I am sitting in a deep-dish pizza shop in downtown Chicago. The smell of the three-inch deep pies competes with the excited voices of customers for owning the room. Red and white table clothes, accents from around the world, and energy you can almost reach out and touch in the air. Americana is on full display.
But near the door is another piece of what is sometimes undervalued as an Americana trait – hard work.
A man, probably my age, is standing at a nearby work station. His English is broken, but his commitment to doing a good job at the task in front of him is as solid as the foundation of nearby skyscrapers.
Drying plates and wrapping silverware into a white napkin is not sexy work. But to him, his head leaning forward and his hands moving as fast as possible, this is the most important work in the world.
I lean over and clue my wife into what I’m seeing.
“Look how fast he works,” I say.
For a few moments, we watch as he takes a stack of white serving plates, fresh from the dishwasher, and prepares them for being placed on tables. His hands move so fast I can hardly keep up – as if someone were slight speeding up a video for emphasis. With each plate, he used a pattern to wipe, flip, and stack. And remarkably, the deeper he got into the stack, the fast his hands moved – as if he were playing a game against the clock.
When it came to sorting the clean silverware, he used the same urgency and self-competitiveness. Reach, bunch, wrap, and stack.
Again, this is not sexy work – but what I was seeing was a man taking extreme pride in the work that touched his fingertips, taking full responsibility to do the best job possible regardless of anyone else’s measure of value. It was nothing short of moving to me.
And this was not his only task. Throughout the night I watched him bus tables, carefully replacing plates and silverware on each for the next customers all with the same urgency and attention to detail. Whatever he touched, he signed his name to, so to speak.
I wanted to take the lightning in a bottle he carried and share it with the world.
Too often people feel defined by their perspective of what they believe the world places value on the tasks they perform. And unfortunately, this leads to potentially undermine the effort and pride they take away from a job well done. The truth is, one does not need to look any further than across the street at the skyscraper to prove this wrong.
Hard work and pride in our accomplishments built this country. And while our society is filled with casting out judgments, I will always remember the man tasked with setting and creating the right environment for me to indulge in a sinful experience of cheese and crust. He is a critical element of the pie as the crust and America.