While exchanging Thanksgiving stories, a friend encouraged me to write and share this. Thanks, Tashie.
Last week in this space I proclaimed that the holidays are a choice, not a requirement, and I'd like my ballot to reflect I've officially opted out. This year I’ll be working Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, a triad I lovingly refer to as “The Loser Triple Crown”. Yes, I know I’m a soulless money grubbing jerk. I checked the spot where my heart once was and it’s now just sinew, brown liquor and a well worn copy of Hole’s “Live Through This”. I'm fine with it. I’m certainly passionate about other things in this life, so I don’t lose sleep over my lack of seasonal spirit.
Last week on Thanksgiving, I overnighted in Milwaukee. We stay at a lovely Hilton downtown, attached to the hotel is the ChopHouse, an upscale yet comfortable steak house. The food, cocktails, and service are all sublime. It's a wonderful place to spend a holiday, even as a heathen non-believer.
This Thanksgiving I was far more conscious of being alone than in years before. I generally protect and savor my solo time...it’s when I recharge and do my best thinking. But this year on Thanksgiving I was acutely aware that over the holidays last year I was with my roommate who feels the way I do about the holidays. I was missing the esprit de corps of being with someone who gets me. I appreciated being in the company of someone who didn’t require me to play along with something I don’t subscribe to just to fit in. When I get lonely sometimes, I’m not lonely for the company of just anyone. I feel more isolated when I spend time with people I don't click with. Last Thursday I could have made plans with my co-workers or crashed any number of flight attendant dinners and made small talk about what hotels have bed bugs or how our new eco-friendly plastic uniforms melt if the iron is too hot. PASS. Party of one for the win.
The bar at the ChopHouse was full of festively dressed holiday patrons enjoying drinks while waiting for their tables in the dining room. The host offered me the last hightop table available, one adjacent to the bar. An older foursome was huddled nearby finishing their wine. As I settled in, one of the women picked her purse up off my table and said “I’ll give you this chair back when the rest of your people show up.”
I told her not to worry about it as it was just me.
All four of them in unison belted out, “JUST YOU ON THANKSGIVING? OH NO!”
I told them it would be fine. Really. They remained unconvinced. The patriarch paid the check and put his meaty Midwestern palm on my table, saying “I truly hope you can enjoy your dinner,” with an expression like he was giving a pep talk to a burn victim.
Well, this could only get better.
My waitress swooped in shortly after to see if I wanted a drink. Danielle was fresh faced, with her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and she was tremendously pregnant. Like Dear God, Should You Still Be Running Your Ass Off Waiting Tables far along. I ordered a Hendrix martini, which she prepared with care. She dropped it off saying “I love Hendrix gin. I want you to enjoy that for me.” I told her I was on it. I am picky about my martinis and it was flawless.
I ordered the short rib with beet gnocchi for dinner with a glass of Tempranillo and I went back and forth between people watching, reading articles I hadn’t had time to read and writing absurdly angsty poetry in the Notes app on my phone. I was amazed how Danielle was constantly in motion. She and the bartender were getting their asses kicked with only the two of them to take care of a full 7 seat bar and six constantly needy tables. Danielle never lost her smile. She looked like there was no place she’d rather be, which didn’t seem humanly possible.
As she cleared my dinner plate, she asked if I wanted to to see the dessert menu. I’m not usually a sweets person, so I was surprised to hear myself say “Yes, definitely.” I chose a carrot cake cheesecake, Danielle said it was her favorite. As she put it down, she said “I am so blissed out on your behalf right now.”
I was officially in indulgence overload after polishing off the cheesecake and I asked Danielle for the check as I finished my wine. When she dropped it off, she said “Thank you for being such a pleasure to wait on.” I was surprised by her sentiment because although all of our encounters had been delightful, they had been brief as she had been so busy. I thanked her for working on Thanksgiving. She smiled, rubbed her belly and said “I won’t be working Christmas for obvious reasons.”
I said “I’m glad you’ll be pursuing a better opportunity.”
I took care of the bill and decided to walk it over to her where she was diligently closing out checks at the point of sale machine. Danielle extended her hand to shake mine just as I opened my arms to hug her. I may be a socially awkward introvert with more than a hint of bitch face, but I am still a diehard hugger to the core. Danielle’s face beamed and she said “Ooh, yes, a hug!” As she pulled me as close to her as her frame would allow, she whispered in my ear “The light inside you is so bright. I just hope that you can see it too.”
I thanked her and said good night, choking back tears as I walked to the elevator.
I'm still not jumping on the holiday hoopla train, but I won’t ever forget Thanksgiving 2017 because of Danielle and how she made me feel. May I never lose sight of how powerful a small act of kindness can be.