“American Waitress, New Mexico” profiles four waitresses working at the tables of various restaurants in New Mexico. Lillian Beams, a waitress at the 66 Diner in Albuqerque compares the job to prostitution, making $2.13 an hour. Karen Webb sees it necessary to approach the work with an eternally positive attitude, no matter what is thrown at you, and says that when people are on her turf, it’s indeed her turf, not theirs.
Director and singer Vanessa Vassar (as “Phonoroid”, with Axel Heilhecker) shows that waitresses aren’t only just waitresses, and while employing others of the profession to tell their sides of many customer-related stories, she shows us Lillian, Karen, Sonya Fairbanks and Sherry McElwain in the light of other parts of life. Sonya is an artist, drawing during the day and working at night because she believes in taking as much of the day for herself, because it’s most important first and foremost. She provides the most revealing story that underlines the point of this entire documentary when she was waiting on a very rude couple who later came to one of her art shows and rushed up to her, congratulating her on her fine work and explaining that they followed her work for years, yet failing to recognize that she was their waitress at that time. Waitresses are still people, and Vassar expresses that succinctly with these women, who have their own sets of loves and problems. Webb, for example, had a severe falling-out with her daughter and now raises her granddaughter after her daughter got into some various trouble.
“American Waitress, New Mexico” could easily be seen as the start of a new documentary series, with one exception. The music by Vassar, along with Axel Heilhecker, does not provide the right tone for this, going with especially jarring chords during Sonya’s sequence and butting in on what’s being said. The waitresses require those moments of silence so we can absorb what they have to say, most of which is very involving, ranging from the above-mentioned artist to Karen’s granddaughter and views on life, to Lillian and her thrice-recapped story about her passing out drunk on her bed, and her boyfriend trying to tip it over to get her off, which is told to her hair stylist at the Medusa hair salon along with her tattoo artist and friends.
The waitressing stories may be the same in Georgia, California, and Florida in terms of on-site frustrations. However, “American Waitress” is a fine chance to examine our culture and tastes for food through the people that bring it to us. New Mexico serves up the stories satisfactorily. Now let’s go to the next state.