Deconstructing Lunch
posted: January 2, 2008

For quite a while I've been working on a project called Deconstructing Lunch. I've already posted some of the portraits, but there's a theme and point to these profiles that I haven't explained before: I decided to take an ordinary thing like a burger and fries lunch and trace back all the people who had a hand in bringing it to the table. I've been interviewing and painting portraits of farmers and truckers and bottlers and bakers and cooks and dishwashers and everybody in between.

I want to show that we're not solitary, disconnected individuals – we're all part of a vast network of people we've never met, each of whom has a unique perspective and story to tell.

I've added a gallery called Deconstructing Lunch here on Drawger and I'll add the portraits I've already posted along with their interviews.

Here is the newest addition, a profile of diner waitress Maria:

In the movies, diner waitresses are bored or lippy or defeated, or all three, and would choose to do just about anything else if they could. Maybe that’s because movies are written by people who waited tables when they wanted to be writing screenplays. But diner waitress Maria, age 39, doesn’t want to be anything else, and considers her life an adventure.

"Oh yes, I love being a waitress. I like that you can talk with all different people, from different cultures; I like to be with people and talk to them. And I try to do my best on the job.

"In the diner, I work the basic 10-hour day. I’m used to it. Sometimes, when it's quiet or slow, you feel more tired. But when it's busy, the time goes fast and you don’t feel tired. I don’t like work when it’s slow; I just want to go to sleep! But when it's busy, time flies and I love it!

"I do have difficult customers. The other day, one customer comes in, and instead of ordering the regular lettuce, she ordered romaine lettuce. So, okay, I know her because we try to know the customers, and she’s really picky, so I try to be extra careful, and when I order it from the kitchen, I say, 'Make it nice!'

She’s a really nasty person, and when I put it on the table, instead of using a fork and knife to toss it, she puts her hands into it, and she says, 'Oooh, I don’t like it! The leaves are too small!' So I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I can not believe she’s upset about the size of the leaves!' And everybody’s looking. So, I take it back to the kitchen, and I say, 'Please, could you give me one with only the whole leaves?' and I take it back to her, and she puts her hands in to it, and she says, 'Oh yes, this is much better'. In the middle of your day, a customer like that … can make you miserable.

"I don’t have a husband or children, so I don’t have to wait on anybody when I get home. Imagine you work 10 hours, and then go home and make dinner and clean … oh, forget it! Not me! I do whatever I want. If I want to cook, I cook! If not, I order something in or I have something here.

"I like my job, and I like this place, and I really like my coworkers. But, when I start to think that I don’t want to go to work, then I quit, because I know its not good for me, not good for my nerves. I like the job, but if something inside me is difficult, something is not good, something is not right … I have to take care of myself.

"I’m from Venezuela, and I’ve been here in the U.S. for 12 years. I’m here because I like the adventure! Over there, I finish the high school, and I had my degree, and worked in the accounting department of an engineering company for eight years.

"One day my friend said, 'Oh, I want to go to the United States. You want to come with me?' And I said, 'Why not?' Because, in our country, you have to do what they expect: I went to the school, I have my degree, I went to work, and there it stops. So I said, 'What am I going to do here? Let me try the United States!'

"And I really like it. Here, I feel free, I feel safe, and also, working here, this country gives you a lot of opportunities. So, I’m so happy now, because I’m living the way I like to."