Home for the Holidays

AutoGrat is back once again, minus a coblogger and no longer restaurant industry oriented. I’ve decided that it’s time for me to use this space exclusively for my own internal ramblings. Or external, depending on your perspective. PERSPECTIVE. That’s going to be the key word for this third attempt at maintaining a blog.

That being said, I’m going to skip the part where I attempt to outline my ideas going forward with this writing endeavor… I really don’t know what’s happening, I just know that I need to write. So here we are.

I just returned from visiting my family in Kansas City for Thanksgiving. My time there always offers me an alternate perspective (keywords!) on my life… It’s crazy how different your life can seem when talked about with people outside of your immediate bubble of existence. I didn’t have any epiphanies or stumble upon new understandings of self. I did, however, have some time to reflect on my familial situation and how it differs from those I surround myself with.

Most families are kind of organized into little groups based on their place on the family tree – the adult table consists of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. The kids table is usually made up of cousins and siblings in the same age group, lumped together to give the adults some time to catch up and maybe have too  much wine. Everyone at the kids table grow up together until they’re old enough to branch out into their own respective adult tables… Typical holiday formula.

Kansas City is home to the paternal side of my family. Our Thanksgiving dinner is hosted at my aunt and her husband’s home, and our usual guest list includes their children, my father and his wife and their kids, my grandmother and great-grandmother. Because I was born when my father was just exiting high school, there weren’t any cousins or siblings being added to the picture. My kid table was just me, trying to fit in with the grown-ups. Twenty-some years later, my dad and aunt have started the more traditional family experience, we’ve included some married in relatives, and the kid table is now fully seated.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my too much wine. On the flip side, I watch the kids play and bond and get older together every year and I wonder what that must be like. I hear anecdotes from peers about their own family gatherings, sneaking schnapps and sharing secrets with their distant same-aged relatives, and I get a little jealous. My cousins and siblings will never have those memories of me – I’ll always be more akin to the auncle that didn’t tell mom and dad about the schnapps I caught them with.

At the adult table, I recount the last year of my life and I talk politics and theology and economics and clean up dishes and cut pie for the kids. All the while, I can’t fully divulge my recent experiences because, frankly, they’re too old at this point to relate. Talking about partying with my friends and complaining about moving home aren’t appropriate accolades for those at higher stages in life. So, I keep all of that below the surface and I talk instead about my job and try to sound like a productive, self-sufficient, respectable member of society.

It’s all normal for me, and it isn’t until one of the cousins needs me to remind them that I’m technically on their part of the family tree that I even notice the abnormality of the whole thing. At the end of the day, though, I can’t help but appreciate the outlook I have on the family. I’ve seen the adults mature and wisen and find the lives they’ve wanted to lead and I’ve grown alongside them being in the loop, a confidante. I don’t experience the whispers or the subject changes upon entering a room because I’m usually the one being whispered to. In the same stride, I get to be the kids’ favorite adult, still young enough that I can relate to their experiences and old enough that I get to take care of them.

Pros and cons aside, experiencing Thanksgiving the way I have has given me the opportunity to see the broad spectrum of life in all of it’s stages, and in turn I’ve been able to realize fairly early on just how I want to grow into myself. If there’s anything I’m grateful for, it’s that. It leaves me curious though – what are the other experiences out there? What alternate perspectives would you all like to share? Whether you’ve grown with your cousins, walked in similar shoes, or never had a Thanksgiving experience at all, I would love to be enriched by your holiday stories. Comment, message, whatever is comfortable for you to expand my view.

 

Thanks for taking the time,

Tucker

 

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Serial De-Friender

I’ve had a lot of friends in my life. I’ve had a lot of best friends, mostly. And these friends I’ve had over the years have all been wonderful humans in their own respects, yet in the ‘prime’ of my life I find myself with only a handful of people I consider close friends. I can count on three fingers the people I consider dearest to me, excluding those blood-bound to love me.

I’ve been analyzing my life a lot, as I tend to do, and looking for negativity to eliminate from it. I try to be happy, as hard as it seems to be, and so I try to keep the stresses to a minimum. As these analyses usually point out, stress seeps from every corner my life, even among those ‘close friends’ I have. A pretty common trend in my behavior is distancing myself from people, whether intentionally or not, as soon as my over-critical mind catches wind of something problematic.

I could list the amount of people I’ve cut out of my life and go into detail about how I was justified in removing them and why I’m better off without them, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem must be with me. I can’t have as long a list of ex-besties as I do without some fault landing on my shoulders.

This introspective look at my serial de-friending comes, perhaps obviously, at what seems to be another of my ending relationships. I can feel myself slowly and systematically ostracizing someone in my life, consciously pushing her away but completely incapable of stopping myself. Or maybe unwilling to stop.

