The inauguration is tomorrow. We’re making Donald Trump president of the United States. No, really. No. Really.
I know. It doesn’t sound like a real thing to me, either. Somewhat less than half of us think it sounds awesome though, so there’s that. I guess.
Between Trump, his clown rodeo of an administration, and the GOP majority in the House and Senate, we’re facing an unprecedented assault on our ideals. Everything is under fire: our education, the arts, NPR, the climate, the environment, the economy, women’s rights, LGBT rights, the First Amendment, our free press, the health and lives of thousands, our national security, ethics… just, everything.
It’s tempting to despair. To give up. Throw in the towel and go hide in a bunker. There’s no way we can defend ourselves and our country against a sociopathic GOP majority, after all.
But let me tell you a story.
Twenty years ago I worked in a crappy little 24-hour diner, on 3rd shift, and we got screwed over nightly. Fridays and Saturdays were the worst, because those were the big bar nights. So the bars would close, and we’d get hammered. Just hammered. We were the only place to eat that was open 24 hours, see, so at 2:30am everybody came to us.
I remember nights when three out of five waitresses didn’t show, two of three cooks called off, and our dishwasher would be a malicious little kiddie-diddling troll who was awaiting trial for vehicular manslaughter. We’d show up and the shift before us would abandon ship, having done none of their prep work, so we were walking into the maelstrom with no supplies, no manpower, and a manager who was, on his best day, vaguely concerned and wondering if he should come out of the back office to help.
In would come the rush, piled twenty deep at the door, lined up outside waiting to get in, all of them drunk, loud, and spoiling for a fight. I remember one night in particular, where we had – I swear I am not shitting you on this – both a big group of neo-nazis and about ten guys from the local black frat, all of whom had been drinking. We ended up with a riot in the parking lot. I mean, it was a small riot, but they were putting some effort in to make up for the size.
These were bad nights, and we would walk into them knowing it was going to be awful, certain of our doom.
Despite that, we soldiered through our shift. We came up with methods to manage the madness. We knew we were walking in the door screwed, so we just planned for that. We actually got really good at it.
We didn’t always win. Orders got lost, the kitchen caught fire, waitresses quit and stormed out sobbing, customers left pissed, there were fist fights and big 15-man brawls in the restaurant sometimes. People stole stuff. One time a couple of drunks stole the lid off the toilet tank in the men’s room and to this day we still can’t figure out how they sneaked it out the door without us noticing.
But we persevered. Even when we were exhausted, beat down, outgunned and undermanned. Nine times out of every ten, the boss came in at 7am and the place was cleaned and stocked and put back together, fires extinguished, drunks ushered out. Nine times out of every ten we finished the shift if not perfectly, then at least tolerably, and with a little money in our pockets.
We were the core of the team, the people who just kept showing up, counting on each other, working together, even on nights when we couldn’t stand each other. After the fires, the fights, and that one nasty bitch with liquid diarrhea who left trails from the bathroom to her seat and back, we put everything back together and made it a working restaurant again.
Some nights – a lot of nights, as we got better at dealing with the insanity of it all – we even won. We got people out the door before they started the fight. We headed the angry customers off and made them happy, so we didn’t have to give their meals away. We made our tables laugh when the waits got too long. We trained even the worst of our repeat customers to (mostly) behave themselves. Or, at least, not to cross us.
And that’s where we are right now, today. It’s 2am, and everyone has called out but us. There’s no food in the kitchen, the prep hasn’t been done, and any minute, the drunks are coming in. There’s no one to call for help, and no one to do the work but us, so we’re just going to have to tie on our aprons and do our best.
It will feel overwhelming. It will be overwhelming. Things will get missed. We won’t stop every fight. Customers will leave angry. We’ll get stiffed sometimes. Someone is going to barf cheap whiskey and Southern Skillet all over booth five and we’re going to have to drop everything to clean it up. We’re going to be in the weeds all night, and it’s gonna be a long night.
But we can do this. We can work together. Eventually the drunks will go home, and we can clean up after them. Come dawn, the place will be tidy, the shelves will be stocked, and we’ll be ready for the morning rush.
We won’t stop every bad plan the GOP or Trump invents, but we’ll stop many of them. We won’t prevent all the corruption, but we’ll prevent some. We’ll work together, and we’ll watch each other’s tables when we need a quick break, and we’ll go help the kitchen when they get buried, and eventually, dawn will come.