Music update: The Cordials put up a Kickstarter campaign to help us fund our first album. And before I was ready to do my next post here, it got funded! But I’m still telling you about it because there’s 11 days to go and you can still get some cool stuff (which helps us make the end products cooler, too). Any backer, even for a dollar, gets exclusive peeks behind-the-scenes and fun stuff like that. If nothing else, the funding video includes one of the album tracks (“State of the Union”) and adorable closeups of Maggie the dog. Check it out here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/484152816/help-the-cordials-make-our-first-album
So this little story is about my very first paying job at the ripe old (I thought) age of 17. I’d wanted a job for a while – lots of other kids at school had jobs and my allowance was completely spent on gas for my old burgundy Ford Granada. But my parents held out as long as possible. My job was being a good student. And being the egghead, bookworm, introvert I was, I complied. But by the time my senior year of high school came around, they figured it would be okay if I took on a hostessing job.
Red Lobster was my favorite restaurant of all. Yes, the food snob in me winces at the thought now. But you have to understand. They had hush puppies – onion-y, tender cornbread on the inside, crispy golden brown crust on the outside. Any place that served this manna was destined to be my favorite. There were baked potatoes with these huge crystals of salt studding the skins! Oh and there was fried flounder, which I thought was the mark of a truly fine seafood establishment.
Being a hostess was pretty easy. The hardest part was learning how to dress like a hostess. All I wore to school was a uniform. There were also the occasional performances at folk festivals and the like, where Daddy would counsel me on the best way to integrate bandanas with my acid-wash jeans (usually wrapped around one boot). But really, I had no natural head for fashion (or even just dressing appropriately). Hostessing required a bit more elegance and as usual Mami came to the rescue. Unfortunately, it did require some shopping at the local Regency mall. *shudder* But I ended up with some elegant ensembles of dark skirts, tasteful red blouses, flats and hose (for the younger generation, that refers to pantyhose – kind of like tights made to look like your own impossibly smooth skin, except the color was too pale or too orangey and you always had to keep them from bagging around the knees).
All I had to do was stand at the podium in the lobby next to the giant fish tank, greet people with a smile, start a waiting list if the line got long, and keep track of the map of the entire restaurant separated into stations for each server. The trick was seating people in various stations so that the servers had a balanced number of tables. Which seemed simple enough except for those folks who never like the first place you put them. You know who you are.
Sometimes I’d have to go back into the kitchen to let a server know they had a new table. And it was my initiation behind the scenes of a mid-level restaurant chain. It wasn’t pretty. There was always a cacophony of shouts between servers and cooks, the clatter and clash of silverware and plates and the steaming whoosh of the giant dishwasher. Well, I come from a Cuban/Southern household, so I’m used to noise. The disgusting mess, though, was a different matter. I tried not to look down as my new, oh-so-tasteful flats navigated the thick kitchen mats covered in splashed sauces, bits of fried shrimp and all manner of unidentifiable oily smears.
The worst was the salad station. I’m sure at some point in the early part of the day, each cubbyhole was a clean canister for dressings (Italian, Blue Cheese, Russian and Thousand Island), toppings (cucumbers, shredded cheese, tomatoes and croutons) and of course the giant vat of iceberg lettuce leaves. But anytime I was in there it was a sloppy, gloppy Jackson Pollock piece. Representatives from each canister had traveled to their neighbors, apparently lonely in their solitary spaces, and the dressings had been so hastily ladled out that they were all dribbling into each other forming an unholy miasma of Russian/Blue Cheese or Thousand Island/Italian. I don’t really remember a salad that actually looked like this (though that could be the caprice of memory):
Oh, yeah, there was the smell. There was always a big bucket of dirty bleach water with a dingy mop poking out. It was used every now and then but the smell was like….well, dirty bleach water. You would think bleach would do something about the sour-smelling dirt in the water. But it didn’t. I just got the hell out of there as fast as possible.
One of the perks, of course, was the free employee meal after your shift. My favorite reward for a hard day’s night was the Langostino shrimp pasta with a side of baked potato. Yes, I know those two things do not go together. My parents were horrified when I told them. But how could you beat that? I’d never even heard of Langostino shrimp – they looked like little lobster tails, which was good enough for me. The red sauce was pretty decent and then I’d spoon some of the sauce on top of the buttery baked potato. Sheer teenage culinary bliss. I was able to take my luxurious meal at the bar – which was the nicest part of the restaurant anyway and very grown up. At least it didn’t smell like dirty bleach water.
Another bonus was the socializing. I didn’t have many friends at school so I didn’t know much about partying. But I’d made some friends at Red Lobster so sometimes after work, we’d head over to one of the bartender’s apartments down by the beach. It was your average dude’s pad. Old Led Zeppelin posters on the wall, ratty stained saggy sofa and chairs that must have been collected from the side of the road. But then there was this huge expensive stereo with giant speakers churning out Lynard Skynard. There’d be some piles on the coffee table – usually of green leafy stuff that they’d roll and smoke like cigarettes and had a funny smell that reminded me of a Hall and Oates concert I’d been to some years before. Sometimes it was white powdery stuff and they would do this weird thing where they’d roll up a 20 dollar bill and then sniff through it. I didn’t pay much attention – I was huddled with the other underage girl, sweet red-headed Suzie, and they never offered us anything. In my usual tunnel-vision mode, it didn’t even occur to me to ask. I was just glad to be someplace where I wasn’t considered weird or an ‘egghead’. I was just one of the gang.
Of course it didn’t last long. Once I was in college I was way too busy with school and cooler ways to make money so I drifted away from the Red Lobster bunch. But they were some fine folks and I’m really grateful I was able to step outside my cloistered bookish kingdom and experience a bit of the ‘real world’. But I don’t think I ever ate at a Red Lobster again – and am forever cursed with a lingering suspicion of restaurant salads with iceberg lettuce leaves.
Salad image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/calgaryreviews/ and Red Lobster Sign image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewesque/