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I’ve been fortunate to have three. First, there’s the one I’m doing right now. Each day, I wake up, see my wife and daughters off, and maneuver the Subaru through a minefield of traffic. After wearing out the radio dial, I get to my desk and start working copy. I think about the guy en route from Miami to Minneapolis on a business trip or the gal leaving New York City to visit her mom in Nashville. I think of them reading and enjoying this magazine, and I’m happy.
There was the time I taught journalism at the University of Texas at Arlington. Four classes were stacked back to back, and the students’ aptitudes ran the gamut from green freshmen to real-world-ready seniors. Their questions about our craft, their concerns, and their stories made me confident that the future of media will be transferred to capable hearts and minds. That makes me proud.
And then there were the “hungry days,” as I like to call them. I was a starving artist trying to cut my teeth in the world of professional journalism, but as my former students have by now learned, there’s not a whole lot of money out there for wet-behind-the-ears reporters. So at night, I waited tables. And as table-waiting goes, there was -- and is -- no gig better than at the Hard Rock Cafe.
On day one of my training at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, as I sat among aspiring screenwriters and actors, all of us from different states and with a different story to tell, one name became a recurring theme: Rita Gilligan, a charismatic waitress at the original Hard Rock Cafe in London.
The managers training us neophytes evoked her name and told stories about her as if she was the power behind the throne of the Hard Rock Cafe empire. Rita was one of the originals, an English lass who was there when the doors first swung open in 1971 and who remains an integral part of the operation 38 years later. Her temperament and manner became the human embodiment of Hard Rock International’s Love All, Serve All maxim.
Two years after I began my waiting career in Hollywood, I transferred to the Hard Rock in New York City. I had a paying day gig in journalism in the heart of America’s media mecca, but I was still a starving artist (just not as starving). I needed supplemental income, and although freelancing could have paid the bills, I opted for the job that had already produced some of my favorite stories and happiest times. And, I’m happy to say, the transition to the NYC Hard Rock didn’t disappoint. But at the end of the day, this is just one man’s experience in the burger joint that’s been feeding souls in London since before I was born. I encourage you to read London-based journalist Jeffrey Goldfarb’s profile of Rita Gilligan on page 28.
Now, 13 years later, I still adhere to the lessons learned in my training sessions at the Hard Rock and from my time on the selling floor. Maybe that’s why I love my current job so much. Waiting tables and editing American Way share so many tenets, the most important of which I remember from the hungry days: Love All, Serve All.
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