Your crap is your own business

It could not have been a more beautiful day. The recent rain had washed the world clean and now the sun was shining brightly on this newfound cleanliness. A perfect day for a hike.

One of the great advantages of working nights at a restaurant is the ability to have your days free. One has not truly experienced Mount Tam until one has experienced it almost by one’s lonesome. It is a different experience when you are not elbow to elbow with an army of tourists or a platoon of locals.

Another thing about restaurants is the tendency to gravitate toward others in the business. Working weekends and nights can somewhat dilute one’s friend pool. Luckily there are plenty of people to hang with as they are right there working with you. I had called one of my co-worker friends, and we met on a path near our homes. Sometimes being all by one’s self is not as desirable as being with one other person and a dog.

The trail we selected was a one-mile dog-friendly loop ending right where it began at its own little parking lot. The three of us started walking and then talking; well, at least two of us. We talked about work, we talked about the news, we talked about the weather and every conceivable thing in between. Her dog sniffed and snuffled its way along with us, tugging occasionally on its long leash. Occasionally we had to hold it close as another hiker or a bicyclist came by. You can take the employee out of the hospitality industry, but sometimes taking the hospitable part out of the employee is much more difficult. But if holding the door open for someone else is your flaw, it’s a good flaw to have.

We had passed the halfway mark on the loop and were in the home stretch. One more bend or two in the trail and we would surely be able to see the parking lot from which we started. With the end nearly in sight, our conversation picked up in intensity. And with intensity so goes attention. I took the leash from her, and her dog pulled me off to sniff whatever a dog must sniff.

It was at this intersection of inattention and need that another person with a dog passed by.

The passer-by walked up to my friend.

“Hi there,” said the woman in her late 50s.

“I see that you are almost back at the beginning of the loop,” she said, taking hold of my friend’s elbow.

My friend nodded, somewhat surprised.

“Could you take this back to the parking lot?” she said handing my friend what looked like a crumpled sandwich bag.

Sometimes in the hospitality industry you say yes before you even know what exactly you are saying yes to. The customer is always right, which means conversely that the employee is always wrong, is a sentiment that is often hard to turn off. Even when not at the restaurant.

“It’s easier for you, since you are already heading that direction,” she said.

“Uh, OK.”

“I would have to carry it all the way around, and I just don’t feel like it,” the woman added.

The bag was now in my friend’s hand. She had reacted hospitably before thinking. The same thing has happened to me behind the bar. I have instinctively taken something offered only to discover that it was a used tissue or a dirty napkin or garbage off the floor. Some people will hand you almost anything.

The woman walked away waving her hand backward over her head. “Thanks,” she said halfheartedly from 10 steps away, her little dog running after her off-leash.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I think it’s garbage.”

It wasn’t garbage. It was a bag of the woman’s dog’s excrement. She had literally handed us her dog’s crap to deal with.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Yuck.

• Human behavior never ceases to amaze me.

• Sometimes there is harm in asking.

• “Own your own sh*t!” is not just a bumper sticker.

• “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable,” once wrote Molière.

• Be accountable for your own crap. Literally.