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When I read the news that Coachman’s Dinner and Pancake House is closing its doors today after sixty years, the 19-year-old me said, “Good riddance!”
Wait. Hold the phone. Do I still feel resentment after forty years? What in the world? Have I learned nothing in all that time?
Here’s the story. When 19-year-old Amanda Dickson showed up in Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah, I had enough money to get an apartment and get a job, which meant after paying first and last month’s rent I had about $75 left. I happened to be driving by Coachman’s on State Street, and I had been a waitress before, three times, including at a diner. So I had confidence in my skills.
I don’t have to tell you with only $75 to my name that I was grateful to get the job and be able to start that weekend, but then the difficulty started. This place was . . . well it wasn’t like home, let’s just say that. The minute I walked in I was assigned a number, and that is all I was to be called. Nobody cared that I had a name or wanted to know it. I was #5.
“Hey 5! Food’s getting cold up here!” The cooks called me #5. The other waitresses, when they spoke to me at all, called me #5. The receptionist, who reminded me of Cruella Deville, called me #5.
This impersonal way of running the dining room kept things moving, to be sure, and it didn’t seem to be bothering anybody else too much, but an overly sensitive teenager who just got to town and felt terribly alone to start with? Yeah. It just about killed me. I just wanted to talk to somebody for a second, know her name . . . not gonna happen.
So I behaved terribly unprofessionally. I made about $350 in tips in my first week and left. It got me to my next waitress job which I kept all through college.
I only went back to Coachman’s as a customer once in all these years. It was about ten years ago. It was like being in a time machine. The dining room hadn’t changed at all, but the waitress was nice. I wondered if I had imagined the pain I felt during that time.
The one thing I know for sure is what I felt wasn’t Coachman’s fault. They were running their business the way they saw fit, and very efficiently. When you’ve got that many waitresses flying around and that many cooks in the kitchen – plus that much turnover – how can you remember all those names? Numbers work better. Plus they had an electronic sign in the dining room that would light up your number when your order was up. I see the business sense now. I also see, with a little maturity, how my experience was clouded by the fear and loneliness of my 19-year-old eyes who were all alone in a new city.
Deep breath. Maybe I’ll head over there today for one more open-face sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.
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