New York Fortune

Let me start by saying that I feel like I should really try my luck in the lottery. This summer has brought with it a lot of good fortune for me in the realm of things New York-related. First, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down for breakfast with Don King, the director of my all-time favorite show Saturday Night Live. He’s a Penn State alumnus (got to love those Penn State alumni connections), and by some stroke of what must have been a combination of luck and circumstance, I got the chance to pick his brain. He gave me some extremely valuable advice, especially when it comes to my dream career of writing for a comedy show. He also talked candidly about the SNL cast members, as if they’re regular people or something. For example, he told me how his daughter became close with Amy Poehler when she was on the show, and while on the outside I said something like “that’s so sweet,” on the inside I was convulsing at the thought of even having a conversation with one of my idols.

My lucky strike hit again a few weeks later when I went on a quick, 2-day trip to New York with my mom and my aunt to see the play “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” The play was INCREDIBLE and because my aunt has some pretty sweet connections – in this case, she is good friends with the wife of Chris Cooper, the astounding main actor in the play – we were on the “backstage” list for the show. I felt so important when we walked past the horde of people waiting for autographs in order to get backstage – another situation in which I tried to play it cool on the outside but was anything but cool on the inside. That’s the story of my life. When we got to the small room behind the stage where visitors wait to greet the performers, we were the only ones there. Then the door opened and none other than JAMES FRANCO walked in with his friend. I muttered some incoherent nonsense words to my mom and mustered up every ounce of courage I had to ask him for a photo. We chatted for like 30 seconds – 30 surreal, trying-to-stay-composed seconds – and then the performers came in and I also got to talk to Chris Cooper!!! Everyone in that small room was far more important than me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Finally, whatever luck that was coming my way was not done yet because a few weeks later I got an e-mail saying I had SCORED TICKETS TO THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON! There was a day early on in June when I had to log onto a website at like 10:00 in the morning and request tickets for show tapings. My friend Shay had done this last year and had won tickets (he took me, it was AMAZING, and I am forever grateful), so I wanted to try again – assuming that if they were so hard to come by the first time, there was little chance I would get them a second. But, lo and behold, the e-mail told me that I was selected for four tickets for a taping on Tuesday, July 25th! Beyond hype, I found three of my friends who were just as excited as I was and we made it a date.

July 25th was two days ago, and to make a long blog post even longer – here is my full recount of our Tonight Show experience:

Graeme drove me, Harsh, and Nate to the Princeton Junction train station in the morning so we could take the NJ Transit to Penn Station (we are broke college students who you know cannot afford the expensive tickets for bougie Septa). We arrived at the station at around noon – Graeme and Harshitha feeling the early signs of concussion from standing up and slamming into the overheard railing on the train – and then made the half hour trek to 30 Rock for lunch. We pretended we were healthy and got some food at an organic restaurant, then walked around the plaza for a bit while taking copious amounts of photos. Here’s hoping that the one woman who took our group photo ended up finding her phone and maybe more importantly the 30 French students she had supposedly lost.

Soon enough, after playing the Price is Right in the NBC store and subsequently abandoning Graeme to his own devices, 3:00 rolled around and we were able to go to the Grand Stair and check-in for the Tonight Show! A huge crowd had already formed by the time we got there, but the workers informed everyone that it didn’t matter who got there first – the seating arrangements had already been pre-determined. We showed our tickets, IDs, then were escorted upstairs to the Peacock Lounge (the waiting room) where we were told taking any photos was strictly prohibited. This did not stop the meathead in front of us in line, however, from trying to get some pics. This proved entertaining for the four of us when the security guard yelled at him and demanded he delete the photos in front of him. We’re still unsure whether the meathead was under the influence in any way, or just the dullest tool in the shed.

We waited for about an hour in the Peacock Lounge, talking and getting excited as we watched the slideshow of photos of different guests that have been on the Tonight Show. Then someone announced that they were going to start filling the studio, and that anyone with a green ticket that has a letter from A to O should get in line alphabetically, depending on the letter. We all had green tickets with Gs on them, so we were relatively close to the front of the line. We didn’t want to get too excited though, because of the pre-determined seating. Still, we were quivering with anticipation as a part of the first group to get into the elevator to go up to studio 6B!

We waited in a room on the sixth floor with a few others for a couple minutes, and soon they started letting people in and asking how many were in the party. It felt like we were boarding a ride at Disney World or something! When it was our turn and we said we had four, they led us all the way to the bottom of the tiny studio and SAT US ON THE STUDIO FLOOR IN THE FRONT ROW!!! We all kind of turned to each other with “is this real?” looks on our faces. I was right next to the teleprompter, so basically whenever Jimmy would look at his lines he would see my manic face peeking into his peripheral.

Once the studio was loaded, a warm-up comedian came in to get the crowd revved up. He picked on a guy from Australia for a long time and I was already laughing so hard my post-wisdom-teeth-surgery-already-sore-jaw was killing me in the best way. Then the Roots came in and the crowd went wild as they played for a bit. Before we knew it, the band stopped playing, the crowd quieted down (but not on the inside), and the crew began the countdown. When it reached zero the curtains opened and out came the man, the myth, the legend, JIMMY FREAKING FALLON! We were so close to him we could make out every line on his face and every hair out of place (which was like, none). He gave his hilarious monologue and pros/cons list about Anthony Scaramucci (barf), both super entertaining but just a preface to the hilarity that would ensue for the rest of the show. The guests were the amazing JESSICA BIEL and the gorgeous MATT BOMER! Plus the musical guest was Kelsea Ballerini, who I hadn’t heard of before but was really good.

