Just a quick note from sunny and windy New Orleans. Because we got VIP seats, we have internet access in the special air-conditioned lounge at the festival, which is nice. We say Bob Dylan and a bit of tne Ani DiFranco show last night. It was nice to finally be in the warm sun and relax. I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s while listening to some rock and jazz. Today we are browsing the craft areas – lots of artisans and artists with really cool. Tonight, we see Allen Toussaint with special guest Elvis Costello and then Dave Matthews Band. New Orleans is infinitely interesting, and I’m recording the conversations I have like a good wannabe journalist, so there will hopefully be some good blogs to come out of this in the next few weeks.
I’m leaving for New Orleans tomorrow with my mom for the New Orleans Jazz Festival. This whole trip started when my mom asked me if I wanted to see Bob Dylan with her this year. It eventually morphed into a four-day trip to post-Katrina New Orleans for their annual music and culture festival. I’ve never been to New Orleans and heading there after a hurricane is right up my alley, as I’m more inclined toward interesting places and people than their touristy counterparts. I don’t know if that makes sense, but anyone reading this probably knows what I mean. I’ve never wanted to go to New Orleans particularly, I’m not a partier and I don’t really like bars, but it will be interesting to see it now, maybe that’s demented in one way, but I hope I at least get to talk to some locals with some interesting experiences. I am looking forward to getting away for a few days, then heading back to my last four days at Qdoba. I told my assistant manager and shift supervisor today that I am leaving, so that was a bit hard but good, and I feel a bit of a weight lifted. By the time I get back it will probably have spread around to the rest of the staff, not how I would have chosen it but there really wasn’t any other way. See you all in a few days.
Two days ago, my sister-in-law, an immigrant from Mexico who works at the city's most popular Mexican grocery store, asked me what has happening in the news lately regarding immigration reform. We talked about a few things, but this conversation occurring in my second or third language, depending on how you rank things, I wasn't quite sure if there was some piece of news or information that had sparked the question. Immigration is a hot topic now clearly, and certainly I have had many such conversations with some of my employees and family in the past few weeks.
Yesterday, I heard a rumor here at home that "la migra" (immigration officials in Spanish) had been spotted at El Rey (the grocery store mentioned above) as well as the nearby Walmart. I didn't hear that there were arrests or anything, but it got me thinking about the possibility of immigration walking up to random people doing their daily business and then arresting them because they couldn't prove their legal status. It made me think, why couldn't immigration stop me, a regular white citizen, on the street and check my papers. Of course I "look" legal, so that's highly unlikely, but isn't it preposterous to imagine a world where not carrying your social security card or passport could criminalize you, cause you to be arrested? Without those documents, no one can really prove they are citizens, right? It looks like the rumors here were indeed rumors. Fermin told me today that it seems the police were in El Rey and Walmart investigating possible sales of cigarettes to minors, and someone mistook the uniforms for immigration and news spread.
Tonight, I got a call from my boss, sounding tired and stressed, asking me to find out if there had been any raids or arrests of immigrants in stores or other public places. She runs all the locations of my restaurant in Madison, as well as mine and the Delafield location and said she had to close one of her stores early tonight because all her employees were threatening to walk out if they didn't lock the doors and close. They are terrified that they are going to be picked up off the street and sent straight back to Mexico. Apparently there are real reports on the streets of Madison that immigration has been in Walmart and their local Mexican grocery rounding up shoppers and employees. This sent up big red flags in my psyche. How can immigration really just walk up to people and arrest them? Do they just look for the Spanish-speaking, the black-haired, the people who look "less American," what is the determination? What happens when they accidentaly stop a citizen, perhaps a teenage or early twenties child of immigrants, who fits their criteria but doesn't have papers with them? How do they just randomly arrest people without proof? I'm amazed at this, fascinated, horrified. I don't even know if its true, but from what my boss says, her employees are so terrified their risking their jobs, not showing up to work tomorrow, because they want to stay inside. That way they are fairly safe. I can't believe this is our country. I hope this is all one big misunderstanding, that some rumor has overtaken the immigrant community in Madison that will cause people to chuckle at their lack of faith in America in a few days. I fear I am wrong.
I tried to write at home today, but I was so distracted by the beautiful weather outside my window and the guilt that instead of sitting with my computer in my lap on the couch, I ought to be either out in the weather, or working out. So now it's 10:45 pm, after close at work, and I am stealing a bit of illegal internet usage from Qdoba. I figure now that my official notice is in, there's really no consequences. The work is done, employees gone, it's just me here, listening to the Muzak, enjoying a silent, clean restaurant.
