I had a wonderful time this weekend, reading the book Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress, by Candacy A. Taylor.
It's a slim but meaty book featuring interviews with waitress "lifers"--waitresses the author sought out who have made working in coffee shops and diners their life's work. In between the interviews the author offers historical and sociological tidbits about the waiting life, including chapters on tricks of the trade, regular customers, and tips. It's also beautifully illustrated, with multiple photographs.*
I enjoyed the interviews and the different women** the author spoke to, particularly as I have a bit of history with the career myself (although I was one of the part-timers just doing the job for cash that these old-timers scoff at as mere flashes in the pan). But I was particularly amused by author's history of how women came to be the staffers of choice for diners during World War II. She cites a 1941 article from The Diner magazine, which lists the reasons why women make superior diner staff:
"1. Women will work for less pay. 2. Women won't stay out late drinking and call in sick the next day. 3. Women belong around food. 4. Women will work harder than men. 5. Women are always happy. 6. Women are more efficient workers. 7. Women are more honest than men--they don't steal. 8. Women can talk and work at the same time. 9. Women clean diners better than men. 10. Women are cleaner than men. 11. The customers like women better. 12. Customers don't swear in front of women." (pg. 18.)
Now, I don't know that I agree with much of that list, but I was charmed by numbers 4,6, and 8. It took me back to my own restaurant days.
This is a great book. Although I'm just glad it was published by someone (in this case, the Cornell University Press), this is the sort of book that should be published by a mainstream trade publisher, and which should become a bestseller. If there were any justice in the world, anyway, that's the way it would be.
*Why aren't all adult nonfiction books illustrated? It would be so much more interesting.
**The frank nature of the interviews reminded me, in the best possible way, of the superlative title The Oxford Project.