Monday, November 03, 2008

His American century


Look, I'm not nearly up to the task of eulogizing Studs Terkel. I will only say that as someone who tries hard to keep the issues of labor and civil rights close to my heart, what better example and hero is there to emulate than Studs?

When I worked at the now-defunct Jerome's restaurant on Clark street in Chicago, I used to wait on him from time to time, mostly when he would have lunch with people I assumed to be involved with publishing. You know, you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat the wait staff. Here's how Studs treated me when I waited on him:

- When I approached his table, Studs would immediate halt his conversation and give me his full attention. I could've counted on one hand the number of customers who did likewise in my waiting career.

- He always said "please" and "thank you." Always.

- He talked to me like I was a person, working a job, not like I was his servant.

- He tipped big. Like 30%. If his companion was paying the bill, they would tip big also, no doubt due to his influence.

These days, so many politicians, activists and advocates talk the talk, but don't walk the walk, that it's hard to remember what the walk even looks like anymore.

Studs, who wore something red every day to remind him of the rights of workers, and who took the bus even though he could've taken a cab, and who made the oral history of the People into an art form, he walked it. And more than that, he was funny, and curious, and talked almost as well and as much as he listened. He was an old man busting with life. When I am old, I hope, I really do, to enjoy myself just one tenth as much as he clearly did.

7 comments:

SkylersDad said...

Vikki, I think sharing your story about how he treated you is the perfect eulogy. I believe you can tell exactly how kind a person is by how they treat the service industry. When I worked in ski shops for so many years, I could also count on one hand the number of people who were kind.

Some Guy said...

I agreee with S.D. This is a great eulogy because it's personal.

Thank you for this post. While I consider myself an above-average tipper and I do say please and thank you (more out of habit than consciously), I realize I need to work on giving my full attention to not only waitstaff, but anyone that is providing me with a service. It's the way I'd want to be treated.

Grant Miller said...

Interesting. I'm not surprised he treated waitstaff well. I couldn't imagine it any other way considering his interviews.

Dad E said...

I expected you would have something thoughtful to say about Studs. It certainly rounds out his image.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Chris: Some people who have worked in the service industry end up being very critical customers, because they remember how excellent they were at it, and so why can't everyone else be as excellent as they were? As for me, I remember better the times when I terrible. The times I forgot someone's ice tea even after being asked 3 times, the time I was so stressed by a bitchy customer that I cried in front of the table, etc., etc.

After that, I vowed to be the best customer I could possibly be. My goal is to have waitstaff remember me and look forward to waiting on me. And you know what? It has worked better than I could have possibly imagined. Spooney and I are greeted enthusiastically and given great service wherever they know us. But, as wonderful as all that is, it's a perk. Because treating people well is its own reward. It feels good. And I'm telling you, it's so much less stressful than being difficult or demanding. It sounds corny, I know, but it's true.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

What a great eulogy. Thanks for sharing.

dguzman said...

He was one for the ages. He will be missed.