So as I continue to watch our connection fizzle out, I can’t help but wonder what it is that prompts my need to snip the strings of my relations. I spent a lot of time telling myself that I got bored with people easily, and it made enough sense. But the endings never really occur in a lull. Another part of me believes that it must be my depression kicking in and I’m just pushing people out as a response to the impending doom. Like a cat when her life is ending, finding a hiding place to pass on alone. I’ve been in a stellar mood lately though, so how can I blame my depression? Is it insecurity, then? Not feeling worthy of love? Is it a source of control for me, in my never-ending struggle to have a handle on every facet of my life? A defense mechanism? Or something else completely?

People who maintain close friends for years and years astound me. “You’ve been friends for how long? Wow, I’ve only known most of my friends for a year!” It’s a common statement. I think the largest period of time I’ve considered a person my ‘best friend’ was for four or five years, tops. And a less-than-best friend that I maintain contact with is even rarer. As many times as I’ve promised to stay in someone’s life forever, I have a hard time making it past a two year mark. Maybe I’m just not meeting people that fit into my life, or maybe I’m one of those malformed puzzle pieces myself, a factory defect that can’t fit into the place I was meant to go. Maybe I just have commitment issues.

“You’re a ticking time bomb. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells with you.” I’ve heard that twice in my life, almost verbatim, from two very different friends, at very different stages in my life. Further evidence that it’s me that is the problem with my friendships.

So, what am I doing? Why can’t I see myself as the countdown nears zero and the people around me tiptoe away across a sea of eggs shells? (Which, by the way, really makes no sense. Why would you tiptoe across shells of eggs? Aren’t the eggs already broken? Another time, Tucker, another time.)

No matter how many times I tell myself ‘it’ll be different this time,’ it never is. Even when I see it coming.

To all of the ex-best-friends that I’ve pushed away, however I managed to f*ck things up, I’m sorry for whatever I did (or didn’t do). And no matter how many times I promise to remedy our broken friendship and don’t follow through, know that you’re really not missing anything new.

Temporarily Yours,
Tucker

The Bad and The Ugly

I once made a post about the downfalls of being sick while working in the service industry. Now I’d like to expand on that and talk about all the little things that can make serving a living hell. I’m aware that every job comes with it’s own set of bullsh*t, headaches, and frustration. But the restaurant business is unique in a lot of ways that I don’t think many people understand.

Finance

Being a server means you’re never going to have a steady income. When you literally rely on the kindness of strangers to make your rent, you’re always going to be a little on edge about your finances. If you find a good place, there are nights when you’re going to go home with upwards of $200 in your pocket. A good week could mean that you can pay all your bills, buy a whole new winter wardrobe, go out to eat several times, buy groceries, and afford all the cigarettes you need.

Conversely, a bad week could find you eating only at work, buying Pall Malls instead of Spirits, and having to borrow money to afford a roof over your head. I won’t even mention medical bills and any loans you might have to pay off. You learn to just expect things will go into collection. And you never know which kind of week you’re going to get. Even if you’re good at saving money (which I wouldn’t pretend to be under threat of death), you might just have to clear out your savings to afford to live.

Social Life

Working in a restaurant means you’re never going to have the same schedule as anyone else. If your friend works a 9-5, the only way you’re going to see them is if they come in for a drink and you serve them. If your parents need help on a certain day, and you haven’t requested it off, chances are you won’t be able to assist them. Vacations? Forget it. Spontaneous roadtrips? Not if you want to keep your job. You forget that weekends are meant for relaxing.

And chances are, even if you manage to make plans with someone, it’s going to be after work. And what do most servers want to do after work? De-stress to the max. For me, this means Netflix, couch, hot tea, and no human contact. After a long day of pretending I like people, I don’t have it in me to actually like anyone. (This might just be my issue as an introvert, but I think others can relate).

This also makes relationships difficult to manage. I’m lucky in that when I met my boyfriend, he and I worked in the same place and had similar schedules. We could see each other at work, we could go home together, and head back in the morning. I think a big part of why so many people in the service industry end up dating the people they work with is because their partners GET IT. Not to mention, you just don’t have time to go out and meet someone else. Yeah, you might be able to head to the bar after your shift but the people you meet there are less than desirable for long-term companionship.

Physical Health

If you’re a server, you’re on your feet all the goddamn time. Sitting happens on the toilet, and it’s usually a rushed experience. So you’ll be hard pressed to meet a server without back problems (or leg, muscle, joint problems). Even I, at my tender young age, feel like I’m 115 years old after a long week.

