A few days following my 16th birthday I landed a part-time at a Kwik Chek grocery store on Tampa’s Bay-to-Bay Boulevard where I worked until graduation from nearby Plant High School.
My starting salary was 30 cents an hour, and when I graduated I was raking in 85 cents an hour. The hourly wage was supplemented by tips that my fellow high school pals and I received bagging groceries, then taking them to the cars of mostly female shoppers. A white shirt and tie were required even when stocking shelves, mopping floors or unloading trucks. The average tip was a dime, a big tip was a quarter, and if you got 50 cents or a dollar, it was because it was payday, and the shopper’s husband staggered out of the next door Oyster Bar in a generous stupor while you loaded his wife’s groceries into the back seat of their Plymouth Fury or Nash Cosmopolitan.
If it hadn’t been for the tips I would have continued mowing neighborhood lawns for two to three bucks each. But I just got my driver’s license and had my eye on a 1940 De Soto four-door sedan that a high school pal of mine said he’d sell to me for $80.
After my work shift I’d go home and count out my tips on the kitchen table, easily raking in four to five times more than my hourly wage, and soon had enough to buy my first car and liability insurance for it.
Kwik Chek didn’t have a tipping policy and we were told by store management not to expect or demand one. “Be polite and accommodating” they preached even if we were stiffed by a two-cart, eight to ten grocery-bag shopper. “Don’t ask for a tip and don’t extend your open palm after loading the bags,” they explained, as those were firing offenses. Don, a cranky colleague, who chaffed at being stiffed, had a technique of loading quart glass bottles of milk last, and — with an uncanny premonition that a tip wasn’t forthcoming — would “accidently” drop one on the parking lot pavement. Those tight-fisted shoppers and clumsy Don took care to avoid each other during future shopping visits. None of us had the guts to emulate Don, who was still working there after the rest of us moved on.
Properly bagging groceries was the initial step in earning a tip. I quickly learned that canned goods go in the bag first, the bread and eggs last, a logical concept that was never quite mastered by Don. Polite responses of “thank you” and “yes ma’am” were all that were required in the way of customer conversation, unless it was the mother of that cute gal in your chemistry class and you’d stammer: “Tell Barbara I said ‘hi.'”
Tipping has dramatically changed since my high school and retail grocery days. It has spread to almost every industry. A recent Wall Street Journal column about tipping by Joe Queenan inspired me to reflect on how tipping has evolved and become totally confusing, at least to me.
For example, the hard-working, tip-deserving employees at grocery stores hereabouts are not allowed to accept gratuities for bagging your purchases and hauling them to your car. They even wear badges proclaiming “No Tipping.” But folks that you’d rather slap than tip now have their hands out, including airline stewardesses, attendants, hostesses, or whatever they call themselves these days. Frontier Airlines recently announced that its passengers should tip these gals. What about the rest of the crew? I’m used to handing out a few bucks to the guy that checks my bags at the curb, but am I now supposed to hand the pilot and copilot a Hamilton or a Jackson once we arrive or before we depart, like a tour bus guide? Is the amount less if they’re late to the destination and more if they’re early?
And what’s the deal with Uber? Do I or don’t I tip the driver?
And what about those vacant-eyed coffee shop baristas who do nothing but slide a cup across the counter in your direction and have jars sitting in front of them saying “Buffy’s Brain Transplant Fund.”
Tipping used to be a reward for exceptional service. No longer. Today many bars and restaurants will hand you a bill with specific suggestions on it proposing how much you’re expected to leave for the server, waiter, waitress, bartender, or whatever, suggesting amounts from 10, 15 and 20 percent. The most intimidating servers illuminate a screen that’s simultaneously viewed by both of you that asks if you want to leave a tip and how much? They never indicate how much will be deducted from your total because she or he spilled a drink on you, got your order wrong, ignored you, or doesn’t speak English.
When visiting Fort Clinch do the Civil War re-enactors whose cause visitors approve of deserve a tip? What about cow tipping? How come we don’t hear about that anymore?
And what about mohels? How much do you tip a guy whose job is tipping?
Do I tip the dentist? If so, I guess it’s best to do so in advance of a root canal. And what about the person that draws blood prior to a medical consultation? After the third attempt with a blunt needle I’ll be scrambling for my wallet.
I’m used to tipping bartenders, waiters and waitresses, barbers, cab drivers, airport red caps, the paper boy, musicians and the guy who delivered telegrams. The telegram delivery guy disappeared long ago, displaced by the Internet, and I’m sure not sending cash to anyone at Facebook or Google. Forget the paper boy. I cancelled my Florida Times-Union subscription when it closed in on $1,000 annually. Many times after reading the FTU I wanted to punch the folks that published it, not tip them.
I’ve discovered that some of the most grateful folks on the receiving end of a tip are musicians in local bars and restaurants who express their gratitude by playing your requests and remembering them the next time they see you in the audience. However, there are times when an over-enthusiastic and over-served guest grabs an entertainer’s tip jar and lurches from table-to-table shoving it under the patrons’ noses, embarrassing the entertainers and staining the reputation of the establishment. These people need to be locked in a room with an accordion playing Reggae band performing nonstop rap music.
