Today was full of action and a day of new beginnings.
Today was my first day at my second job. I am now an official member of the restaurant industry working at a Mexican restaurant. With a little conversation and input from me, it was decided I would start as a prep cook before moving on to the grill station. Luckily in this restaurant, everyone learns pretty much every station so they can move back and forth effortlessly during lunch and dinner rushes.
Immediately they threw a lofty task my way: turn 3 crates of avocados into guacamole. After a brief tutorial on procedure and assembly, I put on my cut-proof glove (which resembled chain mail) and went to work on the hapless avocados. After slicing I pitted and arranged them on giant sheet pans. Then I scooped out the delicious innards into a bowl, mashed them about half way, added the carefully decided upon amount of red onion, cilantro, salt, jalapenos and lemon juice, then mashed them into a delicious and creamy consistency with a hand masher that was easily 3, maybe 4 feet long. Then I portioned each single batch into 3 smaller batches, sprayed the top with lemon juice to prevent browning, topped with 2 layers of plastic wrap (one layer pressed flush against the surface of the guacamole) sealed with tape and wrote the date, AM or PM and initialed my name. I then piled the nine batches that resulted into the walk in fridge where there seemed like barely enough room among the crates of meats, limes, cilantro, jalapenos and various salsas. The restaurant was already filling with the intoxicating smells of slow roasted pork, chicken and beef. About this time I took my lunch break. It was 10:30 and the restaurant would be opening in 30 minutes. All hands would be needed on deck when the customers starting piling in so the lunch and dinner breaks are usually taken early or late.
Once the customers started to file in, I helped wash the dishes. I would take a dish, rinse it, wash it, rinse it again, then submerge it in sanitizer before moving it to a drying rack. My partner in grime spoke broken English to me while I spoke broken Spanish to her. Through a series of gestures and motions we established a system that seemed pretty efficient, at least to me considering I had no professional restaurant experience. Around this time I started to notice the sounds of the restaurant. Normally music (fucking awesome music, at that) is played over the sound system so workers and patrons alike can enjoy the hip atmosphere. I noticed that the music was completely drowned out at this point by marinated meats sizzling on the grill combined with the chatter of diners sitting all around. I looked out of the kitchen porthole-style window. A line of customers snaked around the perimeter of the dining room and all of the way out of the front door. It was that sweet spot between 12:00 and 1:00.
Next I ventured into the crowded dining room. I wiped down the tables, stocked the napkins and forks, filled the ice dispenser, mopped up a spill and swept all of the errant debris that was collecting on the line behind all of my fellow workers. Throughout the day, I did this 4 or 5 times.
After a brief tutorial on bell pepper cutting and fast knife techniques, I set to dispatching a crate of peppers for fajitas. I grabbed a crate of peppers from the walk in and noticed that half of the batches of guacamole I had made that morning were already gone. In fact, the entire fridge seemed vacant compared to how I’d seen it that morning. Strangers were eating something I had made! I know it seemed like something small, but somehow it made me smile. I took a blade off of the wall magnet, honed it a few times and tried to imitate the cuts I was shown. I garnered a few positive comments (albeit in Spanish, but I understood enough to know that I wasn’t doing horrible) from my fellow coworkers. Before I knew it, it was 4:00 PM and my shift was over. I threw my apron into the trash bin (as is the custom – I might bring a few home and wash them in the washing machine if they are hardy enough to survive) and bid goodbye to everyone. My manager (maybe in his late twenties) slapped me on the back and told me I had an awesome first day. I began the one hour walk in the 90º F weather to my baby’s workplace feeling exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
It was the most physically (but not emotionally) demanding workday I had worked in a long time. Between prepping 3 cases of avocados, emptying two bins of garbage and slicing a case of bell peppers, I developed aches and pains that I know will be amplified tomorrow while I’m trying to sell a custom frame to someone who has their head jammed far up their own ass and just happens to drop the little tidbit for the millionth time that they worked at an art gallery for four years, like I should give a fuck. I am sore, I am beat and I am drained. We worked hard and fast. I didn’t have time to even sneak a smoke. Everyone depended on one another and I soon learned the dance of moving past others in the kitchen while carrying a huge tray of prepped foods while avoiding a major collision. It’s hard work. A shit-ton harder than sitting behind a desk or standing behind a framing counter. Would I do it again? Abso-fucking-lutely. Just a few hours at the job and I knew: THIS was what I was meant to do. I immediately felt more comfortable in the restaurant than I had felt in the entire 3 weeks I had been working in the frame shop. It didn’t even seem like work. It was the fastest eight and a half hours of my life, and I can’t wait to do it again in another two days.
During my walk I had a lot of time to think. My other job in the frame shop is not boding very well. The moods between the two jobs are like night and day. They recently brought in a new store manager (one of four managers I have) that likes to yell at and demean people, especially a handicapped and particularly shy girl that I happen to admire. Already I was told not to get comfortable at my restaurant job because of “big plans” that are in store for me. Honestly, I don’t think I want any part of those plans. Behind all of the product pushing and meeting quotas lurks a cadre of miserable workers – and it shows. The mood is a feeling of downtrodden and defeated coworkers. The shame is I really have come to admire the girls I work with in the frame shop and I feel that they like me. I hate to ditch after 3 weeks of working there – though they know that food is my real passion. It’s easy to say “Fuck you!” to a corporation, but the bonds you make with individuals are not so easily dismissed. Either way, working two jobs and 60-70 hours a week nonstop is going to wear thin pretty quickly. I know what I have to do, there is just no way for me to do it without feeling like a heel… especially after my awesome framing manager has been so kind to me.
I will have to quit my framing job in the future. For now, I will work both jobs in hope that I can devise a plan to leave that will allow me to sleep at night.