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Thursday
Sep272012

Mobile Serv-A-Tron 5000

On paper, I'm not really worth much. I graduated high school with all manner of honors, and then proceeded to become a three time college dropout from the University of Tennessee system. Oh yeah, I'm sure I've left a trail of squandered potential across the state and points westward. In fact, completing a reflexology seminar recently is the first thing I've accomplished (with a certificate and everything!) in seventeen years. My parents both have doctorates, and I'm fairly sure they thought I'd follow in their academic footsteps. Alas, life and my own personal hardwiring kept from doing so, and though I feel that I've disappointed them in that pursuit, I think I've done a fair job of getting my education in more informal ways. To be more specific, I became a restaurant lifer. Most students and young people do a tour or so in the industry at some point- summer jobs, supplemental income, etc.- but some of us find our niche in the manic world of food. I started out as a summer girl, fully intending to get my brilliant little ass right back to university, but, again, life and my tormented psyche had other plans. Once I found myself in Colorado and decided to see what madness I could create for myself, I fell quickly and deeply into The Lifestyle. After a couple of inglorious stints as a hostess and smokehouse slave, I tied The Apron around my waist and never looked back.

My first real gig was at Gunther Toody's, a CO chain of Fifties diners. They weren't half assed about the throwback diner thing to be sure- I spent the last years of my teens clad in a mint green polyester nightmare, covered in flair (bless my little heart), and known alternately as 'Pinkie' and 'Pixie'. It was reasonably profitable during my ill fated and ill advised run in Colorado Springs (shudder), but it proved to be a disaster once I made the move to Denver. Note to young, fresh faced newcomers to ANY city- try to get a handle on the lay of the land and especially the public transportation system, if any, and I pray that there is on some level. On a complete tangent, I must say that I judge a metropolis on the accessibility of buses, trains, shuttles and the like. Denver has a fantastic system, and I'm a proud RTD supporter. Hell yeah, light rail!

Anyhow, after a disastrous transfer to the Gunther Toody's located at the furthest point from my apartment reachable by bus and a spectacular exiting 'fuck you!' ( I believe I took off my uniform in the middle of the dining room and stalked out in hot pants and a camisole, then waited for my bus at the stop across the street for half an hour. My indignation kept me from feeling any shame or self concern then, but I doubt I'll pull that one again.), I moved on. First up- a soulless try at the even more soulless Rainforest Cafe. A word of advice: never wait tables at a mall restaurant. If the job requires one to wear a fanny pack ( a FANNY PACK?!!), run like hell. Next- a Cajun joint downtown. I willingly admit that I was a pretty awful waitress at that point. I was even more high strung and emotional then than now, and I blush at memories of the straight up dumbass I used to pull.
From crawfish and boudin I went to the DelMar Crab house, and there I was introduced to crustaceans. We had a weekly $35 all you can eat live Maine lobster debacle, and, having had never before encountered, much less eaten, one of those armored horrors, I spent years of Wednesdays dreading the inevitable foul evidence of guests gorging on lobsters. Shudder...
It was there, though, that I finally got it- not just server skills and the magical ability to hold three glasses and two plates in one hand- I found my place in the Industry Family. I was part of the DelMar opening crew, and a small, strong core of us stayed on for many years, through the lean times and the asinine gimmicks and the usual sexual entanglements, and we all became incredibly close. To a very young girl a thousand miles from home, the restaurant was the entire world, and the people working there were brothers and sisters. I love my family dearly, but at the time, we weren't at all close, separated by physical and emotional distance. For years I spent every holiday with the crew, eventually even hosting an annual 'Orphans' Thanksgiving'. We all worked together, drank together, slept together, bickered and bitched and truly loved each other. The dysfunctional bond lasted for years, but it is important to remember that the Industry is a transient existence. People quit, management comes and goes, restaurants fold, and eventually I moved on. I was really, really good at my job by that point, and a skilled career server can always find a new gig at a moment's notice.
Around that time I became a Mobile Serv-A-Tron 5000, meaning one of a nomadic tribe of culinary journeymen following the hottest chef, the most innovative menu, the sexiest dining room, the money, the money, the money. It's an intoxicating feeling to know that with minimal effort one can walk home with mad cash in hand every night, and that if your ship begins to sink, it's just effortless to jump on board the next good thing and start over. After a while of the circuit, you get the point when you know at least half the staff any given restaurant or bar, having had, again, worked with/ partied with/ slept with any or all of them.
It really is a great life for a young gypsy growing into herself. I had plenty of money and easy freedom- a shattered ankle and two months out of work barely phased me. Health insurance? Oh, please- I was invincible; I could always make it happen.

The very best days were at the Brasserie Rouge- oh, I loved it there! It was a beautiful space, had amazing food, the best wine list, some of the most talented staff, and I made some true friends, especially Little Jesse. I'd worked with him at Opal, a flash in the pan French/ sushi bar/ night club that won all kinds of awards its first year, then collapsed in upon itself under the weight of mismanagement and some amazingly crazy staff antics. I won't elaborate. Anyhow, Jess and I became fast friends and have stayed that way for years now. He actually got me the job at the Brasserie, and I am forever grateful...we had some good times there. I was at the top of my game, so much so that other restaurants called me in to help out on busy nights, even getting recognized as the best fine dining server by the most notoriously bitchy food critic in Denver.

Alas, as these things happen all too frequently, the joint folded ingloriously due to a nasty divorce and, again, mismanagement. I showed up for work on a Monday afternoon only to find the doors locked, foreclosure notices pasted on the windows. It felt like the biggest betrayal imaginable- I sobbed on the doorstep, mourning the loss of the best job I'd ever had and my disbanded family...

Jesse and I found each other again, and we started over at another French bistro. We did well, but I began to lose my mind around that time, and within months I faded away, moved back to TN, and never picked up a tray again. I'm happier today than I could ever imagine back then, but sometimes I miss it, the Life...

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