Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Garbage Night

It started out as a normal night at work. It ended with me stuck in a freight elevator full of a couple dozen bags of wet garbage, partially open to the outside 27 degree Fahrenheit air, wearing no layers over my shirt at 3 AM.

I got to 230 on Fifth, the club where I am a server for private parties, on time at 7:30. As of New Years Day, we were no longer independent contractors, paid flat rates for parties ($30/hr, minus the first hour of work) and were now punching in and out at a standard $20/hr. Not as drastic a pay decrease as it reads, when you do the math, but it's still a pay cut. Nobody's very happy.

The party I've been called in for is a sit-down dinner. Fortunately it's a set menu, so I don't have to take orders. Unfortunately I have three tables with ten seats each to take care of, one of which is the VIP organizers table. The fun part is that the 300-person party is from Paris. Hardly a single guest speaks English, and many of them seem completely confounded by our inability to speak French.

It wasn't a grueling party, but it wasn't all that easy, either. I was told I'd be working from 7:30pm until 1am. By 12:30am, I was good and ready for what's called "Family Meal" where the kitchen feeds us dinner if we've been working long enough. The food they'd been serving our guests looked great, and we usually got the unserved extras from their dinner.

1am rolled around, and the party only showed the slightest signs of slowing down.  I glanced in on the kitchen, and found a massive bowl of what looked like what the farming side of my family would have called Pig Slop. There were a lot of ingredients, none clearly recognizable or appealing. That was family dinner.

1:30am, and we were finally given the signal to break down the tables and chairs, around some of the scattered guests who were still there.

Now, this is usually the end of the night. What we are expected to do as servers is mostly serve. There's some setup involved occasionally. Every once in a while we help break down tables and chairs. Blow out candles. That sort of thing. They like our all-black uniforms to look clean so that's usually the end of it.

Not this night. 1:45am the men were pulled aside to do some more heavy lifting and the women were released. 2:00am our boss decided that we male servers would be taking out the garbage for the party. Something we've never had to do before. Several guys made it clear that they did not think this was part of their job description.

I stepped up while the others complained and did most of the initial work. Three of us went down with the main garbage guy, Sebastian, in the freight elevator to the basement. From there, we hauled a couple dozen broken garbage bags to the other side of the basement to another freight elevator that opened up to the street. I don't know how but several of them left a trail of bright pink slime in their wake. I came close more than once to slipping and falling in it.

Then when one load went out to the street, they pointed out the other closet full of garbage we hadn't seen before, and the three of us were told to load that up. I had to convince the others to come and actually do the work (the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can leave). We started loading up the second freight elevator again while the building super told us loudly that we'd have to mop the floor after we were done.

The other two guys started getting sacks from the second load that had been sent down by our friends from upstairs, who had clearly left, leaving us the rest of the work. Sebastian and I loaded up the elevator to the street, and got in. We closed the doors and hit the street level button.

The elevator stalled briefly, and I had to fish out a piece of rope from under the door. Then the elevator kept going.

"Man," Sebastian said in his Mexican accent "It would really suck if this thing got stuck, huh?"

I really wish he hadn't said that.

Sure enough, five feet later, the elevator stalled again. This time the panel showing which floor just said "ST." Keep in mind, this thing opens up directly to the street, and there's a gap of several inches open when the door is closed. I'm still in my serving uniform of slacks and button down shirt. I don't even have an undershirt on. It's below freezing out there, and naturally it smells only the way several dozen sacks of wet garbage can.

We were stuck there like that for about half an hour or more. I suggested a way to get the doors open from the inside. We were close enough to the street that it was only a very short climb up and out. At first he said we should stay because we'd need to talk to the building staff when the thing was being fixed. After another ten minutes or so of small talk, he finally noted that I was in a single shirt while he was wearing a sweater. He said I could go.

We hauled the interior door open by the rope, and I managed to reach the latches for the outside door and climb out into the street.

When I went around back through the lobby and up to the top floor to the club again, not only had all of the other servers left, but so had our boss. The kitchen staff was there though, and I managed to catch one of them just as he was about to shovel the rest of the pig slop into the trash. It was cold, and didn't taste much better than it looked, but it was the first food I'd eaten in over seven hours. The kitchen guys felt kinda bad for me and got me some mashed potatoes, too. I think speaking Spanish helps in these situations.

I used to sort of like this job.

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