When I left Eat-n-Park #52 - State College, I knew I never wanted to work in food service again.
Fast forward to 2004. I'd been back in California for a year and a half. I'd used up my 401K chasing my muse, and was living off the kindness of some wonderful people who have more commonly been known as Turk and Carla round these parts.
But it was fast approaching the Holidays, and resume's were useless in the still post-dot-com San Jose.
That's when everyone's favorite Beer Activated Girl approached me after a Moron Life meeting one night and said, "Hey, we need a host and banquet waiter for the holiday season if you're still looking for work."
It was the middle of November. The holidays would be about four weeks worth of work. I was flat broke, and so I agreed.
Laura set up an interview with Morgan after lunch one day shortly thereafter, and I sat down with a guy who I thought was totally high. Turns out he's just that laid back. In the middle of the interview, James, the other server on duty at the time yelled from the back, "Has he killed anyone?" To which I replied, "I've never been convicted." James yelled, "Then hire him!!"
So Morgan did. I was to be the lunch-time host during the week, and work banquets at night with Laura and her banquet crew when they needed an extra hand. Since Cara, the Catering Director was out on her honeymoon, Morgan asked if I could come in at 9 to help with phones in the mornings. Hey, more hours... I said sure.
So at 8:50AM on Wednesday, December 1, 2004, I showed up at La Pastaia ready to work. I was greeted rather gruffly by an older, stately woman. "Can I help you?" was what she said, but "What the hell are you doing in this restaurant, we're not even open yet!" was what I heard. I smiled politely and said, "Hi, I'm your holiday help." Her demeanor changed immediately, and I was put to work answering phones, taking messages and making reservations.
Now, even though it was the holidays, it was still REALLY slow between phone calls in the morning before we opened. I don't do slow well. So I took it upon myself to polish the brass door handles and the copper espresso machine. I dusted. Murphy's Oil Soaped the wooden credenzas. Organized the coat/storage closet. You know, stuff to keep me busy. And between all that, and the fact that I "Gave good phone" (which meant I had a good phone voice), Marge, the owner, took a shining to me, and two weeks after I started forced poor Morgan to hire me on as a waiter when Trish, one of the other waitresses quit because she had graduated and was moving away.
But shortly after I started:
So last night, my first as a Banquet Waiter, I was complimented by a woman who told me I was doing a wonderful job. I thanked her and said it was my first night. "Well then," she said, "It seems you've found your calling!" I know it was intended to be a compliment, but... I hope to hell she's not right.
Things started to change:
It was raining. The sky was hazy and grey. The sounds of people talking over lunch was a low murmur. The cappuccino machine was hissing as it foamed milk. The faint smell of burnt wood came from the wood pizza oven. Someone had just come in and there was the faintest cool breeze cutting through the warmth of the room. And then a bus drove by and I could hear the sound of wet tires on pavement, and just for one moment I could have been standing in a restaurant in Little Italy in New York. My heart jumped a bit. This is the first time I'd felt that 'connection' to San Jose like I've felt in New York and in Boston.
And then everything went back to normal, but my smile came easier the rest of the day.
And on January 4, 2005, I started waiting tables:
The job is nowhere near as horrid as I expected it to be. Honestly, everyone there is awesome. They've asked me to stay on after the holidays. I start waiting tables in about 10 hours. Not my dream job, but it's not telemarketing or Taco Bell. :)
I stuck with it. And a year later:
Last night, between 6 and 9 pm, 13 servers fed over 300 people at 4 different parties complete sit down dinners. I finally got dinner around 10:30. I found myself cleaning huge candle holder and dancing to the DJ music at my party behind the food line (where the cooks work) around 11. The whole crew did a shot of Tequila together shortly after that. Our manager, Beer Activated Girl herself, thanked us all for our hard work and good attitudes.
I'm fucking exhausted.
But you know what? I had an absolute blast yesterday.
I work with awesome people, and we spend our time making people happy. But mostly, it's the awesome people I work with. Everyone is awesome. And it makes me happy.
Even after a 14 hour day.
And shortly after that:
Morgan and I stood at the Host podium at the restaurant and he asked if I'd be interested in being one of the Manager's on Duty. I said yes.
And now it's been five full years of ups, downs, lefts, rights, awesomes and sucktitudes. When you get right down to it though, the job sucked.
But the people... the people were amazing.
Every single one of those people made me smile. They weren't co-workers, they were family-- ARE family. And I'd do anything for them.
It's a little sad leaving the place. But then, it's one of those places that no one ever REALLY leaves. And I'm okay with that.
December 1, 2004 - November 30, 2009