Monday, February 16, 2009

My life as a waiter

SRD, being the thoughtful, kind soul that she is mentioned my success rate with restaurants in the comments section of the last post. And I thought to myself, "Nah, I've mentioned that before on the blog." Except I did several keyword searches of the blog and discovered that, in fact, I've not written about my experiences with restaurants.

I'd blame this on the forthcoming senility that sets in when you get near 40, except I suspect this is one of these stories that I've told so many times it's legendary among my circle of friends. You tell the story so many times you forget who you've told the story to.

And if SRD isn't careful I will retell my infamous soccer injury story, including the comment that she sent me shortly afterwards which made me laugh so hard I nearly busted stitches, when I didn't want to hang myself out of frustration.

Anyway, restaurants.

Back around 1989 I was still working as a clerk with Shoppers Drug Mart. This one my first "real" job (delivering newspapers counts, but not really) and I wasn't exactly making a whopping amount of money. I think minimum wage at that time was around $3.25 an hour. I was going to MUN and that amount of money wasn't cutting it. My dad saw an ad in The Telegram for a new Pizza Hut opening on Torbay Road looking for staff and suggested I apply for a waiter position.

I thought there was no chance of getting that job. I was barely 19, had no waiting experience and, my biggest strike, I was a guy. Think about it. How many male waiters do you see when you go out to eat? The majority tend to be women. Also, as I discovered later, people tend to think you're gay if you're a male waiter.

(There's also appears to be a direct correlation between the amount of tips you make and the size of your tits, but I digress.)

Much to my surprise I got the job. And here's the shocker...I loved being a waiter. Well, let's be more specific, I loved the money you made being a waiter. This was in the late 80s, early 90s, before Revenue Canada started coming after waiters. I was claiming on my taxes that I made $300 in tips a year. If I went a week and didn't make that, I was having a shitty week. And this was at a Pizza Hut. What the waiters were making at fine dining establishments I have no idea.

So, for two glorious years I was enjoying my part-time job, making lots of money and had managed to save up enough money to go with my girlfriend at the time to the UK for three weeks. Life was good.

Then life did what it does when things are going good and kicks you in the balls.

The girlfriend and I broke up. We managed to be friendly enough that we decided to go to England together anyway seeing as how the tickets and many of the places we were stay were already booked with deposits. It was a spectacularly stupid idea, but makes perfect sense when you're 21. Then she started seeing someone else, we slept together in Glasgow, things got ugly and by the end of the trip I was very much glad to be heading back to St. John's and get back to my job.

Except the job was gone. It takes a special gift to be able to bankrupt a Pizza Hut, and yet, the owners managed to do just that.

So anyway, a couple of months later I land another waiter job, at a new restaurant called Marconi's. In the exact same building as the Pizza Hut that had just went under. They just changed the decor a bit and voila!

You can see where this one is going. It lasted a year. It was a pretty good year. The tips were even better than Pizza Hut for awhile and it was good Italian food. But one year later, down the crapper she went.

(I blame this on no small part, by the way, for how poorly built the building was. You could fly a kite with the drafts the inside of that place had. At least two other restaurants went bankrupt in that building and the only reason I assume My Brother's Place is still open there is they did significant renovations on the building.)

So now I'm two for two. Shall we go three for three? Yes, lets.

Next up was a 50s-style diner called Hollywood Boulevard. This place lasted less than six months. It was notable for two reasons. One, it had the misfortune of being located in Churchill Square, which is very near the campus of MUN. That meant my friends from the Muse frequently came by for a visit. Since none of them had money, I suspect it was mostly to come and mock the snazzy uniform I had to wear.

That and I made really good milkshakes and banana splits, which is pretty much all any of them could afford.

Secondly, in September of that year I began to lose my mind a bit. At that time I was working 20 hours a week at the restaurant, trying to do my honours degree in History, in a serious relationship with a woman, chief news reporter for the Muse, Arts representative for the Student Council at MUN, and the province's National Executive representative for the Canadian Federation of Students. Oh, and there was a federal election campaign in '93, which just added to things.

I decided I need to start scaling back on some stuff, so I dropped the CFS gig. Except my girlfriend broke up with me (we're really good friends now, but the manner in which that happened is also legendary). Then my honours advisor (Dr. Valerie Burton. Feel free to share the pain in the comments section if you wish) destroyed what was left of my brain that term. Oh, and the restaurant went bankrupt right before Christmas

Let's just say the period between September 93 and April 94 remains one of the stranger periods in my life. It wasn't all bad, but it was deeply weird.

Next up, Italian Italiano. I lasted about six weeks there. I was, literally, the token male on a wait staff of at least 12. I appreciate many restaurant owners are scumbags, but these guys topped it. They had two sized uniforms for waitresses - size 0 and size 1. If you couldn't fit in one, you wouldn't get hired. Plus they constantly attempted to sleep with the waitresses, meaning the turn-over on wait staff was phenomenal. I forget the exact reasons for my departure, probably because they didn't want to sleep with me, but they just cut my hours to zero. A passive-aggressive lay-off.

I did the dance of joy when they went bankrupt several months after I left. Couldn't have happened to more worthy people.

The fifth one was what finally did me in. This was a place called Devon Row. For those in St. John's, it's now Classic Cafe near the Hotel Newfoundland. It was supposed to make lots of money because of the great view of the harbour from the balcony. Except they built a hotel in front of the view. So you occasionally got good views of mostly-naked-except-for-some-strategically-placed-leather gay men waving at you from a hotel room window or the strippers hanging out (literally) on the deck for the strip joint next door. The view of the harbour? Not so much.

