Janine, a self-proclaimed vegetarian and history buff, has worked at Fat Jack’s BBQ on and off for the last 8 ½ years. After completing her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, she decided to take time away from her studies to continue waitressing and decide what the future has in store for her.

 I’ve been a vegetarian now for 12 years, so longer than I’ve been at Fat Jack’s. Ha, it’s funny. It’s like [pause] I see the irony in it. It was just after my 14th birthday and I was watching the animal planet and it was talking about gorilla poaching and how people would poach gorillas for their hands to make decorative things and to eat them. They had the black-out faces and the augmented voices of the people. And they were getting interviewed like, “Why do you do this to these majestic creatures?” And they were like, “You know, its good money.” And the one guy says, “…and they taste really good.” That was literally just my “Oh my God.” Apparently, they taste delicious and I’m like, “well, that’s a really bad reason to eat something.” And that was pretty much my only reason for eating meat at that point.

I mean eating meat is no longer a dietary requirement in our living situation, my current living situation. I have plenty of access to other foods: dairy products, grains, vegetables, fruits. I mean, America does not have a problem getting food to middle class wealthy people and I have always been the middle class. I had tried being a vegetarian on a few other times before this. They never lasted very long. So this was my third attempt at being a vegetarian and it stuck.

I’ve never eaten anything at Fat Jack’s, other than like the grilled cheese. We make some pretty kick butt grilled cheeses, and there’s grilled mushrooms and onions and you put lettuce and tomato on it. It changes how I know the food. I never went to the restaurant when I did eat meat so I’ve never had any of it. I spent the first 3 years of my life there just asking for adjectives. Like describe it to me. I would pretty much just ask everybody, “Is it smoky? Is it sweet? Like, how would you describe it?” So I think then that’s actually turned me into a really good server, because now I can describe the foods really well because it’s like I’ve never really actually experienced them, I’m just telling the story about the food kind of a thing and that’s kind of fun.

I love talking to people. I like meeting new people. I mean, on any given day being a server, I get to walk up to like 50 complete strangers and get to have a legitimate conversation with them. Some of them don’t and that’s cool. Not everybody is wanting that level of personal interaction, but most people will tell you about their day. Like “Hey, how’s it going?” And when you do have more regular customers, you can kind of ask a little bit more specifically. Like, “Did you go to your cabin last week?” or something like that and it’s people that I would probably never talk to.

I don’t know if I could just live my life in a people-less job. It’s exciting to just talk to people. But then conversely it’s like a Russian roulette wheel. You meet some real winners. Some people that are just mean, some people that are just unhappy either today or in their life. I don’t know, but all I know is that I’m not making them happy. Like it gets real frustrating cause at a point just tell me what you want. I don’t have a real opinion in this. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it. You don’t like the sandwich? Do you want a new sandwich? Do you want new food? No! You just want to sit here and pout. Okay. I can’t help you here. I don’t care what you eat sir. I don’t. Just tell me what I can do to make you stop being so upset right now and apparently it’s nothing! [Laughs]

I pretty much have to justify why I’m a waitress still. It’s a lower perceived job. Like why are you still doing this? Don’t you want to do something? And it’s just like ouch. I’m not dealing with anything super important, but it’s still a f*cking job. In a country of this size, we have a lot of really stupid specialized jobs. And it’s like yeah, if you just take the stupid specialized job and put it right here it’s stupid. You know what I mean? I mean like yes, the fact that I just ask you what you want, go over there, get it and bring it back. It’s a stupid job. But it’s a job that’s needed because we all heavily specialize our fields now.

I wound up meeting a lady at a bar and we were talking and she was like, “So what do you do? Like what is it that you do in your life?” And I’m like, “I’m a waitress.” And she’s like, “No, no way”… she actually didn’t believe me that I was waitress. She was like, “You’re too well spoken to be a waitress.” And I’m like “that’s all waitresses do, I mean and carry a lot of stuff, but we talk!” I don’t know. A few years ago, it used to make me mad and now it’s kind of just kind of, I mean, I wouldn’t want to do a lot of people’s jobs either. Like I get it, if you don’t want to do my job, that’s fine. But it’s good for me, and it really doesn’t cut into my sitting around time.

I make pretty damn good money for what I do too. I’m good at what I do and that’s something thing that I think people are always just… [pauses] Being good at what you do—it doesn’t matter what it is that you do—people should just take pride and try and do their job the best that you can. I think that confuses a lot people. Like, well why are you trying to be the best waitress? Well, ‘cause I’m doing it… that’s why. I learned all those cool tray tricks. Just sayin’. Like cause if I’m going to be a waitress for 8 years I gotta be able to do something with the tray.

I’m kind of at this juncture twiddling my thumbs before I go back to grad school cause I went from high school to MATC to the UW really quickly with actually very little, and I would take summer classes a lot. So I really was enjoying some time of just not having to necessarily focus on what other people are thinking is important, but I would like to think that I’m still continuing my studies. I’m still reading a lot of classical works. I’m still working on my Latin and Greek. But, kind of in my own way, in my own speed right now because I would really still like to keep moving forward with that.

I’ve always kind of had a really strong passion for history, and specifically lores and mythos. I like the origin stories like how people wind up making their framework for the world and the Greco Roman stories were always just something that were amazing. My mom’s favorite is the Iliad and the Odyssey and she would read those to me and my brother when we were little. And I remember those just being like such vivid, ‘cause they are, they’re such vivid stories, back when there was no TV or anything like that. These were the stories that you would tell your family. You would sit around and they still kind of have those impact moments. I don’t know, maybe some of the characters are less sympathetic over the thousands of years, but there’s still a lot of real human emotions in them. I don’t know and I’ve always found them very interesting. And when I finally realized that you can pursue that as an actual course of study, I jumped on that and did not let go. I thought it was awesome.

Dream job? I would like to go into pottery restoration. So, all the smashed up bits of pottery that they find, I would like to be the guy to put that back together. But, waitressing is a phenomenal time-filler job. You can do it while going to school. It’s great to have a job that when you leave the job you don’t have to worry about anything. You can close the book and say, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” There’s nothing that I need to be “Well, did I make sure that I did this?” Well no. It’s done. Today is done. Tomorrow will begin a new day.

— Jessica Nickels

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