Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slime Dog

I worked a little in food service before I was a waiter; Taco Bell and a ball park concession stand every summer for five years and my first "real" restaurant job as a dishwasher at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour in Eugene, Oregon. Farrell's is getting popular again, at least in some areas (I don't think the one I worked at is there any more) and in the 1970s it was a really big deal. They have a full food menu, but their specialty is gay 90s era ice cream soda fountain creations served in real silver dishes and heavy beveled glass. The whole staff dressed in black and whites with "straw" hats (they were really Styrofoam) that had red, white and blue bands on them. The overall effect was sorta like an indoor political rally for William McKinley (or William Jennings Bryan, if you were a Democrat like my ancestors).

To make the atmosphere especially festive, there were constant pranks played on the customers: A large ice cream sundae called "The Trough" was served in a silver boat resting in a wooden caddy made to look like a pig's trough, and the dishwasher, bussers and cooks were enlisted to grunt and snort in the microphone whenever one was served. Also, announcements would be made over the P.A. telling folks there was "a blue car in the parking lot" to get people up, thinking they'd left their lights on. The best known of all the antics was the serving of what was called, "The Zoo." It was a huge silver bowl with several scoops of various flavors of ice cream and sherbet, covered with bananas, cherries, whipped cream, nuts, and little plastic animals (until, I understand, someone choked on a giraffe and they had to stop doing that). The Zoo served 8 people and was presented by two runners carrying it (running with it, literally) all over the restaurant on a gurney while someone played a bass drum and sirens wailed. I was often one of the runners.

The silly stuff about the job was fun. I was only 16, and I hadn't gotten bitter yet. The job itself was really hard, though. The real silver dishes held on to their heat from the dish machine, and they were painful to handle. The dishwashers were called "Slime Dog" because our aprons were always covered in slime from the food and ice cream (we took these off when we ran food), and the job was lonely. Only one dishwasher worked each shift and they worked constantly, so there wasn't much human contact beyond, "Slime Dog, we need more soda spoons!" Also, the only black shoes I owned were platform heels and my feet would ache like crazy after a shift.

I didn't work at Farrell's for very long. I got a job in an office and I thought I'd never work in restaurants again. Silly me.

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