Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"a life without risk is no life at all"--unknown

"we the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much with so little for so long, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing"--unknown

On rare occassion I wonder how much I have missed of my life while within the four walls of my restaurant, or driving on restaurant errands, or sitting as now before the computer in my home office as spring explodes in full force outside my window.

I am not bitter or sorrowful--I have much to be thankful for. I am curious however, and slightly wistful. I said goodbye to an employee at our sister restaurant early today--he worked the fall and winter, saved all his money and lived frugally, and is going to spend the next year exploring our country. Now, if this fellow was 20, or even 25, I wouldn't still be thinking about it, but he's two years older than I am.

He worked as a cook and a waiter, but has a master's degree in political science. He spent nearly fifteen years working for the office of a powerful southern US Senator, one who retired just about the time that his wife divorced him. He did what many people in such a situation do, he went back home. For him home meant the midwest and restaurant work, and in his own words he has spent the last few years just healing. We spent two hours talking after I coaxed him to lunch--most of the time we vented our concerns over the direction of the country--the fact that politicians and government seem almost completely disconnected from truly governing and representing the people they serve as they fight for soundbytes, face-time, and polling numbers. We talked about his old boss, who retired not because of his advancing age but because he couldn't get anything meaningful done any more, even though he was in the majority. He is fearful, as I am, of how our society's obsession with blame and easy answers is blinding us to the real world. He's terrified and embarrassed of the way our people seem to accept whatever the TV or computer tells them without question, and literally wants to see his country before it is too late.

When I told him how much I envied him before saying goodbye and heading back to work, he stopped me and gave me one last thing to think about. He told me that for his last six years on Capitol Hill he averaged nearly 90 hours a week, slept with a beeper and a cell phone, and spoke with the most powerful people in the world on a daily basis. His eyes saw some of the most sensitive information in the world, often read before breakfast, and he was so obsessed with his job that his wife had to call him three days after she left him to make sure he realized she was gone. When his boss told him he was going to retire, all he could think about was finding another senator to hire him, but his boss insisted that he take two weeks at session's end to think about it. His boss promised him that if he returned wanting another senior staff appointment, the senator would find him one.

This guy I knew as a decent cook and great waiter told me about leaving his beeper and business phone on his desk and going to watch a movie in the afternoon for the first time ever. After that, he said, he went to a TGI Friday's for wings and mozzarella sticks [his favorite] and then to a bar to watch sports. He said he came home hammered and passed out and woke up the next morning with a slight hangover and a smile on his face, and he was smiling as he described it to me. Then he said that he actually began calling out his wife's name to ask her where she wanted to go on vacation before he remembered that she had been gone for months. He was no longer smiling when he described having no food in the house that wasn't spoiled or canned, and having no one to call or talk to who wasn't a professional contact. He still wasn't smiling when he told me that he grabbed an overnight bag, hit the ATM, and drove down the East Coast and back again over the following two weeks thinking about the previous fifteen years. He came back to DC, he said, went and thanked the senator, and oficially resigned. He packed his things, sub-let his apartment, wrote a long letter apologizing to his wife, and drove back to his home town.

He said that all those things that were so important to him for fifteen years--the contacts, the classified information, the power and the fame, the high-energy lifestyle--he said he missed them terribly, for about a month. After that, he said, they stopped being important.

When I asked him if he was leaving right away, he said he had one more stop to make--to buy a cell phone for the trip--he hadn't owned one since DC.


Blogger bobbins said...

Just stumbled in here via POTW - what a fabulous blog! This post sums it all up for me - work to live, not live to work.

1:33 AM  
Blogger me said...

bobbins said it all ...

12:00 AM  
Blogger Food Service Ninja said...

if only we all were so brave as to take that less traveled road....

8:44 AM  

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