You’re also constantly at risk of exposure to injury or illness. Sick people come in, and you have to clear their plates and glasses. You might slice a finger. You might be carrying four burning hot plates at once, and plate burn is no joke. I have scars from three years ago all over my arms. And then there’s the heavy lifting. Have you ever tried carrying three ice buckets up a flight of stairs? It’s not easy, and more often than not, it’s painful. This circles back to the back. My spine is probably missing a couple vertebrae at this point.

Mental Health

Serving takes a huge emotional toll.

Coping Methods

And here’s where it gets kind of serious. I’ve found that most people who work in the service industry will have some kind of addiction. Nicotine is most common, and I know I wouldn’t smoke nearly as much as I do if I didn’t have a serving job, but that’s not nearly the worst of it. It can be really easy to start de-stressing with a drink after work, and it can become such a habit that soon you find you can’t do without it. There is a similar story with other depressants. Or you might try a stimulant one day because you’re just so exhausted that you feel like you might die. And do it again the next day, and the next.  (Disclaimer: I am not personally addicted to anything besides cigarettes and coffee, but I know enough and have seen enough to be able to put myself in the shoes of a service industry addict.)

There are benefits to working in a restaurant (look forward to a companion post!), but oftentimes they are overshadowed by the exhaustion of being broke, sick, tired and emotionally drained. It’s not an easy job, and anyone who thinks it is hasn’t done it.

Your Empty Shell of a Blogger,

Arina

First Watch Cafe: Rockville, Maryland

I was on the road this week, yet another of my family’s frequent trips to Washington D.C, and I figured there was no reason to cease and desist the great blog progress. Manifest destiny, etc. (Disclaimer: this blog does not support the views of Andrew Jackson and his cronies.)  Hence, my first solo review.

A quick Google search led our family to the First Watch Cafe in Rockville, Maryland. This is a chain, which your reviewers generally steer clear of, but I had little choice in the matter. Near as I can tell, the place focuses on breakfast, giant pots of coffee for the table, and a lack of brand consistency (you can take the girl out of graphic design…)

When we arrived, the place was already crackling with the raw terrifying energy of a breakfast rush. No host or “seat yourself” sign greeted us at the door, which has nearly the same effect on a restaurant patron as a concussion. Our internal GPS recalculated several times before the kindly manager came to rescue us. He quickly soothed my bristling server fur with a couple of jokes and a willingness to help us situate ourselves in a way that suited us and our resident four year old.

He left us with a smile and some menus, and that was our last instance of human contact for a good five minutes (i.e. an eternity). When someone finally showed up, it was a frazzled trainee with half a pot of coffee. He mumbled his name, fumbled for his book, and bumbled taking our order. His ignorance of the menu sank my heart into the depths of the Atlantic, and his lack of focus would surely have redirected a ship on auto-pilot into a cliff.

We weren’t off to a good start. A fresh pot of coffee and our other drinks not only took overly long to show up, our server delivered them with all the grace of an untrained beluga. I love being proven wrong, however, and I was not disappointed. Shortly thereafter, our server quickly dropped off a fresh pitcher of water and pre-meditated syrup.

There was a lull in action afterwards, which gave me an opportunity to observe the rest of the restaurant. The place was obviously going through a round of training, I noticed several servers giving pro tips to their trainees regarding pre-bussing and such. As previously mentioned, the place was hopping, but from what I could see not a single server was in the weeds and there were no dissatisfied customers.

Our food arrived within fifteen to twenty minutes, which is  an understandable ticket-time based on the number of people filling the relatively small space. Our server had not yet mastered the art of balancing several plates in his hands, but placed the correct food in front of the correct person. My breakfast took longer to show itself, but was hand-delivered by the manager, with a reassurance that my request to add mushrooms had been fulfilled. He also noticed our empty coffee pot (which I’d strategically moved to the edge of the table) and must have passed on the information to our server, for we received fresh coffee soon thereafter.

The rest of the meal passed relatively uneventfully, with a reasonably timed check-in from our server. He was obviously busy elsewhere, though, for although he grabbed one of the empty plates on our table he ceased showing his face until everyone had been finished for several minutes. He delivered our check promptly upon request, but I’d advise him to keep his checks better organized to avoid rifling through a mess of wrinkled papers for a good minute. A check drop-off must be like our favorite kind of flatulence, silent but deadly. Once again, the manager proved himself my favorite employee, for he was pleasant and humorous while cashing me out at the register.

The experience was not mind-blowing but fairly pleasant. With a little bit of confidence, our frazzled trainee has the makings of a fine server. The management and senior employees obviously care about the comfort of their customers, which is always nice to see. I’d love to see how everyone functions at a slower pace, but there’s no better time to judge a staff than in the middle of a rush.

