She was a hefty, slow-moving beast with a staggeringly stunning smile.
She was large, I won’t lie about that. Dramatically large, apparently sampling the wares of work for lunch and dinner most days. A Wendy’s uniform isn’t a flattering thing on the most trim. She was a sea of apron squooshed under a little visor hat.
But then there was that smile. I fell in love a little.
She asked what I wanted. I asked for a lot of meat.
“They got you working today?” I chit-chatted in that class-guilt way to push the blame off me and my hamburger for keeping her there today.
“Mm hm,” she said, still smiling.
“You going to be able to get out and see the fireworks and stuff?”
Here the stunning smile faltered for just a moment.
“No,” she said. “I’ve got another job. I have to go to that after this.”
No sun and beach for her. No beer in backyards, no chicken grilled over coals. Outside the store, behind me from her point of view, bikers in red, white, blue shorts made their way to the beach. Men in tank tops hauled 12-packs of beer as women in pretty little sundresses flowed beautifully behind.
She had to watch it all all day.
“What’s your other job?” I asked, confident now that she had become my story.
She turned away, distracted either by the impertinance of the question or by someone giving her directions through the microphone earpiece.
“I work in a restaurant,” she finally said, setting a Coke bigger than my forearm on the tray. It was a medium.
Although it’s July 4 as I write these lines and that lends itself to a cheap and easy “true American heroes” tidy ending, I’m not going that way. I’m not running for office here. That level of over-effusive praise is never honest. It’s patronizing. It’s smug.
But I did admire her. I admired her not for working two jobs — you gotta do what you gotta do — I admired her for that beautiful smile while she did it. Hour after hour, she stood facing a wide window showing carefree people with beer and sundresses and kids off school in tow and she smiled while doing it.
Even though she knew that they would soon be watching fireworks and making hamburgers, doing her day job for summertime fun.