While looking for my next job, I met a man who owned a small restaurant in Boone. The name of this restaurant was “Ham & Eggs”. When he offered me a job as a short order cook, I took him up on it. As a young man with a family to support and no marketable skills, anything that pays and is respectable would do. Ham & Eggs was laid out very much like a Waffle House (in fact, this location is now the Huddle House on Blowing Rock Rd). It was a long building with the cook (that was me) out front, booth seating and bar seating near the grill. I quickly learned how to cook eggs, pancakes, waffles and all sorts of sandwiches. I even learned how to crack eggs with one hand, a skill that I practice regularly to this very day!
The waitresses brought the orders up to the grill and slipped them in this ticket holder that kept them right in front of me. I read the orders and cooked the meals. Sometimes, when we got busy, the orders would come in way faster than I could cook them and the ticket holder would fill up. A full set of tickets meant lots of people were waiting to eat. That’s bad! After I got the hang of it, I created a little private game. The game helped me get through the boredom of doing the same old thing over and over. The object of this game was to get the tickets off and empty the holder as quickly as possible. The waitresses were unaware of the game, but they were my opponents because they kept putting up more tickets! When a new ticket came up, I evaluated it as quickly as I could, to see if it was one I could get down quickly and be done with it. I know it was silly, but it worked for me.
Another game I played involved an older gentleman who came in every morning around 10:00 after the breakfast rush. He was there almost every day. He always ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, and he always sat in the same seat at the end of the bar. The object of this game was to have a hot grilled cheese sandwich waiting for him at his seat when he arrived. As soon as I would see him pull into the parking lot, I would start cooking his sandwich. It was great fun when the sandwich beat him to his seat. I think it made him feel special and it also gave me some time to chat with him, which I enjoyed.
Being a 24 hour operation, there was a time that I did my tour of third shift. Staying up all night was very hard for me, but the biggest challenge was the night rush. At that time, Boone was dry (no alcohol sales allowed… period). Just a few miles away, in Blowing Rock, the bars closed at 2:00 AM. At 2:30, you could count on a restaurant full of intoxicated patrons. One night, while I was working as hard as I could playing my “empty the ticket holder” game, one of the waitresses came up behind me to tell me that someone in one of the booths had a message for me. There was no way I could leave the grill, so I turned to see what was up. A rather tipsy young lady called out, “I love you!” Not quite knowing what to do, I yelled back, “No you don’t, I’m married!” and I flashed my wedding ring at her. I thought it was pretty funny.
One evening, a customer walked in and asked me if we had sea grits. I told him I didn’t know what sea grits were. This being a breakfast restaurant, I imagined that he had gotten some grits made with sea salt or something like that. It was not uncommon for a customer who had never had grits to want to taste a grit. But not this guy. He was definitely a local. He got more exasperated every time he asked, “Sea Grits. You got any sea grits!” I tried my best to understand, but I could not make heads or tails of what he was saying. Finally, I called over a waitress and asked her to interpret for me. He repeated his request and she said no, we got rid of the machine a while back. She smiled and turned to me as he walked away. It seemed that he was wondering if we still sold cigarettes.
I guess it goes without saying that this was not the most glamourous job in the world and I quickly grew to hate it. However, I believed that I was there because God had me there for a reason. Once I fulfilled my purpose, I could move on. In a way, it was another game… the “Figure out what God wants me to do” game. One night, while mopping the floor at the end of my shift, I remember crying out to God asking why he still had me there. Since I hated the job so much, I reasoned that He must be trying to teach me something. I was ready to move on to something new. In my mind, God’s will for me was a narrow path laid out that included all the little choices and decisions I might make. So my role consisted of simply waiting for Him to tell me what to do next. My view of what it looks like to follow God has changed a lot since then.
After about a year as a cook, the owner, Mike, opened another restaurant and asked me to be the manager. It was just outside the ski resort on Beech Mountain and we named it the “Ski Food Shoppe”. What a goofy name! I had no experience as a manager, no training and my only role model was a pretty poor manager. Needless to say, I was terrible as a restaurant manager. The Ski Food Shoppe failed after just a few months and I found returning to the musical instrument repair business. More about that next time.