The Work is the Gift

Rompeolas is a restaurant that has been around for 50 years. It's settled on the west side of the island of Mallorca, Spain.

The menus on the boardwalk are laminated and stowed on a music stand for patrons to glance at as they walk by. The tactic proves effective because we stop and take a look for ourselves.

Before we consider what this place offers, the front right window has a "Room for rent" ad that catches my attention. The oddness lingers for a second. Then, I return to the menu.

The top right of each lamented page of the menu is brown and cracked - showcasing that this place is an age-old establishment. Just as hundreds, probably  thousands of other people have done before us, we grab the top right of each lamented page and flip through to consider if we want to dine here.

Our decision is unanimous and we walk in.

When we're stateside, we're used to waiting for a hostess to seat us. Across the pond, it's a little different. You typically seat yourself.

Our hesitancy once we step into the place is a dead giveaway that we aren't locals.

Our posture was something like a timid fifth grader who has transferred to a new school mid-year and walks into his novel classroom.

Unassertive and hopeful that someone will befriend us, we find comfort in a voice coming from the back of the restaurant.

"Bona tarda."

The place is lit with lamps you'd find at your grandparents home. The tables are topped with old yellow cloths that feel like vintage t-shirts logoed with a non-existent waffle house in Mobile, Alabama. The chairs are dark brown but if you look closer you'll realize they were once the color of fresh Finnish birch.

The voice turns human when a man walks through the back bar and into the front dining area to greet us.

"Para dos?"  he asks.

"Si."

"Anywhere you like," he replies politely. But, I sense a harmless irritation in his tone flagging that this isn't the first time he's had to hand-hold patrons to sit themselves.

We take a table to the far left.

The same man that greeted us, is also serving us. He's probably in his late fifties, maybe early sixties. His hair line has receded to the back of his head. White hair that wraps around his dome is what's left. But he wears it well - I would even say he's proud at the fact that he's made it this long. His chest hair - also white -  peaks through the top of his black short-sleeve polo shirt.

"We'll also share one of the grilled jacket potatoes," I say, finishing off our dinner order.

He leans over, tucks his chin so his eyes can glance over the eyeglasses sitting on the edge of his nose and replies, "Okay. Those are very nice," and then lifts himself to punch the order into his iPad.

He walked away quickly, but not in a hurry. Confident but not chaotic. For some reason, this man captivated me.

So I watched him throughout the night.

He greets people. He manages the grill. He takes orders. He buses tables. He closes people out. He runs food. He drops checks. He makes drinks.

This man runs this place.

I spent about seven years in the service industry, and with about 20 tables in this joint, I can assure what this man was doing is impressive.

From what I could tell, there was a cook in the back and a woman who assisted him. Other than that, this man orchestrated everything else.

Watching him engineer his work reminded me of this quote from Emile Zola:

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work.”

It's an art-form to do what he does. And yet, he's not a painter. He's not a photographer. He's not a sculptor. He's not a writer. He's not any conventional form of what we immediately think of when we say the word artist.

But he is an artist. He identifies needs and provides solutions.

In your work, do you do that? Do you identify needs and provide solutions?

If so, you're an artist like the man who runs Rompeolas.

The service industry is tough work (and your work is probably not a walk-in-the-park either).

However, this man understands that without the work, there is no gift.

He needs people to walk into his restaurant and get upset that they have to wait. He needs people to be a little annoying at times. He needs people to be needy. He needs people to send back the grilled asparagus because it's cold. He needs people to stay 45 minutes past closing time and then order another glass of red wine. He needs to be in the "weeds" 20 tables deep. 

The restaurant is a gift to this man, but the restaurant is nothing without the work it takes to run it.

We end our meal, and he asks where we're from.

"California," Charlie replies.

"Ahh, California. You know that state wouldn't exist without Mallorca, Spain right?"

"What?"

"Oh yea. Junipero Serra is from Mallorca, Spain and he found the first nine missions Spanish mission in California. All the way from San Diego to San Francisco, Serra was the one," he said.

He spent the next 10 minutes giving us a history lesson about our own state. The only reason why he was cut short was because an American guest had walked in from the patio looking impatient and firmly asked him, "Can I please get the check?"