Jimmy and his guests played charades and talked through the interviews, both of which made me want to watch Jessica Biel’s and Matt Bomer’s upcoming projects. As the crew set up for Kelsea’s performance, Jimmy himself came into the crowd and talked to us like we were guests at an intimate dinner party. He was so kind and personable, and the whole time I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be Jimmy, knowing that he’s by far the most famous person in a room of people who would probably all willingly sign up to be his servants. At the end of the show, Jimmy came around again and doled out high-fives and hugs – Nate, Graeme, Harsh and I all got to hug him which was pretty much like touching an angel. The taping of the show went by so quickly and was the experience of a lifetime. Plus, it was so cool to see what happens behind the scenes – like when Jimmy kept messing up the name of Kelsea’s new album and had to do four takes!

After the show, the four of us went out to dinner at a super nice Italian restaurant, had a rousing political discussion (you know, as all the cool kids do), and caught the 9:35 train back to Princeton Junction from Penn Station. It was a long, full day, but also one of the most fun days of my life and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go with! The theme of this blog post has been luck, so I want to end by saying that I feel so super lucky to have been able to go TWICE to a taping of the Tonight Show. My first experience with Shay, Andrew, and Emory was equally as incredible and memorable. I am also lucky to have such good friends who will take me and come with me on these opportunities!

Fingers crossed that there will be another opportunity to do it all again next summer!

Would You Like Fries With That?

Before this summer, I had never worked a job in the customer service industry. I have worked (and still do currently) at a country club for a few years now, but I’m fully aware that it’s not a typical job; I heed to the requirements of the members and keep up the courts, but I rarely work at the same time with other employees and those who come to play tennis don’t necessarily need me for anything while they are there. I sweep the courts for them, get them balls or towels if they are requested, and make sure to always be available for friendly conversation or even to sub in if they need an extra player. But that’s pretty much the extent of it.

I came home from school for the summer knowing that I needed to supplement work at the country club with an additional job if I wanted to make the money that would keep up with my college spending habits (which consisted mostly of Penn State attire, accessories for school, and a whole lot of food). I went onto the online job listing site Indeed, which led me to a hostess position at a Greek restaurant my family and I were frequent customers of. Like I said before, I had never done anything like working in a restaurant, but I knew that this place was a relatively small establishment with very friendly employees, so I figured why not give it a shot? I’ve always enjoyed challenging myself with new things, and this opportunity presented me with a perfect challenge.

My first few days on the job were difficult. Conquering the learning curve in such a fast-paced setting can be pretty trying. All of the following happened to me within the first week:

  1. Put in takeout orders completely wrong which resulted in the customer calling back and the manager having to refund the meal
  2. Put in takeout orders completely wrong then catching the mistake right before bagging it which resulted in the cook having to remake the entire meal
  3. Got yelled at by a customer for something that wasn’t my fault which resulted in me crying, overwhelmed, in the individual bathroom while people waited for me
  4. Pissed off my co-workers because of general incompetence

So…yeah. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses when I started out. But, as with most things I have found, time heals everything – including this beginner’s incompetence. I started to pick up on things I thought I would never get right in the beginning – specifically takeout orders. I learned the difference between gyro platters and gyro sandwiches, I learned the difference between souvlaki and tiropita and spanakopita and saganaki and karidopita and galaktobouriko (wait, no…I still mix up the last two). I learned when to ask “would you like rice or potatoes with that?” and when to ask “would you like fries or a salad with that?” But aside from the menu (which was evidently one of the biggest challenges), I have already learned a lot of other valuable lessons in the nearly two months that I’ve worked at this restaurant.

Things Hostessing Has Taught Me

  1. Take my time, but use it efficiently
    • When it comes to putting in takeout orders, I have to take my time and make sure everything is completely right so as not to sabotage the cooks or disappoint the customers. But when the restaurant is busy and other employees need command of the computer, I need to make sure I’m being efficient and fast-paced. Overall, I really learned how to manage my time depending on the context of the situation.
  2. Being friendly goes a long way
    • A lot of the customers are regulars, and many say the reason for this is because the service they get from the employees is very personable. More so, though, if the customer is not a regular, then all it takes is being friendly to make a good first impression. Many other factors contribute to a good dining experience, but I learned immediately that smiling, being polite, and asking customers questions really pays off.
  3. Working with co-workers is awesome
    • The bonds formed with co-workers are unlike any other, because these people are the only ones who really understand what the work is like. You get to know them really quickly, and it’s super nice to have people to vent to and make inside jokes with. Plus, it’s been fun to hunt down local restaurants that are open late and go there every Saturday after work with two of my fellow employees.
  4. Everybody makes mistakes
    • Hannah Montana was right when she said this. And though it’s something I had always known before, learning this lesson in the customer service environment was especially helpful. Even the waitresses that have been there for years make mistakes when it comes to putting in orders and reservations or interacting with customers. Mistakes are bound to happen, and I’ve found that it’s much better to bounce back quickly and use them as learning lessons than to dwell on them for a long time (something that I have been historically infamous for).
  5. Appreciate customer service workers
    • I’ve only been working at the restaurant for two months, but I already know how grueling it can be. Nothing makes a stressful night worse than being yelled at by a customer (see example above) or being left a really lousy tip. Working in the customer service industry has shown me that I need to appreciate these workers myself when I go out to dinner or get waited on in any way. People are not machines just because they are serving your food. So, please, don’t be like the three teenagers who came in twenty minutes before closing, took their time eating a big meal, then left a less than 10% tip. That’s not cool!

Like one of the waitresses once said to me, everyone should experience a job like this at some point in their lives. It not only teaches meaningful lessons, but it also can be really fun and you can make some super good mullah! The moral of the story is the next time someone asks you “would you like fries with that,” don’t look down on him or her. Just give your answer and maybe drop some money in the tip jar on your way out. You never know the difference that could make!