The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler went back to Sacramento, Calif., to do what she did 20 years ago: wait tables at TGI Friday's. It is all part of a special series called "My First Job," giving a glimpse of how the co-anchors made their livings before making it on national TV. The following is Syler's report.
When I was going to college in Sacramento, Calif., back in the mid-1980s, my entire life fit into a two-mile radius. I'd go to school, to my apartment, and to my first real job working as a waitress at TGI Friday's.
Going back to the restaurant was like entering a time warp. Everything looked both familiar and surreal.
I had a nightmare once about this café. All the tables were full. And they would all have their menus folded, because they were all ready to order. And they were all going, "Miss, miss, waitress, waitress!" I would wake up in a cold sweat.
Ask anyone who works here. It's no problem working up a sweat at TGI Friday's. Some days are worse than others.
I remember a specific table in which I got stiffed on a $100 check. I'll never forget it.
A lot of things here hadn't changed at all in almost 20 years, including Dave, a cook wearing a flashy red beret.
He exclaimed, "I remember you!" when he saw me. I was just screaming; I was so surprised.
"So what's going on," he asked.
"Well, I'm like a big-time TV anchor now," I said pointing at the recording camera to his disbelief.
See, it's the people from your past who keep you humble. And my beginnings here in Sacramento were very humble indeed.
I went back to the Loma Vista apartment complex where I used to live. It's less than a mile from TGI Friday's.
And you know, TGI Friday's isn't technically my very first job. But it was the first job that enabled me to live on my own. And that's one of the reasons I worked so hard for those tips, was so that I could come home to this place. I know it doesn't look like a whole lot, but it was all mine.
Nothing can bring back the memories like old photos and old friends. My former co-worker, Lisa West-Beltram, now co-runs her own plumbing and construction business. My supervisor, Loren Burgos-Dennis, works for the Post Office. For me, these ladies felt like long-lost sisters.
We all decided to get back into uniform and sit at our favorite table, the scene of countless late-night confessionals.
Recalling those days, I tell them, "I don't know if you guys remember, but right after I took this job, my dad died. When he died, I didn't have any family here. So you guys became my family. So when we sat around here at the table, it was like my family dinner. So it was a family for me."
Was it the same for them?
"It was that way for me too," Loren said. "I couldn't wait to get to work. I loved my job when I was at Friday's."
"Me, too," added Lisa. "It was fun. It had its moments when it was completely crazy. Or you had a manager who was kind of (gestures, like crazy). But most of the time it was just fun."
But, would it be fun again? One unsuspecting family was about to find out.
"I haven't done this in about 20 years, so don't ask me anything about the menu. Just kidding," I warned them with a big laugh.
If it's one thing I did remember, it's the effort to "upgrade" the customer's order. The more they spend, the bigger the tip.
So when a customer asked for a Margarita, I encouraged her to try the Ultimate Margarita
From there, it was constant motion. With three drinks in one hand, I wondered, "Can I do it? C'mon."
I forgot a little girl's drink so I promised her to make it a stellar dining experience. (Once I get the drinks together, it's going to be perfect.)
I noticed I didn't have an apron, so I asked a real waitress for help.
"Are you going to take any more tables?" she asked.
"Oh, God, no," I answered, laughing in shock.
"OK, then you don't need it, then," she replied.
Finally, the fateful moment came when I picked up the food and made a not-so-silent prayer.
Carrying three plates of food, I asked, "Oh, please don't let me drop it, please don't let me drop it."
Soon was time for a final check after all the food was down on the table. Everybody was doing great.
To my own disbelief, "Mission: Impossible" became "Mission: Accomplished."