Sunday, June 22, 2008

Noise Pollution

I'm working the bar last night, and it's a particularly challenging start to dinner service. A toddler is screaming in a pitch so high and agonizingly loud that every time he does this (off and on for about an hour), people in the restaurant visibly flinch, trying to shove their shoulders into their ears to block the noise. One customer at the bar, startled, drops her fork. After each ear-piercing shrill, the restaurant falls completely silent, people laughing nervously and smiling tight, fake smiles because if they don't, they might get up and throttle the parents for not dealing more appropriately with the child.

The parents of the toddler, clearly unaware that sixty other people who have ears are being subjected to his unfortunate ability to tip the decibel scale, are actually encouraging his noisemaking by tickling and playing with him as he screeches. And screeches. And screeeeeches.

I wish I could say I'm exaggerating. But I am not.

Simultaneously, at the apartment building right next door, there is some construction going on. On an early Saturday evening. The workers are just on the other side of the wall separating the bar from the apartment building. It sounds like they're about to come right through the wall.

And then I would probably have to make them martinis.


The pounding ceases only temporarily when the drilling starts. When the invasive, violent sounds of what must be a very large drill stop, the pounding starts up again.


And in concert with the screaming child and the hammering, two doors down, right outside their shop, the clothing store is hosting a tiny street fair that features a band complete with amplifiers, so every time the front door of the restaurant opens, I can feel bass guitar reverberating through my arms.

This all on top of regular restaurant noise: folks dining and talking, the music that plays in the background, the kitchen ringing the bell to call us over to pick up food to deliver to hungry customers.

I'm so busy I have no idea what time it is, but it can't be later than 6:15. At this rate I expect to lose my hearing altogether by about 6:19.

The whole scene verges on the comical. All we need is a marching band and some sirens.

I'm already thinking a few hours ahead, to when it slows down enough so that I can grab a muffin. On the way to the garden seating area there's a ledge behind the brick oven where servers keep their bottles of water to hydrate themselves during service, and today, there is also a basket of muffins I made this morning, a cute little wire basket lined with a big, stripey, super absorbent Williams-Sonoma dish towel. On busy nights I'm always glad to have a little snack to bring my blood sugar back up a bit.

Tonight, those muffins are my little blueberry light at the end of a fourteen-and-a-half-hour tunnel. (I'm on a double shift to boot.)

In the midst of the circus of noise, Amanda, one of the servers, comes up to the bar. I'm always happy to see Amanda.

I have to tell you something
, she says a bit sheepishly, her head turned down slightly, her lovely, expressive eyes looking at me sideways.

Thinking she's going to tell me I need to re-make a cocktail or that there's a change on the menu, I say,

A kid just threw up out near the garden and the mom grabbed the towel out of your muffin basket to clean it up.

I stammer, incredulous.

Amanda tells me again.

I am so freaking busy at this point, I don't even know what to say, if I should say anything at all. I have bottles of wine to open, cocktails to make, checks to drop, food to serve, water glasses to refill, cash to ring into the register, a credit card to run, champagne flutes to wash and polish.

I shake my head back and forth fast, like I'm trying to remove water (or excessive noise) from my ears.

Amanda says,
Maybe I shouldn't have told you right now.

I laugh because if I don't I will cry, scream, and bludgeon.

Good thing I adore Amanda or I might develop really negative feelings about her.

Nah, I know part of the reason she is telling me this is because she is just as shocked and disgusted by the entitlement as anyone, except, of course, for the woman who deliberately pulled out this cute dish towel from a cute basket that contained food and was clearly not meant for wiping up barf.

Sure the mom's probably a little freaked out and maybe embarrassed that her kid a) puked, b) puked in public, and c) puked in public in a restaurant. But it's not like the staff isn't scrambling to help. We have napkins and we're happy to share them. And look! We're coming with them right now!

Yeah, yeah, I know it's just a dish towel. But really. It's the idea that she just usurped it. It wasn't an emergency. If her kid were bleeding profusely, I wouldn't care if she pulled off my shirt to stop the bleeding. But I have no doubt that if my cat puked and I reached into her bag and pulled out the first cloth-like thing I could find she wouldn't appreciate that either.

The rest of the night was a little more normal after that. By "normal" of course I mean chaotic, frenzied, and really, really busy. I swear I do more deep breathing when I'm bartending than I do when I'm sitting in meditation. If I don't, I'll fall apart. I know I need to start breathing more consciously when I can feel my heart beating like I've just done a spinning class.

Cardiobartending! It's the new strip tease-pole dancing workout!

And at least the woman who used my towel didn't destroy the actual muffins. So come midnight, I had my muffin. And after such a crazy night, it was worth the wait.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

First Course

For some time now, I've been threatening to start a blog about my career in restauranting, but I've put it off and put it off and now something's happened and I can't put it off any longer.

I had a restaurant dream.

Those of us in the business have restaurant dreams all the time, but this was no ordinary restaurant dream. There was no panic because I didn't recognize anything on the menu, nor anxiety because I didn't understand the new configuration of the restaurant, nor freaking out because I had fourteen tables sat at the same time, nor embarrassment because I'd forgotten to put on pants before I got to work.

I was walking down a dark hallway and stumbled upon a little family restaurant, just a humble hole-in-the-wall with a kitchen table for dining at, and there was my arch academic rival from high school in a gingham apron holding a steaming pot of food in her oven-mitted hands. She was smiling, and I was surprised to see her in food service when she was so super duper smart and destined to study law or molecular biology or just be handed a Nobel Prize in chemistry one day.

Ha! I thought. She's just a waitress!

But then I thought Wait! So am I!

When I relayed this dream to a few co-workers at the restaurant the next day, the host, Julia, piped up with words of assurance. "You're not just a waitress," she said as I popped a straw into an icy gin and tonic. "You're also a bartender!"

This would indeed be true.

(That arch academic rival (who I still think of fondly), by the way, is actually a medical doctor. But can she clear a six top in one pass by herself? I would intuitively answer No.)

It was a weird dream for me to have because a) I rarely use the word "waitress" (my goal in life is to bring back "waiter" as a gender-neutral term) and b) I actually love waiting tables, and I would never belittle someone for doing it.

I'm fortunate enough to wait tables by choice and not just by circumstance. In about eighteen years, the restaurant thing has really grown on me. It started growing on me years ago, and despite the fact that about 99% of waiters claim to hate their jobs, I feel like I've lucked into a pretty fantastic career.

Not that it doesn't come without its challenges. Read any other waiter or restaurant blog and you'll know that there's plenty of madness to write about in the hospitality game, and in my time, I've amassed a few choice tidbits of my own. Once in a while, in the craziness, I forget why I love my job, so as much as anything, this blog is to help me remember that good things come from waiting tables, even when it makes me feel a little nutty, even if I'm not likely to get a Nobel Prize for it.

So who's up for a second course?