Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Try to relax and enjoy the crisis"--Ashliegh Brilliant

"My throat was parched and my entire body was leprous with cuts, yet my mind was exceedingly clear. I knew I was in deep shit. I didn't know how deep--just that I still hadn't touched bottom"--Sol Luckman

It is a beautiful late spring here, heading for summer. Nights still have a touch of cool, though not terribly much, but winter is clearly long gone unless something freak should occur. Within the old stone office building in which we are housed the AC is on and has been cranking for a few weeks. Alot of bright light is reflected off the surrounding concrete into our floor-to-ceiling windows, heat rises from the parking garage below, and our space does not breathe. The AC's are on lightly right now, but without them it would quickly get to 85 degrees in the dining room, even without 450 teeming bodies.

With 450 teeming bodies, the mercury hits 89 degrees. If you are wondering how I know this so specifically, it is because I spent last Saturday running a full-to-the-brim restaurant that had no functioning AC. Or refrigeration. Or icemakers.

What I experienced four days ago, and can only just now look back on without becoming anxious, was the restaurant manager's version of a waking "weed dream". When I was a bus boy the "weed dreams" centered around 500 dirty tablecloths or plates that weighed 60lbs empty or having to run two blocks to find a working sink to fill up the water pitchers. When I was a waiter I would have tables everywhere, including at other restaurants, would wait in line for hours to use the POS, and would forget all the orders that I normally took by memory without fail. As a bartender every bottle would be empty, every glass I picked up would break in the ice, and every guest would be drunk and spoiling for a fight. Now, the dreams have become slightly more esoteric--the complaint call that describes the worst restaurant experience EVER, the valet parking booth suddenly staffed with chimpanzees, the meat crawling with maggots, and lastly but just as terrifying the catastrophic equipment failure in a full restaurant--AC, broiler, lights, you name it. Every dream ends the same--with some version of me sitting bolt upright in bed slimy with sweat--first bewildered, then relieved, and then furious at the loss of valuable rest.

This Saturday, there was no end to the nightmare no matter how many times I pinched myself.

At 6:45pm Saturday evening the entire operating mechanism for the building's cooling tower [also known as a "chiller"], the gigantic piece of equipment that regulates all the cooling and refrigeration equipment in the entire building, expolded into a million pieces. First it was a bit still, then stuffy, then a little humid, then sticky, then warm, then "I NEED TO SEE A MANAGER!" Just about the time everyone started screaming for me was also the exact moment we served some poor gentleman a rocks glass with a razor-sharp splintered edge while outside a homeless person was attempting to make off with the purse belonging to of one of our [luckily] departing early diners.

I spent the next five hours explaining, sweating, cajoling, sweating, apologizing, sweating, comping, sweating, drinking, sweating, cursing, and sweating. Under the best of circumstances, I will sweat through the collar and collarbone-area of my shirt on any busy night--this particular evening I sweated through not just the shirt but the suit as well, both jacket and pants. The two other restaurants in our building simply gave up and closed, but we just had too much business, and too many people who still elected to stay even after being told of the problem.

In the end, it was a mixed bag. I was incredibly lucky that we cut open the lip of one of the most gracious human beings I have ever encountered. I was disappointed that I didn't have the time to pummel the would-be purse snatcher myself, but pleased that his attempted caper was a failure. I was somewhat horrifed to encounter a small group of people who attempted to use the situation, wholly beyond our control, to their advantage but was overwhelmed by the huge number of guests who took the situation in stride and considered it almost a challenge to enjoy themselves regardless of the opressive temperature. I made an extra $500 in sympathy tips beyond my average Saturday night haul, and delighted in blowing it on a huge drink tab for my staff at a nearby, air conditioned bar after the shift. I ate my dinner at one of our outside tables for the first time in ten years, but found the chairs a little uncomfortable after about twenty minutes. I got to bed a little later than usual, but wasn't the least bit afraid to dream.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't give up. We still love your stuff, even when our comments have a hard time showing up.For all of us. Most of my comments don't show up, but I don't blame you. Thnak you so much for your blog. Bob

6:58 PM  
Blogger Food Service Ninja said...

i once waited in a downtown restaurant that started out as a deli then a tornado hit downtown and the deli shut up that night and they never came back. 18 months later when refitting to my then employer's place they found the soup still in the soup warmers.

The problem happened in summer after they opened. Mind you a 20 block area is owned by an oil billionaire who doesnt employ maintainence men he has engineers who cant fix shit to save their lives nor are they too bright as engineers. He also like McDonald's forces you to use a select list of contractors who bleed you on their billing.

Since they didnt think to add AC capacity when the restaurant added a vent a hood in their open kitchen that sucked up 75% of the air flow by the AC when it operated at max efficiency. Initially they found only the registers were bad. Further complicating the whole deal was the ac unit was 10 floors above us and I suspect poorly insulated.

We put a temp gauge from the walk in on the host stand which was a good 20 feet into the restaurant from the front door. It hit 97 degrees-people would walk out before they got sat.

7:58 AM  

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