I haven't felt much like writing lately. I've sent my acceptance letter in to my new job, awkwardly not telling anyone except my boss here. I've got a little more than two weeks left at the restaurant, and I'm both excited and a little sad about leaving. Ironically, things are going better in the last two months than they ever have here. Kate, my boss, was in the store the other night and after walking around, checking out the cleanliness, operations and the like, said sadly "Laura, everything's finally like it should be and now you're leaving." It was actually a compliment, running a Qdoba is not easy, and right now I've got a great mix of people on my staff that basically make everything happen. I am actually at the point where I don't usually have to run around all day long to get things done, because they get done for me. I enjoy working for Kate immensely, she's the kind of person I would like to emulate – intelligent, knowledgeable, amazing people skills and comfortable in her own skin.
Although things are going well here (which is basically what I have worked toward for the last year) I have few regrets about my decision. Perhaps if this period of relative peace and tranquility had come about three or four months ago, I would have never started looking for a new job. But I still believe it's a good move in the long run. I still can't see myself as a restaurant manager in the future, unless I was working for myself and had decided to make the huge investment and sacrifice of opening something myself, in which case I would also reap more of the benefits of my hard work.
I also have thought during this process about Kate, who has a 12-year-old daughter who is clearly equally smart and full of personality as Kate, and I am amazed at the hours she puts in as a single mother. Sure, she has support and baby-sitters and deals with it quite well, but I cannot even imagine being married with a child and working the kind of hours I do. And she works more than I. I also know that despite things going well, any day best employees could leave with little or no notice and things would totally go crazy again. There is constant turnover, constant change and rarely a dull day in restaurants.
So I've come to the conclusion that even if I was working in the perfect restaurant for years, I would still, in the long run, rather do something else. I used to say I could never work in an office. Sitting in front of a computer all day, talking on the phone, it used to scare me, but I'm kind of looking forward to a bit of peace and calm at work. The way my new job is structured, I will be very motivated to perform well in order to impress my customers and therefore gain more referrals and sales, but at the same time, I will work out of an office, with three other women about my age, one of whom also left the restaurant world for this job and says she loves it. It's going to be a big change on my lifestyle–sleeping habits, relationships, body–but I'm ready for it, I think.
Today my assistant, who doesn't know I'm leaving because Kate doesn't want there to be weeks of speculation and freaking out about who will replace me, asked me if we could get some help one weekend in June because she needs off and so does one of our shift managers. I had to quasi-lie and say, oh, I'm sure we can work something out.. but it was awkward, I want to tell her, but I know the news will spread and everyone will be talking about it in a matter of hours. Restaurants work like small-town high schools in that way, everyone knows everything as soon as its leaked, so I've got to be smart in order to actually tell the people its important I tell before they hear it from someone else.
I just counted that I have nine shifts left as a salaried manager. I can't believe it. Nine more days to plan, nine more shifts to direct, nine more days to worry about controlling all the stuff that goes on in these four walls. I will actually be staying on very part time as a shift supervisor, something Joe (who I wrote about before) is doing. I think it'll be fun to come in once or twice a week for five or six hours, run a shift, work hard and then go home, not having to worry about all the other stress. The little bit of extra cash will be nice, but really, I can't imagine myself quitting this business cold turkey.
I: Yesterday demonstrations held around the nation, including in nearby Madison, WI, protested House bill HR4437 and encouraged immigration reform. I had missed the Milwaukee rally in March because of work, and hadn’t been to Madison to see friends for a while, so I decided to make the most of my day off and spend it in my favorite city. As I drove into Madison, Lake Monona, the Capitol building and the skyline in view, I could see thousands of people gathering in Brittingham Park preparing to march to the Capitol. I heard an estimate last week from Christine Newman-Ortiz, organizer for the Milwaukee-based immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, who said she hoped to see 5,000 people at the Madison rally. The turn-out was reportedly 10,000 — amazing for a city of around 200,000.
I wandered around campus for an hour, grabbing some food from the Indonesian cart on Library Mall, then heading up pedestrian State Street toward the Capitol. As I approached I could see people, mostly Hispanic, of all ages, carrying hundreds of American and Mexican flags, gathering around Wisconsin’s beautiful Capitol building. As I drew closer to the undeniable energy of a Madison rally, I felt a symbolic moment as I walked away from the campus and city that defined who I would become as an early 20s person, toward the center of a political struggle between the definitions of legal and illegal in the U.S., a topic that had become central in my new life in Milwaukee. I stood at the highest point I could get to for about a half an hour watching as thousands marched from West Washington Avenue onto the Capitol Square, carrying banners that read things like “We are your economy,” “Please don’t take away my daddy” and “Stop HR4437.” I couldn’t hear very well, nor is my Spanish good enough to understand speeches over megaphones in big crowds, so I headed to a nearby coffee shop to read and enjoy the rest of my day. I think rallies are great and I loved standing in the midst of the demonstration watching people and observing, but perhaps because of my educational upbringing in journalism, I feel very awkward being considered a participant. I heartily support all the things this rally stood for, but I was much more comfortable wandering around, taking pictures of Mexican kids waving American flags, eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers than chanting and waving my own flag. I am glad I went, and I really hope the huge rallies across the nation will stick in the minds of Senators on Easter break these two weeks, forcing them to compromise on real immigration reform in the next few months.