I lasted there two weeks and was fired. Apparently it was because I was rude to a customer, but I was never told which customer and what I said. More likely was that the bozo running the place hired too many waiters, business wasn't what he thought because of the aforementioned hotel and I was being paid the most because I had the most experience. So out I went. Also, I was the only male on the wait staff. Sensing a trend?

They, of course, went bankrupt about six months later.

The best part of that work experience came after I was let go. I was downtown with a friend of mine. Ted is a big man. And this was when he was in his prime. He was about 21 years old, 6'3", close on 300 pounds of solid muscle. He was bouncing at bars, playing rugby and, in his spare time, dressing up in armor and doing serious damage to people in the SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronisms). Ted was tragically born in the wrong millennium. He should have been a Viking or crushing people's skulls in the Colosseum.

On this particular night Ted was also hammered, having consumed, and I'm not kidding here, at least sixteen Strongbows. We were downtown hitting bars looking for more because Ted and his friends had finished off the supply of Strongbow available in St. John's liquor stores. We weren't having any luck, leaving Ted in an....irritable mood.

So as were going from bar to bar he asked how the new job was going. I told him and said something along the lines, "If I had my way I'd blow-up that goddamn deck."

Ted bellows "Those fuckers" and then punches a telephone pole which moves when he hits it. "I'll take care of this," he says and begins moving down Duckworth Street to destroy the deck at Devon Row.

Understand, I am absolutely certain he can do this. Ted is phenomenally strong, plus he's drunk and not feeling any pain. I had visions of him destroying the deck, it collapsing on top of him, and then him popping up from underneath the rubble like Bugs Bunny, dusting himself off and going on the hunt for more Strongbow. Because mass destruction is thirsty work.

So this leads to a five minute sitcom scene of me trying to stop Ted from doing this. At best I weigh 180 pounds at this time and I'm trying to stop a 300 pound drunken, enraged, out-of-time Viking with his brain fixated on doing some harm.

I finally managed to convince him to stop and I'm pleased to say at no point did I have to wrap myself around his ankles. But it was touch and go there for awhile.

I think that was the point in which I gave up on waiting tables. Lord knows I thought about it going back when I was starving to death as a reporter. "I could make $30,000 a year waiting tables or I could keep making $19,000 a year, living in Clarenville in a damp basement apartment that I need a roommate for so I can make the rent." To this day, I don't know how I didn't break. Probably my fear that I would work at a sixth restaurant to go bankrupt.

So there you have it, albeit in very long-winded form, my luck with restaurants. Let's not think about the private English academy that I worked for in Korea that went under or that the Express folded 18 months after I left, all right? People at my current place of employment might start to get nervous.

Last Five
1. Long way home - Supertramp
2. The best dies - The Raveonettes
3. When the rivers rise - Spirit of the West
4. Like a star - Corinne Bailey Rae*
5. What a good boy - Barenaked Ladies


Pat the Wench said...

"I had visions of him destroying the deck, it collapsing on top of him, and then him popping up from underneath the rubble like Bugs Bunny, dusting himself off and going on the hunt for more Strongbow."

I can picture this so clearly that I'm cackling away to myself in my hotel room in Gander.

Anonymous said...

Love this post, clearly one of your best. I think I arrested Ted's twin a couple of times.

WJM said...

(we're really good friends now, but the manner in which that happened is also legendary)

Oh, come ON!

(Unless that's merely foreshadowing a future post, in which case I take it back.

Anonymous said...

I played soccer one summer with the owners of Italo Italiano. Only knew one of the owners first name Reza and the second guy we just called "Capone" as we had no idea what his real name was. Those guys were beauts! They opened that bar "The Cage" in the old Scotia Bank building downtown that lasted about 2 months. It was not rented for about another 13-14 years until it was sold. I heard the new owner had some fun renovating that place after wards..Funny stuff!!

towniebastard said...

1. Pat, I could very clearly picture it happening, which was why it was so scary at the time.

2. Clare, Ted is actually a really nice guy and has a fantastic mom to keep in line. One-third his size, but she could rip the ears clean off of him if he ever got out of line.

3. WJM, the only way that story gets retold on the blog is if she gives me permission. We went out for two years, but we've been friends for the last 15 years. I'm pretty sure I can retell it in an amusing fashion, but I have no desire to hurt her feelings.

4. Anon, I remember the Cage. It was their grand scheme that would make them rich and famous. Beauts is as good a word as any to describe them. Good riddance are two other words.

In Iqaluit said...

What?! You have been unknowingly witholding these waiter stories all this time?

Love it.

WJM said...

If it's legendary it must be already practically public domain! ;)

And how big ARE your moobs, for you to have done so well on the tips?

Tracey said...

If your book is as amusing as this post, I can't wait to read it.
BTW, how's the writing going?

towniebastard said...

WJM, it's legendary among my Muse friends, so I guess I have to redefine legendary.

And my tips were small in comparison to how much the waitresses were pulling in. If they were cute, blonde and had big tits, the amount of money they could pull in was astronomical. I watched one at Marconi's make $400 in tips one night. And this was in 1992.

I made my best tips of tables filled with women (preferably in their 30s for some reason) and gay men.

And Tracey, the book is, er, ummm, coming along. Yes.

Hallett said...

"...she started seeing someone else, we slept together in Glasgow, things got ugly..."

So easy to put on paper now, only the barest hints of the months spent eating out one's own liver.

There's your novel, dude.

Anonymous said...

Those lines ("...she started seeing someone else, we slept together in Glasgow, things got ugly...") sound more like a Waterboys

towniebastard said...

I would have said the Pogues, except then it would have had to happen in Dublin, so the Waterboys work just as well in this case.

And Hallett, it was a solid six months of eating my own liver. It may well be a novel, I'm just not sure I want to go back and revist that point in my life. Or that anyone would want to read it.