I was 22 when I met Shannon. We'd both been hired to wait tables at a new restaurant in downtown Charlotte, a semi-fancy place that billed itself as a Euro bistro. For me this marked a significant step up—I'd spent the past year at a high-volume brewpub down the street, where I'd struggled to achieve and then maintain a tentative table-waiting competence.
My first impression of Shannon was that he knew things I wanted to learn. How to open a bottle of wine while carrying on a conversation and never glancing down at your hands. How to bullshit with the good old boys, and how to explain our menu's foreign dishes to new-money rednecks without coming off as patronizing. How to know when a table wanted you to chat them up and when they wanted you to be attentive but invisible, like the hired help in a British period drama. Within a few weeks of the restaurant's opening, Shannon had regulars, people who would request his section and might even wait at the bar until one of his tables opened up. Some of these people, I assumed, had followed him from his previous gigs.
I did not have regulars. I wasn't bad at the job—I've always hated to disappoint people, so I tried very hard—but I wasn't exactly graceful. Even at the slower pace of upscale dining, I often found myself two or three steps behind and fumbling to catch up. I was, as Shannon once remarked, "sort of comically inefficient."
When I picture Shannon now, he's at the servers' station, looking bemused, while I try to cash out multiple checks, or decipher my own handwriting, or assemble a complicated hot-tea service in the middle of a lunch rush. "The main thing," he says, leaning against the counter, chewing on a toothpick, "is not to get excited."