I spent my first few weeks as manager of the River City Grille at the Hartford/Windsor Marriott in a fog. I was pretending to be a manager based on what I had seen other managers do in the past, which was not particularly effective. I was depressed, though at the time I thought depression was a symptom rather than the cause of how I felt. I was fatigued and detached. I felt overwhelmed, dizzy at times, and nauseated. The restaurant’s forrest green carpet, dim lighting, and the dark yellow and navy blue waiter uniforms formed the worst color pallet imaginable. I didn’t feel like myself, and wanted to go back in time just a few weeks to when I was in college, before I moved to lonely Connecticut.
Then one day at work a waitress came in on her day off to pick up her paycheck. I was standing behind the bar when I saw her approaching. She was wearing fitted blue jeans and a slender tank top. She was comfortable in her high heals, and approached the bar with confidence, walking fast enough to create some space between the back of her neck and her long brilliant yellow hair. Her battleship grey eyes sat peacefully and contentedly in her bright fair skinned face. But her smile, bursting with life, is what struck me the hardest.
A week or so later I started making some bad management decisions. I went out for drinks with some of the staff, one being the waitress. I watched her and talked to her the entire night. The next day at work, I followed that dancing smile around the restaurant for hours. There was something about that smile, so peculiar and captivating to me, that pulled me towards her.
“Where’s John?” one of the waiters asked a coworker.
“Probably in Kelly’s section. He’s been following her around all night,” was the correct reply.
My fatigue was fading, and I no longer felt disconnected or dizzy. The fog around me was lifting, and I asked her out on a date.
I picked her up in my 1996 Pontiac Grand Am, which I had vacuumed and windexed earlier that day. Neither of us spoke much during the drive to Black Eyed Sally’s blues restaurant in Hartford. It was a rainy and cold September night, so I dropped her off in front of the restaurant, and parked the car up the street.
For dinner, I had a steak, which I cut nervously, shaking the table spilling some of her red wine. She looked amazing, despite wearing a yellow sweater an old granny would wear. We spoke throughout dinner, but I don’t remember much of what I said. I was probably trying to sound cool or impressive or charming. I can only imagine what I actually sounded like.
After dinner I excused myself and went to the bathroom to call the Bank of America automated phone line. I found out I had just enough money to pay our bill. I went back to our table and pulled my chair close to her’s so we could hear each other over the blues band. I put my arm around her shoulders, stopped trying so damn hard, and we watched the band for a while with the same smile on our faces.
Back at work, my manager was rightfully displeased to learn about my after work activities with the staff. He sat me down and explained what a stupid mistake I had made. After all, he was the experienced Assistant General Manager, and he was right. I had jeopardized my managerial integrity, and I was prepared to accept the consequences. He was going to move my shift from dinner to breakfast, but he was fired for stealing from the company before he had a chance to.
It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing could have stopped me from marrying Kelly. Shortly after our first date, she graduated from college, retired from waiting tables, and began her career as a social worker. Three years later I proposed, and we married the following year. We bought a house, had a little baby boy, and now we’re happily celebrating our first Valentine’s Day as a family in Connecticut.
- How I Ended Up in Connecticut: Part 1 (jmdemma.wordpress.com)
Welcome to my blog. I have been a manager for fifteen years, and for the past five years I have been leading teams of 500 people or more as a director and VP for large growth companies. I share my leadership journey and thoughts here with the hopes of helping and inspiring other leaders.
Categories: Short Stories