Going to university was about a whole bunch more than academics. Not least because I had to work to pay my bills as well as study and go to class. But also because it is the time when I figured out who I was (apart from my parent's expectations) and what I wanted out of life (apart from spending the entire winter skiing).
Unemployed and feeling a bit despondent, I wondered one evening into my favourite jazz club in Denver. This club is located in lower downtown Denver. This was before the Colorado Rockies came to town, before Coors field was built for them to play in and before the gentrification of this area made it the coolest place to be. Back then (1986) this was probably one of the scariest place to be in the Denver. The buildings were old abandoned warehouses with all the windows broken. Those same warehouses are now the most sought after loft living spaces.
Jerry, the owner, was complaining that his wife was doing the waitressing. In a moment a weakness, I volunteered to help. He said "Great, can you start now?" I'd never waitressed a day in my life unless you count my stint at Wendy's when I was 16 which you can't. But, I thought how hard can it be?
Hard.....dang hard! That night I left the bar at 2:30 am, went to my car, and drove myself home. I returned the next night to find police tape all over the place. Apparently, the trumpet player from the band had been murdered, had his lips cut off and his ears sliced off. They found him in the dumpster in the alleyway behind the dumpster. But it didn't scare me. I needed the job. I needed the money.
The way it worked was, Jerry gave my $20 when I reported to work which I used as my bank. I paid for drinks out of that and collected the money from the customers. Anything I still had in my hand at the end of the night was all mine. I typically had about $80 in my pocket at the end of the night.
I worked Sunday through Thursday nights. On Sundays I started at 7 pm and we closed at midnight. The rest of the week I started at 8 pm and we closed at 2 am. I would be up at 7 am to get to my classes by 8:30. There were about 20 bar stools and 8 tables in the bar part (where the band played). There was a small restaurant serving Mexican food (some of the best green chili in the world!) with about another 8 tables. You couldn't hear the band so well from there but there was a pool table in the middle of the room and lots of customers just came to play pool.
The bartender got the tips from the bar stools. I got the tables in the bar and the restaurant and everyone standing in the aisle. I studied during slow nights (which weren't many) but what I learned from this job had little or nothing to do with my books.
If I called in sick, there was no one to do the job. Jerry had 3 waitresses. 2 of them worked Friday and Saturday nights but had other jobs during my nights. Jerry and his wife had a little girl so the child would have to sit in the restaurant if his wife needed to cover for someone. Only one night in 18 months did I miss work. And I didn't get paid. I never took any vacation.
All types of people, famous and barely hanging on. The biggest tip I ever got was $100 from Tom Petty. Famous people frequently popped in after a gig if they were playing in town. Nobody took a second look or gave them any special treatment. If the tables were full, they stood like everyone else. We had regulars and people on first dates. People in rags and people in ball gowns and dinner jackets. This place was riddled in history. Allegedly, it was a speak easy during Prohibition. We served 5 types of beer in the bottle: Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, and Miller Genuine Draft. If you wanted a fancy micro brew, you would have to go someplace else. I never had to break up a fight there although one night a gang did throw a molotov cocktail through the front window of the restaurant. There are bars on that window
now and no one was hurt. I did learn to play a mean game of pool. I'm afraid I'm a bit rusty now but in my day......bit of a shark, I reckon!
I hustled. If it was a slow night, I got to talk to the band or the customers but if it was busy, I worked my butt off. I was the ONLY waitress. There was a very direct correlation between how quickly you take some body's order and deliver their drinks and the tips you get. Of course, there are some idiots out there thinking I could make beer appear out of thin air and they were too tight to tip but to be honest, this very rarely happened. When it did, it was the last round of drinks they got that night. Action/Consequence in action!
I got offered an amazing job with a software consultancy after 18 months working at the bar. One of the VPs at the company was a professor's wife. They gave me an internship and I worked for them for 12 years. I learned a lot there but I learned more at the bar.