It's midnight thirty and I am still sitting in my chair in my (but almost not) office at Qdoba. It's the very end of my last shift, way later than it should be, but there's so much information I feel I need to pass on to the new GM, I had to write a manifesto about the staff and the store before I could leave. The muzak is playing a five-year-old Dave Matthews song which I have heard a million times yet I can't seem to shut it off. I've got to take my final walk through, make sure the equipment is off, gather up my bartender's license, photos, leave my key in the safe, and say goodbye. And I'm crying.
This crazy job has almost made me insane a few times, but I've never felt more responsible and satisfied in my life as I have in the past year. It's that feeling that literally the show cannot go on without you some days. You come in, direct a rag-tag group of barely high-school graduates, hormonal teenage girls and a moody Mexican cook and walk away feeling like the day was busy and tiring, but customers were happy, and your employees left work in a better mood than when they came in.
I got flowers, cards and a t-shirt from Christina, one of my favorite and best line severs, that has an iron-on patch with swords behind the company logo. It reads "Captain Klutz of Team Qdoba." There's an inside joke here about everyone needing a superhero alter-ego that began when my old assistant manager commented that people call him "white lightening" (hilarious in context). I asked Christina what mine might be and she said that I was sort of klutzy, so maybe something with that. True true, I do not have the grace of a dancer.
That someone would make me a t-shirt is just amazing to me. I've always been a good employee, but it's not until that last year that I've actually been solely in charge of something and been able to at least attempt to engender a feeling of community among my staff. All restaurants have drama and conflict, but I think there has also been community here, and I'm proud of that.
Last night I went bowling for a the first time in years with Fermin, his brother Antonio and Antonio's friend/girlfriend, who is a college student from Wisconsin who also works at the restaurant they all work at. For some reason I loved putting on the bowling shoes. They were red, white and blue and goofy-looking, but they made me smile. Where else do you go where you get a level playing field by means of ridiculous footwear? Last night we went out with friends and had fun, laughing and goofing around. We always have fun me and him together, but our cultural backgrounds often make social situations awkward. He's somewhat uncomfortable with the norms of American small talk, and I'm somewhat clueless sometimes when a bunch of Mexicans start talking in Spanish about anything. But restaurants are the exact place where a pair like us fit in. The servers learning Spanish swear words and the cooks and dishwashers trying to figure out how to say "Can I get a raise?" Fermin and I are like the king and queen of that world. He an experienced Mexican-in-America, me a functionally bilingual inhabitant of both worlds. We met in a restaurant almost four years ago. So much a part of who I am right now today and the way my life looks is entwined with things that have happened in restaurants.
Whatever restaurant I have been in for the past few years has been like a micro-community for me to be part of. As a manager I have always been a leader and shaper in these groups, if I chose to be. I have interacted with so many different people, fed endless curiosities about Mexican culture and the American working class.
The last few days everyone asked me if I will miss it. I honestly don't know. The hours, responsibility and stress? Probably not. The community, most definitely. Life changes, everyone is happy for me, but I know this is the end of an era for me. Like Brittany my shift supervisor wrote to me, we all move on to other things, hoping they will be bigger and better.
12:57 am on Sunday morning. Time to say goodbye.