Grumpy old Walter came in every day, and every day he ordered the same thing. Del Nachos no tomatoes. He never smiled. Never said think you. Just placed his order, waited for us to call his name and then carried his tray to a table facing outside the store to eat.
Walter didn’t know our names–we didn’t think–but we knew his because calling orders by name was a must.
I loved working at Del Taco, but I Did Not Love grumpy old Walter. I also did not love little kids that made big messes. Or people who came in one minute before close and ordered the whole menu. Or wiping my eyes after chopping jalapenos. Good God that hurt.
Sorry, got sidetracked. Back to Walter…and the kids…and those last minute people out to ruin life as we know it.
Before you could work for Del Taco, you had to train. And training was serious business. You had modules to study and tests to take, and our bosses were intense about those training sessions. To this day I can tell you the history of Del Taco. I can also tell you Del Taco took customer service seriously. Those lessons I learned about kill them with kindness have been life savers over the years. But MAN they were hard to follow through on. At least they were until one day after about six months of Del Nachos with no tomatoes.
Walter shuffled when he walked. And he had silver hair and deep set wrinkles like Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. And he really liked those Del Nachos.
For some reason I set out to make Walter smile. Maybe my friends and I had a bet or something, I’m not sure. I just know I decided to do everything in my power to get him to like me. Pretty soon all of us were doing it.
Walker would walk in and we’d greet him like an old friend. “Walter!” And then we’d yell back “Del Nachos no tomatoes.”
Then that six month day of reckoning.
A mom with multiple children made a mess around the table next to where Walter sat. And by mess, I mean HOLY FREAKING COW, KIDS, did you eat anything or reenact nuclear war?
So I had the sweeper out on the floor when Walter came in and we all yelled Walter like he was our very best friend. By this time Walter had softened a bit. He still didn’t smile, though.
When his order I came up, I grabbed the tray and took it to him and made sure to tell him how happy we were to see him. To be honest it had kind of become true. Somehow in the effort to trick him into smiling, he’d become a character in the daily life at Del Taco. A character I’d miss if he skipped.
Walter took the tray and Then. He. Spoke. He said thank you.
It was incredible.
It was just the start.
Because once Walter started talking, he didn’t stop.
Why he came to Del Taco every day.
And ordered Del Nachos.
Turned out Walter liked tomatoes. But his wife didn’t. So they ordered their nachos to share, and he sacrificed the tomatoes for her. And when she died, it was like this one thing would bring her back. If only for a moment.
And then he said thank you again. Because every day he came in and we greeted him with smiles even though he knew sometimes he could be surly.
Walter taught me a lot about life that day.
I use Walter in my classes pretty often to tell kids they never know whose life they’re impacting. I was lucky Walter told me. People don’t always tell you, but rest assured, every person you meet could be a Walter. ❤
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