Drama Contemporary Friendship

Here we go,’ thought Angel, standing outside the rear entrance of Joaquin’s. About to start his shift as busboy, he wondered, ‘Should I go in? I never felt like this.’ He weighed his options. ‘Why should I quit? It’s not my problem. Let them sort it out. Why should I start over?’

The door burst open. Pretending graciousness, waiters, Diego and Cisco offered each other the door. Then jostling, they squeezed through together.

Diego pointed a finger in the other waiter’s face.

“Not cool, Cisco. You don’t poach customers.”

He scoffed. “You’re crazy, man. Never happened.”

“You think you’re a front man. You’ve gotta be the star. All about you. Right?”

Shaking his head, Cisco laughed.

“It’s not what you think. I was saying hello. Being friendly.”

“Sitting in their booth with them? Giving orders, like we need to wait on you?”

“I was joking, man.”

“Demanding more chips and salsa?”

Cisco couldn’t stop grinning. “Chill man… Just showing them baby pix. Nobody’s poaching anybody.”

“I know what you’re doing. I’ve seen it before. People ask for me. They want me. You’ve been here, what? Two weeks?”

“Right. I get it. I’ve heard. You think they’re your personal property.”

He shook his head. “You know that’s not it.”

Diego’ popularity was no mystery. His unassuming attitude and attention to detail drew people to him. People requested his tables more than any other waiter. Some regulars had history with Diego of almost twenty years.

Angel watched them and remembered Cisco’s attitude yesterday.

The dinner rush had started. Diego asked Angel to visit the booth where two of his regulars were seated. Cisco slid in next to the wife. The couple laughed at his joke. They turned at Angel’s approach.

“You need more salsa, or refills?”

“No thanks Angel. We’re good.”

Cisco held up his hand, “Oh, could we have more onion for the salsa?”

“Of course… Anything else?”

Cisco shook his head. “No, I’m not hungry. Thanks.” The couple laughed.

“I’ll get your waiter.”

“That’s okay.” Cisco stood and addressed the couple. “I’d better get back to work. Someone’s getting nervous…”

Angel had seen it before. It wasn’t easy for Ramone, when he moved from busboy to waiting tables. His charming, witty manner meant little against established waiters. His great voice earned him fans but opera isn’t everyone’s favorite dinner music. Eventually, he earned his own loyal customers.

Joaquin had recently hired several new people. Having experience, Cisco didn’t need to work his way up. But he assumed authority over longtime staff. He’d snap his fingers and point when he wanted something. That made him no friends.

It surprised no one that a new waiter needed to develop a following. Though always busy, Joaquin’s drew on a static base of customers. Having no regulars, Cisco leveraged his big smile and bear hugs to gain customers. Offering free margaritas and sharing baby pictures didn’t hurt. None of these strategies were covered in the twenty-minute training he’d received.

Now, watching Cisco and Diego arguing, Angel saw it coming to a head. ‘It has never worked this way. We’re supposed to be family.’ Since they met, he and Diego were like brothers. Alone in the country, Angel accepted his invitations to family dinners with his wife and kids.

Diego waved him over. “Hermanito, tell him.”

Angel didn’t pick this quarrel. The two waiters watched him.

He tried. “We shouldn’t fight, guys. We need to work together.”

Solana, the hostess, opened the door and stepped into their midst.

“What’s going on? Customers are waiting, guys.”

Cisco shrugged. “I’m cool. My tables are empty. I came out for a smoke and he followed me.”

Diego rolled his eyes but said nothing.

Solana said, “I don’t care, guys. Work it out off the clock. We’re busy now.”

Management had no patience for personalities. They figured the staff should be happy to have jobs. ‘Take the customers and the hours we give or move on.’ Customers preferring one waiter over another made no sense. ‘People come for the food, drinks and atmosphere. Who cares which waiter writes the order?’

Angel thought, ‘Yes, earning a paycheck takes time. And acceptance into a family takes more than punching a time clock.

Joaquin’s sense of family excluded employees. How many weddings had Angel attended with Joaquin’s staff members? He never saw Joaquin there. Sometimes customers were invited too. Many regulars saw Joaquin’s as family. Some called it ‘home.’

Solana became impatient. “What’re you waiting for? Go!”

Cisco said, “Everyone has reservations with Diego. Why am I here?”

She said, “There’re hungry people in there, Cisco. Take tables ten through twelve.” No one moved. She gestured. “Go!” Diego shifted his weight. Solana said, “Serve your customers or go home. Pick up your final check on Friday.”

