Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Two and Two

Los Arcos is so local. What I mean by that is that many of its employees and customers live and/or work within a couple miles of it... like me. Los Arcos is in a large residential area and borders (or is in, I don't know exactly) what I've heard called "Little Mexico". I'm sure you're smart enough to figure out where that name comes from. All the time, I see people walking from across the street to come in and eat. The owners' house is literally right across the street. One of the dishwashers lives 4 houses down from me. It's a restaurant's for the people, by the people. I've already started to notice there are several people that frequent Los Arcos. It's very apparent that the majority of our customers come weekly, if not more frequently. I've definitely even seen some people eating there 3 or 4 times in my first week of working there. There's always a buzz of conversations going on between multiple tables and servers. Everyone knows somebody. I never know if they were previously friends or have just seen each other every week for the last some odd years and conversation has deepened beyond razzing each other for always ordering the #10 (The 2 and 2 plate). I'm sure it's a combination. It's weird for me to see the same dozen people every day (coworkers) that I don't even live with. I've been dropped into a tight knit community that I have no choice but to become part of, not that that's a bad thing. Speaking of which, I better get to studying Spanish so I can understand half of said community.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Apurate Cocinera!!!

Work has been going pretty well. Every day is increasingly easier. I still have a lot to learn, but I am starting to feel comfortable in knowing what I'm supposed to do. When I originally talked to the owner about how many shifts I'd have, she said she only had 3 shifts per week, but she'd see if she could get me some more. Man did she. I'm working 7 days a week with a double on Fridays. Just in case you're interested in coming to see me at work, here's my detailed schedule:

Sun: 9:30-3:00
Mon: 10:30-2:30
Tues: 10:30-2:30
Wed: 10:30-2:30
Thurs: 10:30-2:30
Fri: 10:30-2:30 & 5:00-9:30
Sat: 3:00-9:30

It's been very interesting being in a different culture. I've found out that almost everyone loves it when I try to use Spanish. It's been pretty great having so many people around who are speaking Spanish and more than willing to help me learn, customers included. There are a couple regulars that told me next time I wait on them, they're going to speak to me entirely in Spanish. It's so fun. I'm adding a handful of words to my repertoire daily. The most diverse interactions have been with the cooks. There's only one cook who speaks English, but I think he's only part-time. The full-timers only seems to know food/kitchen related words. Jose, the head cook is my favorite. He's got a sweet, curly mini-mullet and 'stache. He totally dominates. He loves to razz me and talk to me in Spanish. A couple of the other cooks haven't been won over so easily. At first, it seemed like Maria (not to be confused with Maria the server) refused to believe I could speak any Spanish. When I'd ask her a question in Spanish, she'd get someone over to translate. When I'd answer her finger pointing in Spanish, she would just repeat the choices in English even though I had already said "pollo" (chicken), "res" (beef) or "queso" (cheese). Finally, after 4 days, I think she's finally starting to believe I know some Spanish. As I was leaving today, she actually said see you later and asked if I was working tomorrow in Spanish. It's only a matter of time before we're chattin away. I also found out there's one other person I work with who isn't fluent in Spanish... but this is her last week. It seems learning Spanish is God's will for my life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Los Arcos: Not to be Confused With "The Golden Arches"

Four or five months ago, when I realized I was moving to Abilene, I started looking for a job. I had little idea what kind of job I was looking for. What I had was more or less a list of what kind of job I didn't want: jobs I've already done that I was pretty sure weren't my "calling" (i.e. accounting). You may remember I got pretty far along in the screening process for an insurance job before I was abruptly sent an email saying "they were continuing their search". After that fell apart, I pretty much lost all my job momentum. I applied for all kinds of jobs, some I was qualified for and some I was overqualified for, but to no avail. At this point, I was pretty discouraged. I've never had any trouble getting a job before. Somewhere along the way, I thought, "why don't I just get a job at Los Arcos?", but I didn't apply. A part of me even felt like maybe that's where God was leading me. I didn't trust that feeling though. I thought that I had to be making it up. Then I got in a wreck and just like that, no longer had transportation. I again thought to myself, "I should just work at Los Arcos. I could walk to work from my house and work on my Spanish." That voice came back again, and still I pushed it away. After all, I do have a college degree and they'd probably laugh at me for applying, because I'm unmistakably white. I didn't have much trust in my ability to hear God's voice, so I gave into fear and didn't make a move. I narrowed my search to places close by and applied for a couple jobs that I thought should have been a sure thing. Nothing. I became really discouraged and tried to think of reasons why I couldn't seem to get a job. Was it because I had a gap in my work history that looked suspicious? Was it because I shouldn't be living in Abilene? Was it because I didn't know the right people? Was it because I had moved so many times in the last year? Was it my fault, was it someone else's fault or was God behind all of this? As January came and went, I aimlessly looked for any answer and finally just had to come to the conclusion that I had no clue. For the first time in 2 or 3 years, I couldn't see where my path was at all. I had to admit that I didn't know what obedience looked like in my life anymore and I was botching the whole thing. I could think of so many possible next steps, but didn't know which was the first step (or if there even was one right choice). It was a time to lean into God's grace and hope for His hand to be clear and visible. It was all I could do.

