Sunday, December 23, 2007

I'm a Cooking Machine...Look Out Emeril

The one way that's always worked for me to get in the Christmas Spirit was to bake and cook. That's what I accomplished today, well, that and demolishing 2 bottles of a great, cheap Oregon Pinot Noir.

I took it upon myself to help Step-Mom (SM) a bit more this year. Last year was my first Christmas in Pensacola, was living with someone else's kitchen, and was the Sous Chef, Busser, Banquet Captain, Setter-Upper type person.

This year is different. I've got my own place, all my possessions are in one place, for the first time since '03. Cookie sheets, stainless-steel measuring spoons, all the accoutrements to follow through on any of 100's of recipes that have been waiting, patiently.

First, I made Sharp Cheddar Cookies from BLOGHUNGRY, They turned out great, should be great as a snack tomorrow.

Then, I put on my cranberry sauce. I couldn't find my old recipe I used 5 years ago, so I combined a few, and worked them in with my memories (shaky at best). I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but may have to add in some gelatin tomorrow.

After that, on to Grandma Hazel's Cookie/Candy. It was much drier tonight, but not quite what it would be in Michigan. I guess that's why I've only seen them way up North.

Through in some laundry, chattin' on the phone to my aunt/sisters, and doing some cleaning, and it's been a fairly productive Sunday.

Tomorrow should be a short day, traditionally we close at noon on Christmas Eve. Then, I can make Banana Pudding for the second time in 45 days. yummy, but a pain in the derrierre.

Happy Holidays to All!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Cheer

When I first started with this company, I was regaled with how the owners were so 'giving' and how they treated us so well during the holidays. I was giddy with anticipation, as today was our holiday party.

In years past, the party was given at the swankiest restaurant in town. White tablecloth, crumbers at the ready, vintage wine, all the best.

This year, lunch at Carrabas. Beer and wine was included, as long as you drug your own ass up to the bar. And the bartender was not the most jolly of fellows. Nor the fastest of pourers. And the Shiraz was Yellowtail, all of $10 per 1.5 liter at your nearest Wally-world. (I'm not a wine-snob, but really)

We all started out with Caesar salads, over-dressed and a bit soggy, but on nicely chilled plates.

My steak was done just right, medium-rare, but those around me were less than thrilled. Quite ordinary for a banquet type setting.

Better yet, we were all awaiting the envelopes that were distributed after the heart-filled speech given by our Leader. Interjected with Bible quotes.

I opened the envelope later after leaving. It would be gauche to open it up amidst the masses.

$100. Thanks, now I can afford 2/3rds of one tire of the four that I need to replace after running all over two counties to drum up business for you.

I'm underwhelmed, to say the least.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Google Surprises.

Have any of you googled yourself before? It's a very enlightening thing. For shits-and-giggles, I did. The third item states in big letters:

Ex-Restaurant Manager Charged in Sexual Abuse...

I may have to change my chosen name.

I swear that I've never been to Salt Lake City. Really. Cross my heart.

Maybe I should be Former Restaurant Manager?

The Secret Recipe...Shhhh...Don't Tell Anyone.

This recipe was handed down for generations. I might get kicked out of the family for divulging it, but screw it, I'm the only one with the balls to still make it. It's not easy, even though it only has 5 ingredients. It's all in the execution.

Grandma Hazel's Cookie/Candy

1 egg white
1 cup light brown sugar (must be fresh or you have to sift it [pain in the ass])
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans (buy the halves and manually break up into 4 or six pieces. Save the prettiest
ones [approx. 24] to put on top of cookies)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg white with mixer until stiff peaks form. Add brown sugar a little at a time, until thoroughly blended. Add vanilla and salt until well integrated. Mix should still be pretty stiff. Back away from the mixer. Have some egg-nog. Add in broken pecan pieces until all are well coated.

On ungreased cookie sheets, drop mixture by teaspoons. Place one pretty pecan half on each cookie, making sure it has contact with brown sugar mixture, but don't press too hard.

Bake for 30 minutes (baking time may vary, blah, blah, blah, see helpful pointers below). Set cookie sheets aside to cool completely. After 10 - 15 minutes cookies should pop right off the pans.

Tips for successful cookies:

If you live in Florida, do not make these on a humid day. You want them to be crunchy.
Moisture = no crunchy. Those up North should not have a problem this time of year. Do
not refrigerate, the humidity in the fridge will make them dissolve. Keep in a cool, dry
place for up to a week.

This recipe can be doubled, but do not triple or quadruple it. These take a long time to cook,
so you don't want this to sit for a long time. The brown sugar tends to re-crystalize after
a while.

Do a trial run first with a 1x batch. If the cookies are chewy in the middle, add 5 - 10 minutes
cooking time (they will still be yummy, but when they are that perfect crunchiness, they
are sublime). They should almost shatter when you take the first bite.

