One day I was tending bar in a nice restaurant, the next I was a firefigher/EMT in a big city. It’s weird the way things work out, it took me a long time to get hired in Providence, RI, and during the 6 month academy bills kept coming in, and the kids didn’t just go away, and life for everybody else went on as usual. So I worked. Nine hour days at minimum wage at the Division of Training, learning how to tie knots, and push water, and breathe through an SCBA, and pull ceilings, and bandage the injured, and tie them up on long boards and KEDS. I even learned how to put somebody in shock into inflatable trousers.
And at night, I worked.
People would come to my bar, and put bread in my jar, and I was quick with a joke, and to light up their smoke, but I had to ask myself, “Man, what am I doing here?”
It was a great lesson in humility. People would come to the restaurant, and some would treat me like their servant, and others would completely ignore me except when they ordered their drinks, but the others were the ones who taught me how to be a better person, a better father and husband and a better EMT and firefighter. They would treat me with dignity, and even though their position in life was considered by society as more elevated than mine, they would be nice, and ask about the family, and inquire about the academy, and be genuine, and honest and just good people without condescending attitudes.
Those people made that six month period of eighty hour weeks bearable.
We are all part of the human race, some seem to be winning one day, but the next are behind the pack. One day I was serving people, the next I was saving them. But the biggest lesson I learned was that even though I was in a different position, and a little closer to the head of the pack, I was still serving them. All of them. The homeless, the drunk, the bartender, the executive and the politician. And I liked it. And I treated them all the same way I liked to be treated; with dignity. And by doing so, I found self respect, and yes, my own dignity.
The best tip I ever received never made it into my pocket, but it was deeply imbedded into my head, and my heart.