II: After an hour at Michaelangelo’s coffee shop it was time to head into the sun for a while, so I trekked across the Capitol Square to Madison’s Monona Terrace, a great place to hang out with book, iPod and lakeview on a gorgeous day. The roof of the Monona Terrace is one of my favorite places in Madison. For most UW alums, “The Terrace” refers to the Memorial Union terrace, a great place to hang out on the other isthmus lake, but I’ve always preferred the quiet, serene atmosphere of Lake Monona for an afternoon of reading, and the Union Terrace for a jovial, beer-drinking afternoon with friends. I took a few cell calls from friends Mary and Erin to organize dinner at the only Afghan restaurant I know of in Wisconsin (Kabul) for that night as well as a call or two from my assitant manager back at Qdoba in Milwaukee. I was hoping for one more call, a job offer for a customer service position with a local vaccine distributor where I had interviewed over the past few weeks.
At about 3:00 pm, sun starting to burn my pale wintered skin and 50 pages into a new novel, I got the call, my ticket out of the restaurant industry, which I have been seeking the last few months. I have been trying to not get my hopes up about any of the jobs I have recently interviewed for, even trying to stay a lot more content at Qdoba in order to not mentally check out early. Needless to say, the call yesterday was extremely welcome, but also began the real transition in my mind to a different career. It’s a big change. Since college I have worked a job with varied hours, a lot of responsibility that transcends the actual work day, as well as stress in all areas. I am responsible for the restaurant itself physically, the employees in it, the customers who visit it, as well as all the product that passes through it — raw food, preparation, cooking, and the final product, delivered to the customers. Many people don’t realize how much work goes into running a restaurant, and how many demands there are on a daily basis. So I will leave with mixed feelings. My new job will perhaps be fast-paced, but not in the way of the restaurant. I will exist in an office for 8 hours per day, working with other young educated women like myself, helping customers with problems, dealing with ordering and shipping, providing a level of service that will convince them to order from us again and again, therefore increasing my personal income. I’ll be able to take classes at night in photography or cooking, spend weekends off with family and friends, work 40 hours per week, not expect calls at 2 am from the alarm company. I’m disappointing my boss, perhaps she was aware of the possibility of my leaving but refused to think it was really going to happen. My biggest regret is leaving the best supervisor I have ever had, but I feel its necessary for my survival. If I wait several more years and then try to leave the restaurant industry, I know I will need to go back to school or have some sort of career miracle happen to get a job outside restaurants or retail. So with that, I begin a month-long transition out of my job and eventually to my new position.
III: The conclusion to my great day was an opportunity to have coffee with two of my best girl frends and then dinner with them and a few other close college friends. We talked about immigration, urban housing, babies and careers over beef kabobs and fish curry. Having not seen a few of these friends in a while, it was great to sit and catch up with people I once saw on an almost daily basis. I drove out of Madison amazed at the caliber of people who I can call my friends.
We are all doing very different things in our lives – youth pastor, housing community coordinator, restaurant manager, international outreach assistant for a church/world traveler, medical translator/aspiring actor, private school alumni events director. Some have married, some are single, some float in between. Our conversations rival any I have had in my life. We can discuss world politics and the most intimate parts of our personal life. We share experiences that only happen once in a lifetime, and I have the distinct feeling that were I not to see these people for the next 25 years, we could all gather and restart conversation like no time had passed at all. I envision these people being my friends all my life. Leaving Madison after another coffee and another discussion of immigration reform with a friend who missed our dinner, I felt so thankful for a great day, full of comfort, hope, promise and change, in Madison, the location of many life-changing events in my life.
Last night I rented Pride and Prejudice on my way home from work. I read the book a long time ago, and had wanted to see the movie since it came out on DVD recently. I rent a lot of movies, and there have been some good ones coming out lately, Good Night & Good Luck, The Squid and the Whale, Walk The Line, Memoirs of a Geisha, and as much as I enjoyed all those movies, Pride and Prejudice was really amazing. I watched it alone last night, (my husband was working, so he wasn’t forced into a chick flick sitting) and tonight I was still thinking about it, planning to watch it again tomorrow night. I usually do not have the ability to watch a movie twice. It irritates me to already know what is going to happen, but the chemistry of Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen was amazing. It was so believable that you actually felt the tension in their scenes together. It was great. I highly recommend it. I can’t wait to finish my shift tomorrow and watch it again.