Thursday, July 30, 2015


I consider this another Pause for Thought article I wrote before I was even married, when I was working as a counter waitress at Howard Johnson's.  Lots of years have come and gone since then.  Wow! 

The Tortoise and the Hare

Terri DelCampo

I knew a tortoise once and her name was Helen.  I used to be bustling all over the restaurant on Sunday mornings, hustling to get orange juice for the man at table one, running to get ketchup for table six’s scrambled eggs, dashing around filling up salt and peppers at the end of my shift.  My customers would inevitably look around if I wasn’t as fast as they thought I should be, and see how busy I was and give me the benefit of the doubt. 
Not Helen’s customers.  She virtually crawled in back of the counter, but plates seemed to find their way to her customers right on time.  No one’s coffee was ever empty.  Juices got to people before they’d even decided what they wanted to order.  How in hell did she do that? 
I came in to get my check on my day off once and sat at the counter and had a cup of coffee, and watched her.  She was busy so she didn’t stop to chat, though she always had a kind word for everybody that plopped at her counter, and a friendly, motherly smile. 
I noticed that even though she moved slowly, she always moved.  She never stopped for a second, and frequently did a couple of things at once.  Even though she was behind the counter she used her little drink tray.  If she was delivering a cup of coffee to the man at the end of the counter, she took along the ketchup bottle just in case the woman next to him needed some.  And her counter cloth was always on that tray. 
She was organized, too.  Every couple of feet on the shelf under the counter was a supply of sugar, salt, ketchup, cups, etc., so she didn’t have to run back and forth for such things.  Here were thermal pots of coffee under there so she didn’t have to run to the urn in the kitchen all the time.  She was a master of little tricks to make things convenient.
Helen the tortoise and I were good friends, and I learned a lot from her that I still use in my own kitchen at home, though I haven’t waitressed for years. 
Once I asked her why she didn’t step up her pace.  “Because I don’t want my head to pop.  Honey, you keep dancing around here like you do and you’re gonna have a stroke before your forty.”
I listened.  I’m forty and stroke free so far.  Thanks, Helen the Tortoise!

January, 1977

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