If you’re ever in Rockville and looking for a good breakfast, First Watch wouldn’t be the worst choice you could make.

Arbor Brewing Company

Around the time we went into hiatus, I began work at Arbor Brewing Company. ABC just celebrated it’s 20-year anniversary in downtown Ann Arbor, and rightfully so.

For our first ‘endorsement’ post, I’m going to be shameless and promote my workplace.

The brewpub has been a huge deal in the Michigan beer scene, not just for it’s amazing beer (I didn’t even drink beer prior to working here) but for it’s amazing work being eco-friendly and locally supportive. The owners are probably the kindest, most dedicated people I’ve worked for in the restaurant industry. Their hearts are just as invested in the business as their finances, and I’ve found that to be a rare occurrence in this line of work. They are constantly looking for ways to innovate and expand their reach, and they do it all with their many workers at the forefront of their minds. Their most recent announcement to renovate the restaurant came with a full-staff meeting and an open door for ideas and opinions, which was met with a more positive response than I’ve seen from any staff I’ve worked with when such an announcement was made.

The management team that has been chosen to lead the staff is just as amazing. The group of women that run the day-to-day functioning of the brewpub are all huge-hearted and just as dedicated to the cause as the owners. Seeing a functioning management staff is just as surprising to me as the owners are, and I can’t express how refreshing it is to work with competent individuals that actually take the time to interact with their customers – whether it’s a complaint or just a curiosity, there is no doubt that a manager will take time out of their day to ensure your needs are met. And beyond the actual managing duties, they shine in their capacity for compassion. I’ve witnessed more hugs and one-on-one chats between managers and staffers than I can count, and the follow-ups that display the true depth of their love for their workers. I’m so used to taking care of myself – on the floor and off – that I’ve had a hard time accepting the managers for what they are, and have only recently opened up to their support, but it’s been an eye-opening experience. Is this what good management really looks like? Can’t say I’m disappointed.

As for the servers and hosts I work with, I don’t have a single negative thing to say. Though it’s a bit difficult to establish yourself among them, once they befriend you they take care of you. I’ve been shown so much support and kindness by my colleagues…it’s outrageous. And every single one of them takes their job seriously. So many beer experts in the ranks, it’s crazy. Everyone is so eager to learn more, too. I can’t even tell you how many questions are asked when a new beer comes up, or how many opinions are offered when we update menus. The way they handle customers is just as passionate – the beer savants can recommend a brew to a new guest that will almost always be exactly what they want, and they’ll have no problem explaining it to them in depth. And the pride everyone shows for Arbor Brewing is wonderful – everyone really does their best to represent it, from staying up to date on the goings on to making sure that everyone is recycling properly.

Honestly, before working here I had no idea just how wonderful of a place it was – I knew the food was good, I knew the servers seemed like ‘alternative’ people, but I just couldn’t know the depth of passion behind that. I really do recommend everyone give it a try, whether you’re a beer snob or just have weird dietary requirements (we accommodate vegan and gluten-free like no other) you’ll find something to make you smile, from a staff that strives for that smile. Employed or not, I support Arbor Brewing Company from their rooftop solar panels to their soon-to-be renovated basement bathrooms.

Shamelessly Yours,
Tucker

Full Disclosure – A NCOD Special

It’s National Coming Out Day today and while I’ve been ‘out’ about my sexuality and gender identity for quite some time now, there’s something that I’ve still yet to reveal about myself. There’s a piece of me that I have struggled to find the courage to be open about, even with myself.

I am HIV positive.

It’s a hard thing to type, harder to say out loud. The reason that I’ve decided to write this is to, if anything, help myself come to terms with it. It isn’t a new thing, I’ve known for a little while now, but it’s not something I’m fully comfortable talking about yet. It’s only recently sunk in enough for me to have full conversations about it with the people that know. Unfortunately, it isn’t a topic I can avoid forever, and I’ve realized that if I ever want to be fully happy, I need to stop letting myself hide from this.

When I first was diagnosed, my initial reaction was that I did not want to continue living with the disease, that I’d rather kill myself than let it kill me. I felt dirty, ashamed of myself and disgusted by my body. I hated myself.

Somewhere between then and now, I realized that I want to live, with or without the disease. I’ve been on medication and I’ve gotten my numbers down in the undetectable range, which is as close to being cured as those in my predicament can hope to get currently. I’ve made strides in therapy to manage the emotional problems that coincide with the diagnosis, and it’s been a process, learning not to let it define my life.

