If you recognise this title, you must have seen Waitress, the new addition to London’s West End musicals since the beginning of February. It’s a perfect way to spend a weekday evening – it’s light, sweet, crunchy, just like a beautiful pie that Jenna baked!
Seeing Waitress nicely coincided with starting watching Great British Bake Off. I was never a fan of reality shows as they’re usually too fake and dramatic, but few weeks back I came across a BBC article that GBBO is now so popular in the US, mainly because its simplicity amidst their political turmoil. It convinced me right away to go straight to Netflix – I never knew that watching 10 tarts baking in the oven could be so exciting!
Anyway, somehow I found a red thread between Waitress, GBBO, and my life and I’m reflecting on it as I write.
“I’ll bake me a door to help me get through.”
What baking can do, Waitress, Sara Bareilles
Jenna, the main character of Waitress, is obv a waitress but she’s also a baker in a pie shop. She baked so beautifully that her obgyn doctor who’s given up sugar ended up eating a whole pie and fell in love with her. It would’ve been a simple love story if she weren’t married and pregnant with an abusive husband – who didn’t know how to love rather than treating her like a maid and a cash cow.
She heard about this baking competition in another city and she started saving money so she could join, hopefully win the cash prize, and use that money to leave her husband and start a new life.
On the first season, very first episode of GBBO, there was one contestant that caught my attention: Mark, a bus driver from Wales, probably in his 50s. He’s not a fancy baker – he didn’t experiment with dragon fruits or lavender or ginger. He made a simple tea loaf and as excited as he was, he opened the oven too often, causing the temperature to drop and at the end his cake sunk in the middle. In the “showstopper” challenge when bakers were supposed to impress the judges with their decorations, he used simple decors bought from a local store or probably gifted by friends and families. I imagined that he’s quite popular among his friends and collagues and his cakes must have brought joy in multiple occassions. But he’s not a GBBO material – he was eliminated on the very first episode. I felt like crying with him when it was announced.
I watched that episode only few weeks ago but it was actually aired the first time in 2010. I thought perhaps now, 9 years later, Mark would have a transformed life. He quit his job as a bus driver because a local bakery saw him on TV and offered him a job. He would have pursued his passion. I Googled him… and read that he’s passed away after suffering from cancer.
A piece of my heart broke.
Who would’ve given a bus driver a second glance? Living in London, I treat buses/tubes as utilities to get me from point A to point B. As the clock is always ticking fast, the only thing I care about is that my ride comes on time. Why would I care if the bus driver is having a cramp, or they just had a near miss yesterday so they are driving more slowly today? Just get me to point B, as soon as possible, please.
Baking – and joining GBBO – was probably Mark’s way to leave his own stamp, to be noticed, to matter. As Augustus Waters said in The Fault in Our Stars – he feared oblivion. He didn’t want to die without being a legend, without being remembered.
“It’s addictive the minute you let yourself think the things that I say just might matter to someone.”
You matter to me, Waitress, Sara Bareilles
I don’t know whether Mark was content with his life when he died. I like to think that he was. I like to think that his short adventure inspired him and many others around him.
Baking was an escape for Jenna and Mark – an escape from mundane daily routines and disastrous relationship. I, too, tried baking to escape from a job that doesn’t bring me any challenge nor satisfaction. When I said “tried”, it literally meant my first trial in actual baking where I measured all the ingredients and followed a recipe dilligently instead of just winging it and hoping it’d turn up edible.
I’m actually not sure what’s the moral of my story. I wanted to write about following your passion, or finding meanings outside your 9-5 job, or baking as a therapeutic catharsis. Or maybe I just wanted to show off my cheesecake as I’m quite chuffed with it. One thing I know for sure, I now always smile and say hi to my 29 bus drivers, as everyone deserves to be noticed and to matter.