Monday, March 07, 2016

The Biz

It was important for Warren to have his own restaurant. The food was good, bordering on great at times, but the atmosphere was the important part. Having his own place meant that Warren wouldn't be asked to leave. He could hold court at one of the big tables, or in the bar, until long after closing time. I know this because in my youth, I sat at one of those big tables. Or rather I squirmed and fidgeted and asked if I could go buy a roll of Certs from the cashier. Sometimes my brothers and I would wander outside and run up and down the sidewalk outside while my parents had one more cocktail and enjoyed the night life from that relatively safe vantage point: on one side of that table.
This was Boulder, Colorado in the 1970's. It was rumored that a large percentage of the cocaine traffic through that city passed through those doors. It was also rumored that a large percentage of that percentage ended up in the sinus cavities of the employees and hangers-on of that corner of the world. The world in which I consumed entire rolls of Certs while the stories and drinks kept flowing. At some point, since my parents were part of the cocktail crowd and not the new age, Peruvian Marching Powder generation, they packed their boys back up in the station wagon and returned to our safe suburban home where I could sleep off my Certs-induced haze. At least my breath was kissing fresh.
Some years later I had the opportunity, because we had a family friend in the restaurant business, to gain an entry-level position in Warren's operation. Not as a waiter, busboy, or coke mule. I was a dishwasher. My entry and exit was not through those big wooden doors up front, but the metal one, painted to look like the rest of the wall. The same door that my brothers and I had cavorted past countless times when we were busying ourselves with the business of youth. Now I was sixteen, and as I worked those late shifts on Friday and Saturday nights covered in a film of water, soap and grease, I tried to imagine the glamorous world that lay just outside those swinging doors in the kitchen. The stories went something like this: The waiters were often tipped large quantities of cash, which they dutifully passed along a percentage to their busboys. Sometimes there were little paper bindles that were passed along with the bills. I heard they sometimes made their way to the cooks. At least that's what I was told by the young prep chef who liked to tell me stories about how six months before he had been doing my job, scraping baked cheese off platters, putting in the hours until his talents for mixing vats of green chili were recognized and he was allowed outside those swinging doors into the kitchen. As a dishwasher, I wasn't allowed on the main floor without special permission. On those rare occasions that the bar was in desperate need of more margarita glasses, I was told to make a beeline with a crate of still steaming stemware, using the side entrance to the bar and stopping just long enough to get a head bob from the bartender. The guy in the leather vest I knew only as "Snake."
That was a summer in my life that I won't forget. I got a chance to see both sides of the operation. From the big table to the dumpsters out back. Warren moved on from that spot to open another spot, in another place, more fabulous than the last. I moved on too. One summer as a dishwasher taught me everything I needed to know about that job: That I never wanted to be a dishwasher again. Warren stayed in the business for another decade or two. Last week, he left that big table for a reservation he had waiting for a party of one in the sky. I have no doubt that when he shows up, it will be fabulous.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Well remembered.