Back in the winter of 1987-88, I was working at Perkins in in Maple Grove Minnesota. I had been there for a couple, maybe three years, working as a waiter, host, assistant manager, and occasional cook. I was in college, having stopped and restarted several times as I figured out how to get serious about my education, and what I wanted to do with my life. I was dirt poor, going from living with my parents, into a dorm, sharing an apartment, and then back to my parents. I was 21, and in hindsight, I think I was finally starting to get a clue.
I was at work one day – a dinner shift – and in walks a pretty girl whose car had broken down up the road from the restaurant. She came in to use the payphone to call her boyfriend to come and get her, and sat at the counter waiting for him to arrive. By chance, she knew the manager-on-duty that evening, having worked with him previously at a different Perkins. They struck up a conversation, which turned to the topic of her busted car parked outside, and the second job she would require to fix it. She was hired shortly thereafter.
Restaurant work is hard, especially at a Perkins. You work long hours and spend a lot of time with the same people, together dealing with screaming kids, teenage troublemakers, drunken buffoons, and assorted weirdoes. You’re wearing a polyester uniform, and everything is coated with maple syrup. In this environment, New Girl and I wind up working together a lot.
Jennifer was her name, which I learned later from her is Swahili for “One of Many”. She is 19, very cute, with a great smile, and big brown eyes. She’s smart, quick on her feet, and lots of fun to be around. She is also very easy to talk to, an important thing when working 10-12 hour shifts together. Over the weeks to come, we smile, talk a lot, and make each other laugh. We flirt a lot too, but still keep our distance, because after all, she is with another guy.
This routine goes on for a long time, maybe months. I enjoy her company immensely, and look forward to working the shifts where I know she will be there. It is clear to me that she enjoys my company too. Despite our little connection, it’s hard to forget the fact that she is off-limits. She is with someone else, so it is really hard to see this going anywhere. After a little reflection, in an act of self-preservation, I decide I need to step back.
I saw her at work and told her I couldn’t do This anymore, whatever ‘This’ was, that it was getting to be too hard on me, had no chance of going anywhere, and for my own personal health and sanity, I needed to stop. I went home, and that was that.
I came into work the next morning and there she was. It was going to be a hard shift. I try to avoid her, but it’s difficult to do in such a small work environment. At some point in the shift, she cornered me, took me aside and quietly informed me that last night after our little chat she went home and broke up with her boyfriend. I stood there dumbfounded and slack-jawed, and she said, “Now what?”
So, later that day we went out on our first date. This was 25 years ago, today. And that was that.