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SEARCHING FOR OCCUPY: A Waitress in West Memphis
I've always been a generous tipper. I worked as a waitress a few times, long, long ago, and my daughter worked as a waitress for a living more than once. I am aghast when I see a table of 10 walk out leaving a 10% tip (sometimes less, sometimes nothing)...
Out here on the road, I stop at a lot of places where I might not normally eat. One night, it was getting late and we didn't have a place to stay. I made a call to my friends from South Carolina, Greg and Brady Gavan of Money with a Mission, and they treated us to a night in a motel in West Memphis. It was after 8 p.m. by the time we checked in, and I was starving. There was a Waffle House right next to the motel, so in I went. Wilma and I found a table and made ourselves comfortable. I was just off the Footprints for Peace walk against mountaintop removal in Kentucky. I was tired and maybe a little cranky, so I noticed that it took longer than I felt it should for the waitress to make her way to my table. I was just getting ready to start waving my arms or clinking my glass (not really, but some people DO do that, and I FELT like doing it) when I noticed the waitress, the only one in the joint, shuffling in my direction. She was moving slow, VERY slow, and when I looked down, her ankles were swollen the size of basketballs, too heavy, tired and painful for her to lift even an inch off the floor. When she reached my table, I looked into her passive face and couldn't help staring at the black bags under her eyes. She looked like a prizefighter, only I knew those bags weren't from any one blow. This woman had been dealt a knockdown punch by life itself.The waitress made a half-hearted effort to smile. "You ready?" She asked. From the table behind me, some Jim Dandy with his female teen-aged companion chided her for not re-filling his coffee cup. Ignoring him, she stared at me, waiting for my order. "Two eggs and toast, please," I said. "How ya want 'em?" She asked, somewhat exasperated. "Oh. Um. Over medium." As she shuffled away, I watched customers demanding more, and how she did always make her way over to them, eventually. I kept looking down at her feet, and figured this was likely her second job of the day. Maybe her third. She was tired, overworked, and most of all RESIGNED.
When I'd finished eating, I waited for my check, but the place had gotten busy and I realized she wouldn't be getting back to me anytime soon. So, I took $15 out of my wallet, walked over and slipped it in her pocket. "I know you're busy. It's all there when you get around to it." She looked right into my eyes this time. She didn't know I'd left her an $11 tip on a $4 bill, but she knew her feet had been rescued by one round-trip and that was worth the broad grin she left me with.
That grin has stayed with me. I keep wishing I'd just taken the hidden $100 bill from my wallet and slipped that into her pocket. But, I'm on a budget and I really can't afford to do that... or, can I afford not to? What I am doing is making it a point to observe the people working and serving and struggling wherever I go. The invisible poor without whom we would be lost, but who rarely receive our recognition...
As I was writing this piece, my cell phone rang. It was a man I met in Atlanta, Georgia named Michael Figaro. I have his story on film and just put up a video with a brief bit of it on YouTube. He hadn't seen the video, but he had seen a blog piece I wrote on Michael Moore's website, and he thought just maybe I could bring Michael's attention to his plight. He owned a home, it had been paid off and it was even equipped with an elevator for his handicapped wife... In September, 2012, he was foreclosed on (it's a long story). I met Michael at the #OccupyOurHomes foreclosure action on the steps of the Atlanta Courthouse where homes are auctioned off to Wall Street backed developers once a month (sound like a new housing bubble?... you bet it is). I told Michael Figaro that I don't know Michael Moore personally, but that I would do what I could to get his story out. And, I will.
Some days this feels like Mission Impossible. There are so many people hurting and so few of us advocating for them. My journey is meant to raise awareness, build bridges, connect the dots and grow this movement... Sound the alarm and get people out of their comfort zones to DO something about this disparity between the rich and the poor... the rape of the environment... violence against women... environmental injustice... and on and on. Some days I wonder if I can go on. The road is long and the nights are often lonely. But, then I think of that Waitress in Memphis and Michael Figaro... and, suddenly, I find the energy. I hope, if you're reading this, you can find it, too.