Cisco said, “If you fire us, who’s going to serve them?”

Solana sighed, “I don’t know… uhm, Angel.”

“Oh, no. I’m no waiter.”

The best busboy ever, Angel had no appetite for waiting tables. He knew his job and didn’t need the stress. Ever-present with a refill or a fresh basket of chips, customers felt well cared for. Angel tended to mundane details better than over-worked waiters could. And he bore no blame if the order wasn’t right.

Angel famously customized salsa with onion and cilantro. Regulars often slipped him a twenty, just because. Who tips bus boys? Customers who like fresh chips and salsa do.

He didn’t talk much but people liked his attitude and easy smile. Other busboys might know people for years. They did their jobs but rarely got personal.

Angel had earned his place at Joaquin’s. Not that anything like seniority existed. But this was his family. Worst case, he knew he could start over if he had to.

Cisco treated Angel like a high school kid. He looked it. But he’d worked at Joaquin’s forever.

Cisco leaned in. “Help me out, bro.”

Angel said, “How is this my deal?”

“I’ll share tips with you.”

“You’re supposed to do that anyway.”

Diego jumped in. “So, the ‘front man,’ the star keeps it all for himself…”

Solana said, “Front man? What’re you talking about?”

After an uncomfortable pause, Cisco said, “Diego thinks I’m poaching his precious customers. I’m not. He thinks I’m entitled. A star who expects special treatment.”

She looked at Diego.

He shrugged. “I don’t think he is. He actually is.”

Solana shook her head. “We can’t have this, guys. Everyone covers their own tables. Do your jobs. You’re bickering like a couple of… Look… There are no ‘stars’ here. Think you are? You’re out. I don’t have time for this.” No one moved. Solana threw up her hands. “Far as I’m concerned, you’re all out. Go home. I’m closing up.”

Angel stepped forward. “Wait, Solana. Can I say something?”

She looked askance at him, sighed and nodded. “What…?”

Angel said, “The ‘Front Man’ directs the energy so everyone looks good. No one shines unless everyone shines.”

Diego and Cisco nodded to each other and laughed. Solana brightened.

The three gestured to Angel and said, “Then you’re the Front Man…!”

The tension broke in a wave of warm laughter.

Solana opened the door. “Let’s get to work!”

Angel’s family was back.

April 27, 2023 16:37

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15:13 May 04, 2023

This was great! I love restaurants and the drama in them after having worked in one myself, and having been obsessed with Anthony Bourdain's books for a while. For the critique circle feedback, I did spot one part that could use smoothing out... "Pretending graciousness, waiters, Diego and Cisco offered each other the door. Then jostling, they squeezed through together." It might be an idea to listen to your stories on a text-to-speech function at the last stage of editing to spot things that could be made a bit smoother.


John K Adams
16:44 May 04, 2023

Point taken, Scott. I look at it as describing actions which were uncomfortable and anything but smooth, so I let the diction reflect that. However, thanks for taking the time to read so closely and comment.


06:07 May 05, 2023

That makes sense. Often going with a mood is best for the artistry of a story.


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Mary Bendickson
19:26 May 01, 2023

Hardest job I ever had! Well, if you don't count mothering and nuclear security and vacuum cleaner salesman and...


John K Adams
20:33 May 01, 2023

Mary, Yes, there is a hierarchy on the job front. You can add to that list, teaching middle school special ed. math. But anyway, thanks for reading and commenting and following me. I look forward to reading your stories too.


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Delbert Griffith
10:06 Apr 29, 2023

I worked in restaurants for years as a kid, and the arguments between servers as to who gets what table is real - and sometime vicious. Your tale certainly shows this. A real story, I feel, with the feeling of realness. Nicely done, John. Cheers, my friend.


John K Adams
13:31 Apr 29, 2023

Thanks again, Delbert. Much appreciated.


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Laurel Hanson
21:15 Apr 28, 2023

A warm and authentic feeling story that puts the reader right in the restaurant. Nicely done.


John K Adams
21:32 Apr 28, 2023

Thanks, Laurel. My first jobs were at restaurants. Always wanted to use that milieu in a story. Thanks for reading, and commenting. I'm glad it worked for you.


Laurel Hanson
21:52 Apr 28, 2023

Oh, I totally believed you had restaurant experience! I started out that way too, so it resonated.


John K Adams
23:21 Apr 28, 2023

I try to draw from everything I ever did. Nice to know it plays for someone who has inside knowledge.


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