Duncan: Putting Up With People’s Crap 101 should be required class for working with public

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Twenty minutes before closing time, we were down to one waitress (me). A group of 30 adults breezed through the door like nobody’s business. One guy approached me as I shined the counter.

“Are you open?” he asked.

“For another 20 minutes,” I replied.

“Yep, they’re open!”

He turned to the group and waved them in as I watched all my clean tables with perfectly arranged settings fill with people. It’s what you do at a restaurant — get all the side work done before closing in hopes it won’t get undone, but sometimes it gets ripped apart. It’s frustrating, but it’s the nature of the job.

Not only was this group patient with me, but they left me a huge tip. Many of the responses were the same when I thanked them.

“Oh, I’ve been there. I worked in the public for 20 years,” they said.

They were right. If you’ve done it, then you know — working in the public is hard.

In a society crying out for empathy, look no further than the person taking your money at the gas station, handing you a bag at the drive-thru or filling your coffee at a café.

The brave people who stick their necks out to serve the public are the most diverse group among us, and they are often abused and degraded.

I waited tables at two different restaurants and was a clerk at three different gas stations until my early 20s. I don’t like to say I was a job-hopper. I was just exploring my life options through various employment opportunities.

I have been yelled at and called stupid because pickles were missing from a cheeseburger. I’ve been left nasty notes as tips. One time it was a handful of screws and a penny.

From attempting to give change to people who refuse to look up from their phones and acknowledge me as a human being to scrubbing down toilets in the men’s bathroom, these jobs are extremely hard physically and mentally.

That’s why working in the public should include a required class called Putting Up with People’s Crap 101, because some people are hard to put up with.

Another time at closing, a group filled the restaurant with only two waitresses left for the night. They made derogatory statements as we scrambled to get orders, fill drink cups and make desserts.

“About time. I thought you forgot me,” one said.

“You killing the cow back there?” another said.

I loaded up a tray to serve the table where a guy proudly sat flashing around his Nokia cellular phone (because it was 1998) and called the main line to say they needed their food. He was waving and laughing at me from his table about 10 feet away.

When I passed this guy with my tray, he stood and grabbed his food from it.

Here’s the problem with that.

When a waitress carries one of those big trays, it might look like a big jumbled up mess of plates and pancake syrup, but it’s perfectly balanced. Leave it alone if you don’t want everything on it in your lap, which is exactly what happened to that guy.

From a grilled cheese sandwich with fries, sunny side up eggs with biscuits and gravy, to a fully loaded hot fudge sundae, he was covered.

Ever seen a Looney Tunes episode where a whistle sounds and steam rolls out of Yosemite Sam’s ears? It was like that.

This dude dripped with rage and ice cream sprinkles.

He got directly in my face using words and calling me names unfit to print here. He looked to be in his late 30s to early 40s, and I was 19 years old. My manager took the situation over after that, and I went into the bathroom and cried.

After I came out, one man in the group approached me, handed me a $20 tip, and apologized for his friend.

“He’s never worked in the public, but I have, and I know what it’s like,” he said.

Now I’m one of those people who know what it’s like. I no longer accept that as a valid excuse for people to treat others badly. Whether or not we know what’s like to work in the public, we all know what it’s like to be human.

That should be all we need to know.

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