“I started working at Agave when I was 15 years old and have worked here for two years. This job has changed me. I didn’t talk to people before this job, but I was hired to greet customers. I started going to tables and looking for people to talk to because the customers were so nice to me. I became good friends with the regulars and was the first underage server they hired here. For the first few weeks, I wanted to quit. The menu is in Spanish and the cooks didn’t understand me. But it was also the coolest thing I have ever done. I love this job.
My sister went to Costa Rica for six months when she was a junior to learn Spanish and I was so jealous. When I got to my junior year, my dad said I was not doing the same thing. I also started working here to learn Spanish so I can talk with my sister. The cooks teach me Spanish and don’t get mad when I mess it up. Last night I said put the mushrooms on top of the quesadilla instead of inside. I will never say that wrong again. Some of the people I work with go to my school and I see them in the hallway and we speak Spanish to each other.
If you are sitting in a booth and have never worked behind it, you forget things like human error, which is so prevalent in this job. It is humans working for you. When you ask for extra lemons, extra straws, extra napkins, don’t forget the extra cilantro and the guac and can we have another salsa with two bowls, human error is going to happen every now and then. I have seen customers tear servers apart over mistakes. We have to remember that people are going through hard times on both sides of the table. We don’t aim to mess up. We are here to serve you and make your experience better. We aim to make you happy.
I watch body language. Couples sitting on the same side of the booth are more affectionate. Couples sitting apart are more respectful. I watch their feet under the booth. If they are flirting and having a moment, I will give them a second. Underage kids sit at a more hidden booth in the corner and try to order drinks. I have to be very aware of that because serving them drinks can get me fired. I work 20 hours during the school week. I have one free day each week and I sleep hard.
I want to be a Spanish-speaking journalist and so I can talk to people in their language. I live in a bubble and need a struggle in my life to overcome. The authentic people have been through something brutal that they had to rise out of. There are levels you have to go through to be able to relate. Right now, I can’t say I understand people’s pain, but I can respect it. I want to take a pen and a journal to a coast somewhere and listen to people’s stories because that is where the passageways are. The dream is to do an internship with a paper or magazine that does travel. I would love to see a story I wrote in print. In reality, I will go to Alabama, like my brother, and then to law school, like my dad. I have three uncles and an aunt who are lawyers, too. Whatever happens, I want to get out of Alabama for a little bit.
(This week is a series on Our Southern Souls about the people behind the name tags, counters, microphones, and visors. The ones who serve us, check us out and help meet our needs. Each has suffering and struggles, dreams and fears. Behind that person is history and mystery that you may never know, but each one is worth paying attention to and learning a little more.)