April 21, 2006

First Person

Tripping on tipping

By Al Carlos Hernandez

Like many of my broke baby boom generation compatriots, I can never remember a time when our family went out to a restaurant. My Dad’s philosophy was, if we had food at house, why go anywhere else to eat, especially since most restaurants didn’t specialize in spam and eggs.

During college after a late night of going Raza Rooster politically nuts, we often times ended up sharing a plate at a causal dining establishment, with folks in the know,… Ok, fat cash carrying limousine liberals, who we invited because we knew they wanted to “walk on the wild side,” by hanging out with Chicano radicals.

They always paid the bill and always wanted to leave the “working class hero” food server a generous tip. Inspired by their revolutionary fervor we lagged behind at the table after everybody left to liberate the tip in order to reinvest it into the community slush (read beer) fund.

My friends and I thought it incredulous to give extra money to someone who had a job was paid by the hour and made more money than we did on work study wages.

Over the years I have come to understand that food servers have one of the toughest jobs in the world, and they endure it because they can make some good money via tips.

Food servers are very hip industrious occasionally and quite justifiably vindictive people, if you stiff them on a tip. You never know if the next time you come into the restaurant they play broom hockey with your hamburger, flag football with your fajitas, or mix your huevos rancheros with an afro pick.

I never appreciated the value of a cash money tip until I received one. It all happened innocently enough after being banished from Spanish radio management for being a Pocho. I was proved right, bi-lingual radio formats became all the rage 25 years later.

As a sales manager at a motorcycle dealership in Oakland, one of my duties was delivering the new bikes. Part of that process included making sure the bikes were detailed and ready to rock and roll.

I remember literally kneeling on the ground polishing a fender of a scooter, for an underage, “pharmaceutical distributor”. When I was done and tossed him the keys, he flipped me a ten dollar bill, for a second was torn, my pride didn’t want to take the money, but my terminal financial situation over road my mass media stained hubris, snatched the dime note out of his hand quicker than the Kung Fu grass hopper guy grabbed the rock from the bald white eyed master.

My wife is a generous tipper and has taught me the art of tipping. It’s always best to basically double the tax and add a buck or two. She does however sometimes takes it too far by tipping the people at the Pan Dulce place, the Mexicatessen dude, and has even convinced the people at the Christian Bookstore to put up a tip jar.

The bottom line for me is that I’m cheap. I’ll park a mile away, not to give a few bucks to a valet parker, race to grab my bags and bum rush them through the airport, or even mad dog a bell man who wants to take my bag up to the room.

I could be suffering from post housing projects monetary depravation syndrome.

To be fair, there once was an occasion when I over tipped, while in Mexico City on a business trip. I had a wad of pesos that felt like a half roll of toilet tissue, because I cashed out about 200 bucks, the Mexican monetary devaluation made me look like I had MC Hammer pants.

We pulled up to the Zona Rosa area and saw a little guy selling gum that look identical to my toddler son back in the states, my heart broke with pity. I peeled off a half inch of pesos for the cabbie, and gave a similar stack to the little guy, and the cabbie wanted to punch my Ojos out.

It’s a good thing for me I was dressed like an American gangster and knew enough Spanish to glare back at his under breath comments about my parentage. Besides, VW Beetle taxi cabs are whack, claustrophobic, smell like feet and diesel nachos.

I have joined the ranks of the 20 per centers, and because of the almost exclusive use of bonus point credit cards, it is much easier to write a number on a receipt than to peel off a few dead presidents.

Most Web sites could post a Paypal tipping URL.

Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood

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