by Father Mark Goldasich
I had the last weekend of June off, so I skipped Mass.
Whoa, I mean I skipped being the celebrant at Mass. Because I had a missionary priest at my parish, I headed to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri, for its 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. While I enjoy being the celebrant and homilist at Mass, it’s nice occasionally to be part of the congregation and listen to, rather than preach, a homily.
Now, I don’t know a lot of priests in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, but one of my friends is Father Paul Turner. What a shock that morning to see him process down the aisle and discover that he was the new pastor at the cathedral and this happened to be his first weekend there. That happy surprise added to the whole experience. But there was a bigger surprise in store for me.
After Mass, I decided to grab breakfast. I wasn’t in the mood for Denny’s, Winstead’s or IHOP. Getting on the trusty Yelp app, I searched for nearby restaurants. An intriguing entry was The City Diner, whose ambiance was described as “divey.” The place was just a block or two east of the City Market and man, oh man, did it look like a dive.
The good news was: It was full of people. That was reassuring because if the place were an unsanitary, “ptomaine-y” establishment, there’d be plenty of room. As I came inside, there was no formal waiting area, so I stood to the left of the main door. Immediately, I was greeted by the cheery voice of a server at the cash register who said that the wait shouldn’t be too long. She followed up with, “Would you like some coffee while you wait?”
When I said “Sure,” she came over with a steaming cup and asked if I needed one or two of the creams she was carrying. I happily sipped my coffee and leaned against the wall, reading a magazine. A few minutes later, I heard: “Is the coffee man ready for a seat?” I looked up and she asked if a stool at the counter was OK.
When I sat down, she topped off my coffee, brought water and promised to return shortly for my order. She did. For the next half-hour or so, I had the opportunity to watch this server. She was constantly in motion. She greeted everyone that came in the door with a smile and “Good morning,” kidded a young boy at the other end of the counter about charging him double if he didn’t clean his plate, delivered orders, refilled drinks, loaded filters with coffee for future pots, cleared away dishes, printed out bills and returned change, and chatted pleasantly with all of her customers. And she did all this in a calm manner.
I was impressed. Shortly before leaving, I asked, “Could I interrupt your rhythm for just a second?” When she looked up, I said that I wanted to tell her three things. First, I said that I’d been watching her work and that she was a superb server. I complimented her sunny disposition, efficiency, accuracy with the orders, attention to when people needed refills or other items, and her unflappable attitude even with the chaos of a full diner.
Next, I told her that if I owned a restaurant, I’d hire her in a minute at an exorbitant salary. Lastly, I suggested that she give workshops on how to be an exceptional server to all the wait staff in Kansas City. And, to back up my statements, I left her a hefty tip!
I never expected to find a server like this in a “dive.” (I was thinking more on the lines of a surly waitress barking at me, “Were you the picky guy who wanted the clean coffee cup?”) Everyone who came in the door that Sunday morning couldn’t help but feel welcome and welcomed. Those lucky enough to have her as their server were treated with respect as if we were the most important people in the world. I don’t know if she was Catholic or Christian or even had a religion, but what I do know is that she was the face of Christ to me and other customers that Sunday.
What would the world be like if we all treated one another like this server — looking beyond the color of one’s skin or one’s attire or one’s position in life or one’s income and, instead, just saw each other as fellow human beings, deserving of dignity, genuine attention and a warm welcome.
It was a great Sunday morning with two powerful homilies — one in a church and one in a diner, where I was served way more than just food.
Oh, by the way, if anyone reading this does own a restaurant, have I got a lead on an incredible server.