An eight or nine year old little boy was busing tables at a small hometown restaurant. He worked with gusto, and did not slow down or take a break once while we slowly woke up, and ate breakfast. Upon leaving I went over to him, and said, “Hey buddy. You are the hardest working person in here; I just want you to know that you are doing a great job.” I handed him two dollars. He beamed. I beamed. Best two dollars spent.
Five dollars to the wandering vagabond in Key West after he tried to take a photo of Zeppo and me with my phone. I don’t think he actually got a photo…but he tried his damndest. He also did not ask for the money. But when I handed it to him he said, “Wow! Oh wow! Thank you! Oh, Okay where do you want to go? What do you want to do in Key West? There is so much great stuff here.” We got local tips for our tips. Not many that we used because we had some set plans by then…but all the same…that “Wow!” I know that five dollar bill made his day. It made my day.
Ten dollars to the airboat ride Captain. To thank him for one of the most beautiful days I had. Wind in my hair, sun in my face, memories of Zoë out on the grass with me turning her face into the wind. The rush of adrenaline as we turned sharp corners at FAST speeds, and flew around the everglades.
Ten dollars to the Captain of the river and glades tour in Louisiana. For trying so hard to find alligators to show us, and for ending every this he said in a slow southern, “Yup”, and a funny head nod. For the interesting facts about the swamp, and for peaceful moments with the low sun streaming through the trees. He was shocked by the tip, and thanked us. We thanked him.
Twenty dollars to the two guys running the parasail boat. For taking pictures of us, and giving us a bit of a longer ride nearly at sunset. Allowing us to see out to the horizon and beyond. To see a turtle, and to laugh, and to smile, and to float in time and space.
Hundreds of dollars to the tattoo artists. As Zeppo and I received more than we could ever tip for…what is two hundred dollars? Nothing compared to a lifetime of artwork, of hours telling our story, of the care and consideration taken. Our scars and pain are now not only on our insides…we now have markings to show the world. I cannot wait for someone to ask me, “What does it mean?” I cannot wait to smile, and tell them that it is for my baby, my beautiful Zoë.
Tips to the pedicab guy, to the waiters, to the waitresses, to the guy who dropped us off at the airport from the car rental place.
I am a federal employee and when I travel I always tip. I tip generously, and sometimes beyond the allotted amount that we are allowed to tip so I use my own money. I tip with federal dollars. Maybe some people would frown on this, and see it as a misuse of federal tax dollars. But to me I look at it this way. I am a custodian of tax dollars, and who better to give federal money to than those who need it most? The people who are working low paying jobs, and who work for tips.
I worked for tips once. It is not easy, and I learned very fast how to use a smile, a wink, a nod, and to suck it up and work with difficult people. How to not ever expect that you will make a good tip. But boy…when I got a big tip, it would so make my day. It would let me know that all my hard work was not unnoticed. That there were people out there who understood how hard my job is, or who just liked me.
One of my favorite people to serve was someone who was probably one of the worst tippers. There was a woman who had severe obsessive compulsive disorder. It would take her a minimum of 10-20 minutes to even sit down, as she had to arrange, and rearrange the table settings, and adjust her coat, and the booth before she could sit. Then when getting the menu she would read it over, and over, and over, and over…only to order the same thing every week.
After her meal she would take another 30 minutes or so to let me take her plate, then she would get the bill… Needless to say a wait staff makes their money by flipping over tables. The more people you seat, and serve in a night the more money. This woman would sit in my booth for HOURS….and HOURS…so it was as if I had one less table. The moment she would be seated I would know that I would make half the amount of money I normally would.
Then she would pay…and my tip would always be $.30-1.00. Ghastly. I mentioned to my mom, not out of anger about this woman, but how surprised I was at how little she would leave. I told her that I understood she had mental issues, but it would be nice if she just gave a bit more for all of my time, and taking up my table.
My mother mentioned that she was probably on disability, and this meal was probably an extravagance for her. That maybe she did not have the money to spend on a tip.
So how was it that she was always sat with me? Well she started asking for me. I was nice to her. And after that conversation with my mom, when this woman would walk in I would watch as the wait staff roll their eyes, and grumble about serving her. So I would go over to her, and sit her in my section and smile at her. And give her the best service I could. I knew I would not make all that much money that night, and I knew she would give me just a little bit of a tip. But in all reality I would have served her with a smile for free.
There are “rules” on tipping, 10%, 15%, 20%... I don’t follow the rules. I tip those who are traditionally, “not supposed to get tips,” and I tip well over and above for those who do. I have been known to add to a poor tip, and usually with extra to make up for the fact that the person I am with was such a bad tipper. If I have the choice between three dollars and a five, I will give a five.
What does all this tipping bring me besides a smaller bank account? It brings me joy. It makes me happy to know that that extra dollar or two will help pay rent, keep a phone on, or prevent the electricity from being shut off.
I know what it is like to life dollar to dollar. When I first graduated from college I lived in poverty. I lived right at the US Poverty level. I know what it is like to spend $20 on a week’s worth of food, knowing it is all I will have. I know what it is like to juggle bills, and to see how long you can go before they do cut off your phone. I know what it is like to eat a diet that is so poor you feel sick all the time.
I am blessed with a job where now I can grocery shop, and I don’t have to worry about my phone, or the electric bill. I cherish this. I work hard for this. I know how hard others work for this. So when I see them working hard, I thank them the only way I can.
What is a dollar anyway? For me, that smile from that little boy was still the best two dollars ever spent.