[first published 08-23-11 and stirred to the surface by the Facebook memory churn…]
After college (UVa), I lived and worked in Germany for about 9 months (in einer Zimmerei in der naehe von Hamburg). When I returned, I decided I wanted to be a professional host, like the wonderful woman who ran Café Bretzl in Wein. Sigh. I had enjoyed many taverns and restaurants in my travels. It seemed like a potential career. (German Major lacked potential, though I didn’t care at the time. My brief epiphany that I should study semiotics passed quickly, as with linguistics – I lack the discipline for post-graduate work. As for being a poet, another option, that’s still my avocation.)
What I didn’t know at the time was that nobody really makes enough money in the restaurant business, except the owner, and not always the owner. The money seems good, but at every level, people in the restaurant business work very hard for ungrateful customers and indifferent management. You are an easily replaced cog in any restaurant.
Unaware of that, I applied for a job as an assistant manger at Dudley P’s Pizzeria & Pub on M Street, not far from NPR (at the time). The job of the assistant manager is to let the manager escape the restaurant at the worst hours, especially closing, opening – usually hours apart – and weekends. Moreover, an assistant manager must be able to do any job in the establishment at a moment’s notice, a fact that actually suited me. At times, I cooked, I tended bar, I washed dishes, and, most importantly, I waited tables. Everyone should wait on tables (and buss them) for the experience. We would all have much more respect for and kindness toward those who are good at it – you cannot imagine the challenges.
It wasn’t all bad. I liked working at night. I could eat pizza any time I wanted. I got to select the tape played over the sound system. I met some nice people, including a mentor named Tony. On the other hand, hanging around people all hours who drink and smoke takes a toll, especially since that’s what restaurant workers do after work. (Smoking in a restaurant was still legal and common.)
Dudley P’s was owned by a guy who also owned a more-successful franchise in Maryland. My theory was Dudley’s was a tax offset. At some point, I became disgusted by the district manager and I wrote a letter full of high-dudgeon, disgust, and forgotten accusations regarding that manager to the owner. Here, I like to mention that I had been fired from my first job over an incendiary letter regarding the incompetence and cruelty of a supervisor *and* I would be fired from a later job for the same reason. I was born to be a blogger (which pays no better than poetry, except for a few).
I was not meant, however, to manage people, which is the most lasting thing I learned that year. I expect everyone around me to do their jobs well on their own motivation. I’m neither inspiring nor threatening enough to lead.
Despite all this, I went on to be an assistant manger for the Japanese Steak House at two locations. This was a better fit for me if only for the large number of Asians employed, specifically Japanese, Thai, and Chinese. I like diversity, but I was born and formed in Hawai’i and I was drawn to the people I worked with like family (my family chuckles at this, but “like family” makes my feeling accessible to others). Talk about self-motivated hard-working people barely in need of managing. Yeah, I’m stereotyping, but this was my observation. No question, my co-workers were also gentle and kind to me. When I finally burned out on the hours and the commute, I quit before I could write a letter to my sometimes irksome boss. As a farewell, my colleagues took me out to dinner at a special Chinese restaurant. I was honored.
After a year in the restaurant business, I was ready to get back to working at nothing all day. Lucky for me, I found the first grocery in town that took credit cards (this was that long ago). It was a great summer.