world in a way I feel okay with.

Four years ago my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The end was predictable; the journey and time to get there was not. My anger at her illness unearthed things in me I thought I had long ago shed. Twenty-four years ago, I walked away from my abusive father with little more than my wits and raw determination. The anger and self-loathing I buried beneath my hard, prickly exterior sizzled to the surface in eruptive and unpredictable ways and grief intensified it.

Thirteen weeks before I found myself closing in on the Massachusetts border, I left Massachusetts to escape my failing marriage, my failing midlife crisis, and my seemingly failing life, but mostly, I left to escape myself. Being alone with myself is a funny way to escape myself. No, it wasn’t a reprieve. It was only a way to deal with myself and nothing but myself.

So, as I pulled into Charlie’s Diner in Spencer, Massachusetts, it was an uneventful moment. The perfect riding weather, the nondescript diner, the “last day of a 26-day, 5000-mile ride” was all just another day like the last 26. Uneventful, yet profoundly different than the day I boarded a plane thirteen weeks earlier.

Happy cooking and happy New Year.