Some elected officials expect tips, particularly those in New Jersey and Illinois, and the larger the amount the more attention they’ll give your cause, that is if they’re not doing time in a federal penitentiary. Locally the only politician I know of that legally and enthusiastically accepts gratuities is Fernandina Beach City Commissioner and Mayor Johnny Miller, whose full-time job is bartending at the local Palace Saloon. However, when he’s officiating in the commission chambers it’s probably best not to approach him with a fistful of cash, particularly if you have an item on the agenda and Police Chief Jim Hurley is anywhere in the room. Despite our bartender mayor, the Tuesday evening commission meetings remain no cover, no minimum, and no tipping.
There are a number of people I believe never deserve a tip, even during the holiday season. They don’t even rate a card. Topping that list are lawyers, no explanation needed with that group. Next are financial advisors such as those that handle your 401K and other investments. You can’t even get them to explain the fees they charge when your portfolio takes a dive because you still pay. Like lawyers, their objective is to grab as much of your cash as possible while making you think they’re providing a valuable service.
Servers and bartenders who ask “Do you want change?” should remain as tipless as they are clueless. When I lay down a $20 bill for a three dollar beer do these doofuses really expect me to leave them a $17 tip? Anybody that asks if I want change should be prepared to hand ALL of it back to me, quickly.
Other do-not- tip categories include proctologists, anybody at the IRS, TV and radio’s annoying pillow guy, the highway planners for A1A/200, radio and TV car dealers that yell their ads, anyone who plays an accordion or didgeridoo in public, and rappers.
However, as the number of folks with their hands out proliferates I think I may have stumbled across a niche industry — the manufacturing and marketing of professional and personalized tip jars. For example ones for restaurants and bars can be shaped like beer or whiskey bottles with the names of the bartenders and servers etched on them; ones for musicians shaped like musical instruments; and ones for mohels, shaped like….oh well, you get the picture.
Did You Know? I have no idea if these are true or not, but an organization called K4Knowledge says they are and I find them fascinating: 1- Beer reduces the risk of developing kidney stones by 40 percent; 2- The first non-human to win an Oscar was Mickey Mouse; and 3- A cockroach can live for several weeks with its head cut off, which explains Michael Cohen, Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi, and Jussie Smollett.
Hypocrisy Highlights: I’m having trouble understanding how NBC commentator Megyn Kelly’s comment last year that blackface on Halloween was “OK when I was a kid as long as you were dressing like a character,” caused her to be booted out of the network’s door while Democrat Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s admission that he used shoe polish on his face to look like Michael Jackson, and his medical university photo in blackface standing next to a guy in a KKK robe enable him to continue to lead that state. His Democrat colleagues probably let him off the hook because they approved of his televised endorsement of infanticide.
Things I Wish I’d Said: “The most romantic thing a woman ever said to me in bed was ‘Are you sure you’re not a cop?”‘ — Larry Brown
44 People I’m Glad I Don’t Live Near: Last week in the US Senate the Democrat Party blocked a born-alive abortion bill that would have protected babies who survive this heinous procedure. Forty-four Democrats voted to block it while only three in that party disagreed. The Democrats, who claim a border wall is immoral, are now officially pro-infanticide, something I never expected to live to see.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: The space formerly occupied by Barbara Jean’s restaurant on Gateway Boulevard, south of the Amelia Island side of Shave Bridge will definitely be Captain Jack’s BBQ & Smokehouse I have officially been told by one of the investors, who said they are making some changes to the current site, including adding a smokehouse. Brisket will be one of the items on the menu, and if they can they’d like to open in April, but May is looking like a more realistic date since they are unfortunately dealing with the city of Fernandina Beach. There will be a full bar and TVs added for sports fans, a welcome addition since the demise of South 8th Street’s Halftime Sports Bar & Grill. Baseball, beer and barbeque, sounds like the perfect combination to me. The Main Beach Sandbar & Kitchen‘s Monday all-you-can-eat shrimp platter this past February was such a success that owner Kevin Dooner is extending it somewhat. Starting in March the normally $21.50 shrimp platter will be available each March Monday for just $12.99, but not all-you-can-eat, still a good deal, as last time in that was all I could eat. A four-story Holiday Inn Express will be constructed on five-to-six lots on the beach side of Fletcher Avenue just north of Sliders in the upcoming future I’ve been told by someone who said he heard about it at a Chamber of Commerce function he attended recently. Anyone know more than this? Do you want to have a few cold beers and a lot of fun tomorrow, Saturday, March 2? Then be at PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden where a handful of whiners who failed to win last week’s downtown chili cook-off will be conducting another chance for folks to vote for the best. A small contingent of us will be competing beginning about 1 p.m. when you’ll have an opportunity to make up for past poor judgement by voting for me.