Despite the work that I’ve been doing to keep myself both physically and mentally healthy, I still find myself with this need to be able to come clean about it publicly. It’s strange, because I know that there’s no real reason to tell anyone outside of the support system I’ve confided in, but I feel like ‘coming out’ will make it easier to handle the part I still have a hard time with – disclosure.

People living with HIV are legally obligated to tell their sexual partners about the disease, which isn’t at all a bad thing. In my case, I was never made aware that I was having sex with an HIV positive person, and if I had been more inclined to practice safe sex, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would love to know where I contracted it, it would’ve made coping a bit easier, having someone to point a finger at and blame. Or at least I like to think it would’ve been helpful. When I found out, I immediately made a point to let anyone know that could’ve been affected, it was the right thing to do. And safe sex made a whole lot more sense to me. Prior to finding out, I’d lived in the mindset that unwanted pregnancy was the worst case scenario in sex, and being a homosexual male negated that. Health classes don’t cover gay sex like they should. Regardless, it took me a long time to find the courage to disclose my status to possible sex partners. I would avoid actual sex, get away with what I knew wouldn’t transmit and then find an excuse to end it there. That happened until the guilt started eating at me. I’d been being as careful as possible, but I came to the realization that any risk of exposure was still a risk, no matter how small the percentage, and I couldn’t be the person that changed someone’s life in that way. Someone else had put me through the same thing, whether they were aware of their status or not, and I couldn’t do that to someone else. I withdrew myself from any chance of meeting someone that might lead to a sexual encounter. I tried dating without sex and made a point to build a relationship before revealing my secret, but I always found a way to ‘lose interest’ before it could get to that point.

The first time I openly told a potential partner about my status was on my last birthday. It was hard, I cried after I told him and cried more when he didn’t look past the disease and continue to want me anyways. And since then, I’ve done my best to avoid situations where I’d risk being rejected.

I still haven’t fully come to terms with it. But I need to. I need to get this obstacle out of my way so that I can move on with my life, be happy. And I know that I’ll never be able to be one hundred percent honest about this if I don’t take a first step, do something to force myself to open up about it to people that aren’t my best friends or close family. So, National Coming Out Day is the perfect time to do this. It’s a day that has been a way for people all over to finally come clean about the parts of themselves that they’ve been afraid to expose, a day to find acceptance and support.

I’d really like this to spark some conversations, with me or just in general, about the reality of HIV and living with it in a world that looks at it through the eyes of a stigma. I’d like to post this and maybe show someone else that’s suffering with the same self-loathing that I’ve suffered through that they don’t need to hate themselves, that this isn’t all that they are. Mostly, I’d like to stress the necessity of safe sex and keeping yourself healthy.

I’d like to thank the people in my life that have been in the know and have shown me support – they know who they are, but what they don’t know is that without them I never would have been able to find the strength to fight this.

If anyone has questions, or needs someone to talk to for any reason at all, please feel free to reach out to me.

Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone.

Positively Yours,

Tucker

AutoGrat 2 : This Time It’s Personal

Guess who’s back…….back again…..Shady isn’t back, but your two favorite service industry bloggers are!
That’s right, folks, we’ve decided it’s time to bring AutoGrat out of hiatus. Not only that, but we’ve brainstormed and come up with all new ways to bring you your weekly dose of server antics.
What does this mean for the future of AutoGrat? Well, for starters, we’re going to be more consistent with output, as well as expanding the scope of our blog.
To get a little more specific, we will be continuing our service reviews, but we’re going to be placing a little less emphasis on those – they get expensive and our schedules don’t always allow for a night out together. To fill the space, we’re going to be offering an inside view into establishments in the area with management and owners that we think are worthy of your financial support. We’ll be gathering information from fellow workers to get the scoop on the best and worst bosses around, as well as businesses that are supportive of both the environment and the local economy. On a similar note, we’ve decided it would be fun to take a deeper look into some of Ann Arbor’s ‘staples’ and explore their stories from past to present.
Among these new ventures we’re exploring, we plan to pepper our blog with content aimed directly at our fellow servers – from job listings in the area to our picks of the best server-related articles and posts we’ve stumbled across. In addition, we’re looking for guest writers to feature on our blog, so if you’re interested get in touch with us about getting involved. Our contact information is available below (as well as on the ‘Contact Us’ page), so feel free to use it to submit your ideas or any opinions, suggestions, etc.
Along with the new service industry related content, we both feel that this blog is an excellent outlet for getting a little more personal with our writing, so look forward to really getting to know your servers!
We hope our return post has whet your appetite, because the meal before you promises to be a filling one.
Recrudescently yours,
Arina & Tucker
autogratblog@gmail.com