A few weeks ago I was having a time of prayer and decided to read out of the Bible a bit hoping God would reveal something to me. I ended up in Jonah reading about how he ran away from God's call and those around him suffered because of it. Don't you know reading that sent my mind a million directions. I could think of half a dozen possible meanings to that, so I logged it away until further notice (which it turns out was while I was writing the previous paragraph) when hopefully that would make sense. Shortly after that, after some more hopeful job opportunities had fallen through, I decided I would get away from the job search and work for my dad for a week. During that week, I felt a little bit of healing and some hope returning. This Sunday, my last day in Arlington, I was eating some Chinese food with my mom and the fortune cookie said, "You will finally make a long overdue personal decision." Now I must say, I do believe God speaks through all kinds of things, including fortune cookies. I half jokingly, half seriously thought, "I guess I should finally apply at Los Arcos and get a job." Two minutes later, Katrina calls me, but my phone's on silent, so I don't realize it. She leaves a message saying her and Mark are eating at Los Arcos and the waitress complained that she had to work that day, because someone was quitting and I should apply. No joke. I still wasn't confident that this was God speaking to me, but I decided that I was going to apply this week.

So, I picked up an application on Tuesday (I thought they were closed Monday, but it turns out they're open for lunch that day). After I filled out the application, I was still doubting that this was for real. I halfway decided that if this didn't work out, I was going to work for my dad for a little bit to save up money and then take a trip to Costa Rica (you can get round-trip tickets for $350 in February!). The next day, I stopped by during the slow time with my application hoping to score an interview right then and there. I had been going through hypothetical questions and answers in my head, so I was ready. When I gave my application to the owner, she looked it over for a second and we talked about what shifts were going to be open. She said she'd call me that afternoon when she knew for sure the shifts that I could work. No interview. As the afternoon came and went, I started thinking about how she seemed amused when I was talking to her and how she was probably planning on blowing me off. Stupid gringo. When 7 o'clock rolled around, I gave up the dream. I popped in The Sting and wondered what to do next. Obviously, my imagination had gotten the best of me, and I had been making the whole thing up in an effort to make myself feel better or something.

At 9 p.m., the my phone rang. Before I fished it out of my pocket, I tried to think of who could possibly be calling that I wasn't going to screen. I wasn't in the mood to chat it up. It was a number I didn't have in my phone. It had the Abilene area code. Here came the final nail in the coffin. Sure enough, it was Los Arcos. Instead of telling me something like "they were pursuing other candidates" or "they're continuing their search", she asked me if I needed to work. Surprised I said, "soon would be good." She told me to come in the next day at 10:30 a.m. After finding out what I needed to wear, I hung up and wondered, "what happened to having an interview?" I sat in disbelief. Did I just get a job?

Sure enough, when I showed up this morning, they put me to work (after asking if I was there to pick up a takeout order). The first thing the owner asked me was if I had been a server before. I could tell she was expecting a yes. When I said no, she paused for a very long second and awkwardly smiled saying, "Well, I hope you like it." Later on, after asking me some more questions, it was clear she hadn't really read my application. After going over the menu, their policy on substitutions, where to drop off tickets and where to put dirty dishes, she said, "The next table is yours. If you have any questions, ask Debbie." Nothin like hittin the ground runnin.

I felt a little overwhelmed today at times, but I'm pretty excited about it. It's 3 blocks from my house, I don't have to wake up early, I don't have to sit at a desk, I get sweet Mexican food for free and I get to work on my Spanish. I'm most assuredly the only gringo who works there. No one in the kitchen really speaks English aside from the names of food. I don't know exactly what shifts I'll be working or even how much I make an hour. All I know is I've got a job, I'm pretty sure God's behind it, I made $27.72 in tips today, and it feels good. It'll be interesting to see what happens over the following months in this cozy, very authentic Mexican joint.

Just to clear things up (in case you're wondering) Los Arcos means, "The Arches."