With a Small Stain
I arrive for work at the usual time. Fifteen minutes of chit chat with the dinner chef, George (later, he’ll earn the nickname Jorge Flambe’ after burning his eyebrows off lighting the convection oven), before daring to walk into the dish washing room where I’m certain my friend Darrell has left at least three trays behind for me to finish.
It’s not that he’s lazy (though I know he takes an hour nap each morning between the two breakfast rushes), because I’ve seen him work. And I want to believe it isn’t because he dislikes me and wants me to start my shift with something unpleasant. I should just ask him outright, but I’m only 18 years old, and the thought of confrontation still fills me with dread.
I’ve talked to Joel about it. He works with Darrell each morning. Also, he’s my best friend.
Joel says they often run out of time, and certain things take priority- The pans that must be ready for the next shift. The line that cannot be covered in debris when George comes in to work. The floor that must be swept of all food and filth or the head chef will be angry (though the thought of an angry Stewart almost makes me laugh).
So I swallow my frustrations and clean the leftover dishes, rinsing them with water so hot it scalds my skin (I’ve lost sensitivity to the point I have to test shower water with my elbow, unable to trust my fingers). Then I send them through the *sanitizer* before making my way back to the kitchen where a massive pile of green beans waits to be cut.
I pull a tape from my pocket -Nothing’s Shocking, by Jane’s Addiction- put it in the grease covered tape deck and press play. George hates this music, but allows me the honor of the first selection each shift. He gets to play all the classic rock he likes when the restaurant opens and the bus tours arrive.
On bus tour nights, I’ll be running between the dish room and the grill for the entire five hours the restaurant is open. There are only two of us and when 85-170 people descend on the dining room, George can’t cook all the burgers, fish, and chicken by himself.
I’m the jack of all trades- Dishwasher, food prep (I make the best cheesecakes, Cajun potatoes), short order cook, errand boy. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but most of the time I enjoy the routine. Even the days I get yelled at by the asshole who runs the front end become comical stories, and we all have our tales for sharing.
This night there are no buses at the hotel, only a few guests here for a midweek mountain getaway, and we are not anticipating much of a rush, so we talk more, laugh more, pause between tasks. George tells the same jokes, and I laugh at them like this is the first time I’ve heard them.
The tape ends and George puts on something atrocious by Aerosmith, and since I’d rather chew nails than listen to this, I excuse myself to run silverware to the dining room. The lights are still out and I don’t hear the usual bustle of servers getting ready for opening. Puzzled, I return to the kitchen.
“Hey George, isn’t John supposed to be opening tonight?”
“I think so.”
“Well, it’s quarter to five and there isn’t anyone out there.”
He replies with a string of profanities, then walks to the office to call the asshole who runs the front end. He shuts the door. I pour myself another coke from the soda machine. It is one of the perks, free soda. Also, we get one free meal a day, and 2$ a night lodging at the hotel. It’s a good gig, really. One night after my shift, I made a steak and cheese sandwich with the trimmings from the beef fillet. Best. Sandwich. Ever. I figure retail on it was close to 25 dollars.
I hear some muffled talking, then George’s raised voice. A curt goodbye and he is back in the kitchen.
“Someone will be here by 6. You’ll have to be host and server until they arrive.
I’ll have to what? I’ve never waited a table in my life, and how can I host and serve?
“George, look at me.”
I motion to my working clothes- A dirty pair of jeans, a stained apron, a grimy black Brian Head t-shirt, shoes covered all sorts of yuck, a greasy baseball cap.
“It’ll be fine. And we likely won’t get anyone in that first hour anyway.”
By the time I wash my hands, try and make my hair presentable, it is 5:05 and one couple waits at the still locked door. I swallow my nerves and unlock the restaurant.
“Sorry folks, We’ve had a bit of trouble this afternoon. Two for dinner?”
They don’t appear too upset and reply kindly to my inane questions on the way to the table with the best view.
I hand them menus and offer bland suggestions as to what they might like. The woman looks me over, most likely noticing her server is covered in kitchen filth and smells like deep fryer oil mixed with stale sweat.
“I’ll give you a minute to look over the menu and I’ll get the drinks.”
I smile, turn and walk briskly back to the kitchen. George laughs at me as I overfill the glasses and spill all over the floor.
“You’re making more work for yourself.”
They order the baked chicken. I check on them twice after taking their order, bringing them refills and a basket of poorly cut bread.
I’m still too nervous to stand still and wander back and forth from the front desk to the kitchen, sure it’s taking way too long for the food to be ready and the couple will walk out very soon.
Finally, the chicken is done. I carefully carry both plates to the table and place them in front of the couple.
“Can I get you anything else?”
No, everything looks great.
I retreat to the host desk, hoping there is no one else waiting. From my stool, I can see them cutting into the vegetables, the meat. They seem pleased.
George wanders out from the back, gives me a wink. Just then, John arrives.
“Sorry guys, I totally forgot it was my night to open.”
“It’s cool,” I say, hoping I’m not letting on how glad I am he is here. “Just the one couple and they seem alright with my service.”
“I’ll take over from here, but I’ll bring you the tip.”
Back in the kitchen, I finish making a pan of potatoes, put them in the oven. The Aerosmith tape ends and before I can put in some Oingo Boingo, George slaps in something from Supertramp. It could be worse.
Ten minutes later, John comes up and hands me two bills. Both ones.
They tipped me two dollars on a 30 dollar meal.
John laughs, tells me to keep my day job.