Ginsberg on waiting

Debra Ginsberg’s Waiting is a wonderful book. Part memoir, part social commentary, it’s a thoughtful reflection on twenty years of waitressing in American restaurants.  From New York to California, from luncheonettes and bistros to pizza parlours and fine dining rooms, Ginsberg’s journey is diverse. At points, her story is quite moving. As is typical of those who wait for a living, Ginsberg confesses to spending much of her energy aspiring to be someone or somewhere else.   In time, though, she discovers that life cannot be lived waiting for the real thing to begin.  After two decades of service, Ginsberg looks back over her shoulder to acknowledge this is her life, and one she can now embrace.

… perhaps the most valuable lesson I’d learned was that the act of waiting itself is an active one.  That period of time between the anticipation and the beginning of life’s events is when everything really happens–the time when actual living occurs.  I’d spent so much time worrying about the outcome of my life that I’d forgotten how to live it.  I’d also come to know that not everything was fraught with a vast and complicated meaning.  Sometimes it was only about timing the order just right, recommending a particularly good dessert, or making a friend out of a stranger at my table.  I began to see not only the simplicity of these acts but their beauty.

In some ways this book is similar in style to Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, though told from the other side of the servery.  It is full of great stories, flawed yet endearing characters, and an insider’s perspective on the restaurant industry.  Though Ginsberg is finally able to embrace her working role as a meaningful one, she is never idealistic about her profession.  Every page is real.  I closed the book with a renewed sense of respect for waiters, but even more for the wonder of ordinary life and those who live it.

Debra Ginsberg, Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, New York: HarperCollins, 2000.


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