The Outback Chronicles: Part 2

Working in the restaurant industry, when you’re not some stupid kid on Summer Break, or saving up for a car or something, you get to watch things unfold that probably wouldn’t happen outside of a restaurant kitchen.  Some things are funny and everyone tells the story for a while and laughs about it.  Other things are terrible, and you spend years drinking and trying to repress the memory.  It depends on the day you show up to work.

Down here in Bristol, we have a NASCAR racetrack.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, or have ever been here to visit it, or even follow NASCAR at all.  I don’t, I did a whole write up about how awkward that whole situation is.  But I digress, there are 2 “race weekends” a year, and our simple, slow-paced little town turns into a touristy, throbbing metropolis.  People travel from all across the nation to be here for the race, it’s crazy.  They spend tons of money to get here, tons of money to stay here, and tons of money on souvenirs, entertainment, and food.  Food being the key word in that sentence.  They go out to eat 3-4 times a day, and when the race is a few hours away, they don’t mind waiting an hour and a half to sit down and have a steak and some beer.

Tensions run high, and I mean that is putting it very, very mildly.  And Larry, one of my best friends to this day through my former job at the OS-Lounge, is a trained chef.  He is a no nonsense kind of guy, and gets the job done by any means necessary.  As I said in my previous post, Larry worked prep, he was on the back line.  When we were slow, Larry had time to relax, have a good time, and show his true colors.  During race weekends, he would help do everything involved with the inner-workings of the kitchen because he knew how to, had the physical ability to, and was willing to, no matter how hard it may have been.  He was the owner’s “Ace-in-the-Hole”.

I forgot to mention this, but it is pertinent to the story.  Before I started in the dish room of the OS-Lounge, there was another dishwasher there.  For all intents and purposes, we’re going to call him “SWard” (short for “Socially Awkward”).  I didn’t like working with him.  I worked with him, and I bit my tongue when he talked, because he was very awkward.  I didn’t want to provoke him talking to me any more than he already did.  I think a lot of people felt the same way, or at least that’s the general consensus I got while on my breaks with other employees.  One thing he did have going for him though is he was one heck of a musician.  From what I heard, he was mostly interested in the drums, and played all the time, and was rather good at them.  Other people told me stories of him playing guitar and keyboard and being at least better than average at anything else he picked up that could play music.  Okay, back to the story…

One crazy race weekend (before I had been hired on), SWard was using a crutch, and had a cast or a sling or something.  Whatever it was, he was too crippled to be working in the dish pit, so the management put him out front as a bus boy.  No one was in the dish area, and all the cooks, prep guys, and servers were pitching in to keep up with the dishes.  If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you know that is a slippery slope and can get really backed up, really fast.  That was the case at the OS-Lounge this particular night as well.  So then Larry, being the man he is, jumped back there to help get everything done, so he could get back to his regular job.  When he went around the corner, SWard was in there doing nothing but drumming on shelves and any stainless steel surface he could find.  That is the kind of thing he did all the time, even when he wasn’t crippled.

Larry then told him in a very commanding, very stern voice “You either need to get to work, or get * out of my kitchen!” (*insert whatever colorful language you’d like here).  In all honesty, you learn to take those kind of comments in stride while in a commercial kitchen.  As soon as I walk into the kitchen, I know I am the low man on the totem pole, so when someone tells me “move”, “GTFO”, “coming down”, or anything like that, that’s exactly what I do.  Also though, I never stand around on company time drumming on stuff with spoons.  In this case, SWard didn’t want to move or go back to work or anything.  So while Larry hopped to it and started pushing dishes through the machine, SWard started to get angry and hobbled himself out of the way a little bit, while cursing Larry out under his breath.

Well, another thing you know not to do around a bunch of irate cooks is to piss them off any more than they already are.  This is exactly what SWard did to Larry, and Larry is not the type of guy to mess with like that.  Especially not on race weekends.

This is my artist's rendition of why SWard shouldn't mess with Larry. And why he should have pee-pee'd himself.

When Larry tells me this story, the words he uses is “yolked-up”.  What that means is that Larry backed SWard into a corner and made it so SWard wasn’t getting away from Larry without Larry being able to do something about it.  Arm-bar, Head-lock, whatever it was, whatever you want to call it, that’s what being “yolked-up” means.

While in the corner, Larry pretty forcefully explained to SWard that if he had something to say he’d better * come out and say it.  If he didn’t have anything to say, he’d better shut * up and get * back to work.  Yes, all the asterisks mean there was some colorful language involved, way more colorful than I’d like to post on the internet, but you get the idea.  With that, SWard didn’t have anything to say, so Larry let him down, let him go, and turned to walk away.  He was walking from the dish area towards the fryers, into the cold-side of the cook line.

This will help.

As soon as Larry turned to walk away, SWard decided to start cursing Larry under his breath again.  Since Larry had already yolked-up SWard, warned him, and let him have a moment to respond, Larry didn’t take very kindly to SWard being a little girl about the situation.  Larry wanted you to say something to his face, not behind his back, (literally and figuratively) he didn’t play that game.  So Sward got hit a time or two.  He was already crippled, yes, but it wouldn’t have made a difference even if he was in great shape, and uninjured.

Pandemonium broke loose in the kitchen.  Whatever orders were being made, whatever tickets were in the window, whatever anything anyone was doing, came to a nasty halt.  Papa had to hurry his self over toward Larry, grab him and drag him to the employee bathrooms, where Larry was then locked in.  Rightfully so too.  There may have been people in that kitchen that could match, or beat Larry in speed, no one could match him for power.  So Papa was freaking out because of how volatile of a situation he was in, Ted was screaming and crying because he didn’t want to get near Larry.  SWard was threatening to call the police, and sue Larry, and the restaurant.  Everyone else in the kitchen was laughing their butts off.  I would have been too, had I been there.

Like I said, this happened before I started working there.  I kind of wish I could have seen it because apparently it was a paramount event.  Everyone talked about it later like it was epic.

I remember hearing about it when I was in one of the employee bathrooms with the employees who smoked, while we were all on break.  One of the other people in there, a waiter, said: “Yeah, if I knew we were allowed to hit one person and get away with it, I’d have hit someone like that a while back.”  Which begged me to ask the question.. what happened to Larry after that?  Lose his job?  Cops get called?  Fines & penalties?

A verbal warning.  Nothing else came of that situation.  And that, I believe is the way it should be.  Especially in any high-stress situation, or career-field.  If two people have a disagreement, they should be able to smack each other around a few times, then get back to work.

This was a few years ago, maybe the policies have changed since then.  I don’t know.  I do know, and can tell you that back then, the owner/manager had a bail bondsman on speed dial because of the staff.  That’s right, on more than one occasion the management had to bail out their better cooks/preps to make sure they made it to work.  They also had to invest in a breathalyzer so that people would stop showing up to work plastered.  So maybe a few things have changed.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s going on while things are busy at that place.  Don’t worry, there’s more to come.  Be patient.

The Jester.

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