I spent the large part of my early working life as a waitress. I worked in a variety of different restaurants- Amish, family style, bars, a Michelin rated high end French restaurant-- and served all types of people.
I was an excellent waitress.
Exceptional, in fact.
I had people leave notes blessing me, in addition to tips. I received cards from the regulars. I received more than my share of date requests and once or twice a marriage proposal from a drunken, heartbroken customer.
I was the fun waitress who would take pictures of your family events and get "C'mon... you get in here for the next one..." and I would replace the distant cousin who would then snap the picture. I sang happy birthday 10 different ways and made people smile.
I also made about 20% more than the other waitresses. But darn it, I also filled the ketchup bottles, worked late when they had to get their kids, refilled their customers' coffees when they couldn't get to it, helped them hide in the cooler when their exes showed up. Rather than be jealous, most people wanted to work the same shift. I made it fun and their work load a lot lighter.
I could fill in on the line in the kitchen. I could run the dishwasher when we got backed up. I cleaned toilets. I mopped floors.
I worked my ass off.
And I was very, very good at it.
So good that when I started my professional career, I ended up in the hospitality industry. When we would be firing someone for poor job performance, I could look them in the eye and say "I know EXACTLY how hard it is and I know that there are 20 other people on your shift who do as well and don't appreciate your lack of enthusiasm."
Now I'm not a waitress.
I am a financial advisor.
I make more in a month than I did in a year as a waitress. And sometimes, I make more in a week.
I pay more in taxes than what I made as a waitress.
And I still work my ass off.
I share this not to brag.
It's because I absolutely, positively would NEVER have had any of the success that I've had without the investment that society made in me.
My free, public education was exceptional. I had amazing teachers. Amazing teachers. They spent time with me before, during and after school. My senior year, my English teacher pulled me into the teachers' lounge and asked me if I wanted to be graded against my peers or my abilities. I said "I guess my abilities..." she whipped out her red pen faster than Zorro and starting DESTROYING my A+ paper. I'm a fairly decent writer thanks to her.
And it cost me $0.
I went to a selective university that there was no way I could afford. Thanks to federal student loans, a nice local credit union that trust my parents, and some very wealthy donors, I graduated and had my choice of jobs. During a recession.
Growing up, my dad worked in a payroll office and pumped gas at night. My mom worked part-time as a receptionist and later a reading instructor. They both went to college when I was a kid. My dad utilized the GI bill. My mom utilized, as did my father, the local state university branch.
Society invested in my family.
So why the blog?
To illustrate a point.
My country took a chance on my family and it paid off. We are contributing members of society. Not only through the taxes we pay, but through our volunteerism.
We pay our bills. We pay back to the community.
I definitely worked with a lot of people who were lazy along the way. Absolutely. I worked with a lot of people who worked just as hard as me, but had other burdens to bear. I was fortunate to have opportunities and the ability to take advantage of them.
I come from the royal lineage of a coal miner, a garbage man, a housekeeper and a Woolworth's cashier. They all worked hard. My parents worked hard. I worked hard.
My kids will not only be able to go to college, they will not need student loans. They can take risks and start a business. Just like I did but without the cloud of debt over their heads.
And I would NEVER be so arrogant as to imply that I did this on my own.
Not in the least.
I received a hand up.
Would the world be a better place if I had stayed a waitress?
I'd like to think not. My world would not be. And I loved waiting tables- it's not a judgment on food servers. I am one of the biggest tippers you'll ever see because I know it's a hard job.
But there are some people in this world who think that I didn't deserve that hand up. I should have just worked harder. I should have somehow easily been able to pay for what is now a $260,000 tuition bill.
These same people think I should have stayed right where I was born. My dad should have been working in a coal mine and my mom doing laundry. Forget that we were intelligent. Forget that we worked hard.
Last year my husband and I paid more in taxes than I received in subsidized student loans. Which I paid back. Early.
I think that was a pretty good trade off for society.
And it's not just education that pays society back. Roads provide jobs to workers and better venues of commerce. Sixty years ago people laughed at the idea of interstates. Can you imagine if that had been written off as a silly, expensive pipedream?
Medical miracles happen because of research done on space shuttles. An investment in our health. And we cut NASA? Because what else could be out there? Umm.... a LOT.
Free and reduced lunches provide children-- the poorest of our society-- with food so they can concentrate and maybe move out of the cycle of poverty. Maybe. Not everyone will. But some will. They certainly can't get jobs at 7 years old.
One out of four immigrants will start a business, compared to one of out seven native born citizens. Immigrants as a whole are job creators. Local job creators.
Call me a tree hugger. Call me a liberal.
I prefer optimist.
I prefer risk taker.
Because this county was founded on the idea that everyone had a right to pursue his dreams (the her part wasn't added until recently...). Everyone had a right to own property (it took some of us longer to get that right). That our government represented EVERYONE. Not corporations. Not donors. EveryONE.
Keeping people in their place is why we don't have a king or ruling class. We, as a country, thumbed our noses at that ideology.
Yet here we are. Disparate wealth worse than monarchies.
And it breaks my heart.
If I were 16 today would I have these same opportunities?
Or would I still be waiting tables?