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The other day on the train to Boston I heard a young woman tell her mother that she hoped to get a waitress job to help with her college expenses. "Forget it, dear," came the disdainful reply. "No daughter of mine is going to wait on tables."

I hope the young woman can prevail upon her mother to change her mind.

In my checkered history, I've been an office worker, a newspaper reporter and editor, a rental agent, and sales manager for a builder. Fiver years ago, having decided to embark on the precarious writing life, I took my first part-time restaurant job. Since then I've worked on and off in a half dozen dining rooms and, if my experiences have led to any single conclusion, it's this: everyone should wait on tables at least once.

To begin with, waitresses view the world from a slightly elevated position. They see the ring-around-the-collar that most other people miss. It's easy for them to keep their sense of humor -- and perspective.

While other business associates may knife each other and jockey for power, waiters and waitresses develop a camaraderie and loyalty I've never seen in any other field. They rescue tips, rush to clean up each other's accidents, and work grueling double shifts so their coworkers can have a day off or take a vacation.

But that is only the beginning.

"You certaintly must lear a lot about people's character," a good friend once observed in the understatement of the year. Indeed, a waitress encountersevery extreme in the human spectrum and all variations in between. The good news is that for every surly skinflint who hides a quarter under his plate, a dozen appreciative diners will brighten her day with their graciousness and generosity.

The job has other fringe benefits. If our young friend on the train because a waitress, even temporarily, she'll learn to do 20 things at once and keep her wits. She'll develop self-control, discipline, and diplomacy. When eventually she starts college, she'll find her arms and legs a little firmer, her stamina greater, and her coordination and balance improved.

Above all, she'll have learned that to take care of other people's needs is not a disgrace but a lesson in living of which she may well be proud.

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