Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Religion is what an individual does with his solitariness"--Alfred North Whitehead

"Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character"--James Lowell

Few people understand the surreal experience of being alone in a big restaurant, especially when that solitude follows eight to twelve hours of absolute chaos. No cooks, no waiters, no asst. managers. Porters gone, dishwashers finished, valets packed up, and cleaners not due in for another two hours. By yourself-- perched at the bar, sprawled in a booth, or lazing in the lounge.

The aromas linger and some of the machinery still hums--the furniture and even the walls themselves still pulse with the residual energy of so many recently departed guests, but the vibe itself is utterly unique.

Very often I spend this real "down time" in my hovel of an office, On rare occasion however, like this past Sunday, I take a pad and move from the back of the restaurant toward the front door. First, I silence the roar of the exhaust hoods [most restaurants turn their hoods off at the end of service each night, but in older properties like ours elderly pilots and gas nozzles pose too much of a threat to be left unventilated and our hoods almost never get shut off]. As I move forward in the guest areas I make notes on repairs, dusting needs, dark bulbs, stains, smudges, etc. Once in the front room I double check the locks, take off my jacket, loosen my tie, pour myself a drink, and settle into one of our very comfortable lounge chairs.

I'm looking in the direction of one of the bar TV's but not really watching it--my attention is actually transfixed on my cocktail as I note for the first time [though not with surprise] that vodka and ice have a true, albeit subdued, beauty. The tension of my week slowly subsides in time with the level of my beveragel. I notice that I can hear the bar coolers, and recognize that one of them is too loud--the door is ajar. As this is a perfect excuse to freshen my drink I quickly rise to remedy the problem.

I see that a spotlight above the door has been knocked askew, probably the last time the bulb was changed, and I notice that the flowers behind the piano are starting to wilt. I see tiny handprints low on our front door [Sunday is family night in the restaurant] and am disappointed but not shocked as I also spy the dirty plate that once carried a crabcake appetizer partially hidden on a side station shelf--the waiter who was in that station that evening is not particularly good.

In the empty restaurant I do not see the performance, I see only the stage--during service I am both the director and a cast member--but right now I am simply the production manager, thankful for the dark and quiet and glad to have another weeks' receipts in the books.

This show has run for more than a decade in the same playhouse. I know the nooks and the crannies, the attic and the basement. I can tell you from air flow if a front or a back door is open, and can identify any individual piece of machinery by the sound it makes while running. This building and I are partners, at the same time we are old friends and long-time foes.

I want another drink, but realize that I forgot to eat dinner and that vodka #3 would be filling an empty stomach. After briefly considering having the drink anyway and bedding down in the restaurant [I have done it before on numerous occasions--some planned, some not], I decide to let maturity rear its ugly head for a change and head for my car.

As I start to think about my day off tomorrow I realize that today was my day off, and that I have another six nights ahead of me [at least] before the opportunity will present itself again. I think fleetingly again about that third drink, but the aches and pains awoken simply by walking to my car convince me that I need the rest more than I need the vodka--restaurants and drinking are both young men's games, and while I am a durable man I am certainly no longer a young man.


Anonymous restaurant Gal said...

Although I always enjoy your writing, this particular post is wonderful.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Ex-restaurant manager said...

You voiced what many of us have experienced so eloquently. Those with integrity take notes to follow through on. Those without the heart for the business, take fleeting mental notes, pour another drink, and move on, leaving someone else to shoulder the burden. We know which one you are, LOH.

8:00 PM  

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