How it all started

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I started Taylor Made Culture in 2002. Wow, I can't believe that was over 10 years ago. I had just graduated from the California College of the Arts with a Master's Degree in Visual Criticism. It's a fancy liberal arts degree that may take me the rest of my life to pay off, but it was an incredible program and just what I needed. My Bachelor’s degree is in Painting & Drawing. I entered grad school as a scenic painter for film and television productions and left as a critical thinker who could tell a story in any medium. Viz Crit (that's what we called it) liberated me from a world of canvas and paint. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done. I studied semiotics and deconstructed Foucault, Derrida, Burgin, Benjamin, and others. I felt like I was in way over my head but it taught me to think differently and find meaning in everyday experiences, like getting my hair done or eating in a restaurant.

My thesis was on diner waitresses which evolved into the book and exhibit, Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress. The idea came to me while slinging sushi in San Francisco. After a busy Friday night, I sat down in the back with the other servers to count my tips. The back table was a place to do paperwork, tip out coworkers, and relive all the drama of the evening. We swapped stories about our futile attempts to reason with irrational customers and commiserated about the great effort it took to get the food out of the kitchen. While eating our late-night dinners at 1:00am and balancing our sales reports we dreamed about what we were going to do with our lives after we left our service jobs for our true calling. We complained about how tired we were—our feet throbbed, our legs ached, and our arms were sore. I thought to myself, if we are this tired, how do waitresses twice our age (I was in my early thirties at the time) do this, and how do they feel about their jobs? Are they bitter after years of dealing with difficult customers? Do they have dreams they never realized? Are they worn out from the physical and mental demands of the job? And what about those who worked in coffee shops? They average eight to ten-hour shifts, and my workdays were only four to six hours. I made decent money serving sushi in San Francisco but what about those who worked in greasy spoons in small, remote towns? What about health insurance? Aging in the workplace? Retirement?

 Truck Inn - off Route 80 in Nevada, near Reno.

Truck Inn - off Route 80 in Nevada, near Reno.

The questions kept coming. I did some research and found that very little had been written about this subculture. Although there were several excellent books about waitressing only a few featured older career waitresses who refer to themselves as “lifers.” Realizing this window of opportunity, by the end of the month I was on the road with a digital camera, a recorder, a scanner, and a map (that was back when we still used maps to get around). Over the following six years I traveled over 26,000 miles interviewing diner waitresses. I loved being on the road capturing the stories of these American icons. I was hooked. 

 Jean Joseph has waitressed for over 60 years - Al's Good Food. San Francisco, CA 

Jean Joseph has waitressed for over 60 years - Al's Good Food. San Francisco, CA