Safety and Danger

Tragedy today at the restaurant. Mandatory meeting day, covering all of the major possibilities of tragedy: blood-borne pathogens, sexual harassment, peanut allergies. There were tests that we all magically got 100% on. The manager tried to get us to do the wave to build our sense of unity and teamwork and as a unified team, we all remained in our seats, arms in our laps. I still consider her a failure. I made a list of terrible things I could call my superiors based on the sexual harassment lesson, my favorite being “Penetration Hazard,” for the woman with vicious-looking heels and vicious-looking eyes who constantly complains about my unkempt appearance and the surly manner in which I clean the coffee station. Her name shall be PH for short.

Everything was going as well as could be expected, until the fire drill. Like middle schoolers, we filed in an orderly fashion (some of us screaming, most of us pissed) out the back door, down the long stairwell and out into the freezing air, whereupon we were instructed to continue across the street to a park in which stood a white gazeebo. And that’s when everything went wrong.

In the food service industry, whether you are front of the house or back of the house, it is fairly safe to assume that at least 90% of the people you work with smoke, drink, do drugs, and cheat on their spouses, or at least will, with the right alchemy. That is not to say that food service people do not have morals, just that they possess morals which are different from, say, people who got their masters in Library Science, and while there may be one or two in the bunch who will flatly refuse to participate in one or even all of these activities, you can rest assured that they will be useless when you need them the most, too vocal when you need them the least, and will take advantage of the high rate of turnover, leaving in disgust at the rest of you before the berries that garnish the milk custard have even gone out of season. I am not at all surprised that the gazeebo caught fire. In fact, I am surprised that it did not happen in any of the years prior. What disgusts me was the lack of a back-up plan, the utter unpreparedness for our Meeting Place in the Event of a Fire (MPEF) also catching fire.

There had been a few of us, who were not for the record anywhere near the fire at its onset, who had been asking each other, fearfully, what if the gazeebo catches fire? What then, Chad? What will we do then? and here it was, for we had had such foresight but our managers had not, and we stood there, smoking our cigarettes at a safe distance while our bright-eyed and once-smiling new-hires complained of singed faces, having taken our suggestion to light their cigarettes on the burning structure (go ahead, do it, Sam, it’ll be badass) and paid for such wisdom dearly. While the fire department was called from contraband cellphones (the owners later written up for having them on while on company time), we talked about going to get a drink and where and a few of us pulled flasks from the insides of our coats, most of the providers the ones already in the restaurant’s uniforms, and we stood in the cold, getting warmer by the fire and the whiskey, saying oh what a world, what a world, while our managers ran back and forth in frustration, and the wiser of us giggled about the irony. We were having such a merry time of it that very few people noticed that the ongoing traffic had taken out a couple of our food-runners and that the pasta ladies had fled the scene after the first mention of police.

After the fire was extinguished, the injured food-runners and trainees taken to the emergency room and the pasta ladies and bartenders rounded up from a nearby tavern, we were all given time to sober up and come down before our shifts were to start at 4. I ate the sandwich I had brought in the event of the company lunch being terrible (as it often was) and told my manager that I was going to take off for a bit. He waved his hand and rolled his eyes and I left without any more questions. In the book store up the street, I took a seat by a window in the cafe and sipped on my warm coffee while the wind blew everything everywhere and the sky darkened in the threat of rain. I caught a glimpse of one of the servers in another part of the restaurant, a server I had become a little smitten with. I put the book up over my face and chose a seat impossible to view from his. I settled back down again, put on my sunglasses and stared hard out the window until he left. The great thing about days like this is that I always feel grateful, so insanely fucking grateful, not to be in love with anyone.

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