Michelle (latest of a series)

I found Michelle at Sweet Republic. She was filling in as the ice-cream lady so that Jennifer could have a break. While she was ringing up one customer, another was waiting, so I said, “Want me to . . .?” and Michelle said, “Sure.” So I fixed a single-scoop salted caramel on waffle cone for the gentleman and Michelle rang him up. All customers satisfied and gone, Michelle looked me in the eye and said, “So, you came to see if I would let you go early.”

WOW, what a Mom of a Manager she is, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. She can do every job, and does. She knows more about what’s going on here, there and everywhere than just about anyone else. She will cut you a little slack if the situation warrants it, but Heaven help you if you do something unprofessional–I saw her appropriately dress down a server for rudeness to a diner some months ago. That the server learned the lesson and is still working for us is testament to Michelle’s effectiveness.

Once upon a time in the 80s there was a great multi-location restaurant here in the Valley, Bill Johnson’s Big Apple. Michelle was one of the waitresses (they didn’t call wait staff ‘servers’ back then) and was therefore required to take orders in cowgirl boots, blue jeans, and a pair of six-shooters strapped to her hips, walking on a sawdust floor. She tells me the guns were heavy and clunky and could leave bruises. She also has the inside scoop on the last days of the Big Apple, what went wrong and what happened when they tried to set it right. We share the feeling that the passing of the Big Apple was a crying shame.

Her restaurant-management education also included a stint at Coco’s, one of the few chains that passes muster with my sweet-but-demanding mother. Michelle’s decades of dealing with every imaginable food service scenario, including my unknowingly laying down a trail of maple syrup from a front table all the way back to the dish pit not noticing the little chalice was tipped over after sloppily bussing the table, plus her keen native intelligence and empathy, makes her a superb leader-by-example. Add a mischievous sense of humor and you have one hell of a force to reckon with.

I fear Michelle will not like this portrait. She does not like the way her eyes look, and I have tried to accurately report them here. I cannot do otherwise, because her eyes ARE her, with her lifetime of laughter and working unbelievable hours and having and tough-loving kids, biological and otherwise. So please forgive me, Michelle: I drew you as I see you, more real and more appealing than any supermodel could ever hope to be.

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