By People Staff
December 20, 1999 12:00 PM

There she is, Miss America! But that’s no bouquet of roses she’s lugging; it’s a hefty Reuben sandwich and a side of coleslaw. Yep, that cute waitress at Artie’s New York Delicatessen in New York City is Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998. Some sad and sordid fall from grace? Actually, insists Shindle, 22, “I like waiting tables. I never get bored here.”

Okay, but the question she gets asked a lot—aside from “What’s the soup of the day?”—is, “How come?” Shindle, who toured the U.S. speaking on AIDS education before relinquishing her crown in September 1998, turned down job offers from AIDS groups to pursue an acting career. And while she’s far from broke, Shindle decided to do what aspiring actresses often do—waitressing—as a way of keeping her feet on the ground. “It’s important to me to have some sense of normalcy in my life,” she explains. “And this gives me a little extra spending money.”

The ex-Miss Illinois, who studied theater at Northwestern University, kept her background a secret when she answered an ad for Artie’s in October and was rarely recognized before being outed by the Associated Press. Now she works hard to blend in and “brings cookies for the staff every day,” says Artie’s co-owner Jeff Bank. Sharing a Manhattan apartment with two friends, Shindle squeezes in auditions between shifts. “This job keeps me humble,” she says. “To have someone yell at you because their pastrami’s not hot enough, it’s got to be good for the soul, you know?”