The best rule is to have 4 cookie sheets. While the first two are cooling, the other two can be
baking. If you double the recipe, you will have to scrub the pans before using again, for
they leave a deposit after popping them off.

I give these as Christmas presents to co-workers and others in those foldable boxes you can
buy. Place a paper towel in the bottom for cushioning and they should be fine. The most
successful present I ever gave was to my aunt. I bought an antique glass Hoosier jar and
filled it with these cookies. She thought I had stolen Grandma Hazel's cookie jar. Happy
tears ensued.

These go excellent with a hot cappuccino or latte while watching your favorite Christmas cartoon (The Grinch being my favorite. The original. Not Jim Carrey's over-acted version). Good luck and if you make them, let me know how it goes!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Cookies and Memories

My earliest memories of the holiday season regard going to my great-grandmother's house. It was usually a 2 or 3 car processional, since my mom was the oldest of 7. I remember being on a lot of laps. Yes, this was way before laws regarding child retention in cars, Britney notwithstanding.

The drive up was not long, approximately 90 minutes or so. But we were always squirming in our seat (and laps), awaiting the festivities to come. Grandma's house had much to recommend.

First, was pulling into the quaint old town my great-grandma lived in, Camden, Michigan. Clean, well-manicured, turn-of-the-century houses line the streets. No 'bad side of town' to be had. There was a nifty soda shop/5 and dime, a small department store, a furniture store, and other small businesses at the main cross-street. Nobody does the holidays like small towns in the Midwest, and we always oohed and ahhed at the decorations in the windows.

Next was pulling up in front of my great-grandma's house, just off the downtown area. A quaint (there's that word again) stick house with a large porch and lots of gingerbread detailing, always painted a pristine white. We'd stand in line, usually tallest to shortest, and give Grandma Hazel a tight hug, usually commenting how we were catching up to her petite stature.

After the greet was what we were all waiting for. Who cares about the presents? The tree had no relevance to us yet. Our main object of affection was the back pantry and the Hoosier cabinet stationed there. For inside were the cookie jars of the Gods. No one, and I repeat no one, could make cookies like my Grandma Hazel. There were usually at least 3 large glass jars with tin lids. Each held a different variety, all delicious, my favorite being the Brown Sugar - Pecan delicacies referred to as Grandma Hazel's Cookie/Candy. It was like Amazing Race getting to the cookie jars, pushing, elbowing, even though there were enough for everyone, and then some.

After the great sugar massacre, all us kids were shussed outside to play, while the grown-ups got dinner together and chit-chatted. We had plenty to keep us busy. There was the old-fashioned water pump in the backyard that endlessly fascinated us. Unless it was frozen solid. From there, we'd hit up the veterinarian across the street to say 'hi' and see if he had any cute dogs in. If he was not there, we'd go for the main object of our adventures, the abandoned school down the street.

It was a neat old school, abandoned when small-town schools fell prey to larger, incorporated school districts. We usually found a way inside (breaking and entering was a foreign concept to us back then), and would explore the dusty rooms, keeping us occupied until an older relative was sent to fetch us.

All in all, good times. All good memories, as if nothing bad ever happened. The only bad thing I can remember is how long my grandma would take to unwrap her presents. Methodically and pain-stakingly unsticking each piece of tape, so as not to tear any of the beautiful wrapping paper. Then folding each piece as if it were the finest silk. It must have come from depression days, but we did not have the patience she had. And we had to wait for her to open each present before we could open another one. Faster, Grandma, faster!

All of this comes flooding back because I made a practice batch of my Grandma Hazel's famous cookie/candy. I'm the only one left who still makes them because they are such a pain in the ass. But, oh, so worth it. This week, I'll post this super secret recipe. Tune in, you won't be disappointed.

By the way, the cookies only turned out so-so. It was way too humid today. And 75 degrees. Eat your heart out, Northerners!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sweet, Sweet Justice

With age comes the realisation that risk comes with repercussions. I've had my sports car moments, those nightclub bacchanals, challenging normal and safe and sane. Things have changed since then. Been there and done that, according to the title of this little blog.

Years in the restaurant biz have taught me patience, the up-side of orderliness, how rules and laws lead to structure.

Which is why this morning's commute made my day, nay my week.

I'll preface this by saying that I hate people who weave in and out, and out and in, of traffic to gain 10 extra feet of asphalt. Eons ago, I was one of those who could not abide that traffic abomination who left an extra car length between them and the car ahead. Those people obviously had too much time on their hands! Get out of my way! I have places to be and people to see!

Now, I take solitude knowing that if I stay in one lane, and one lane only, I will end up in the same place at the same time as those who weave in and out wantonly. I giggle to myself when I pull up to a stoplight at the same time as one who I've observed trying to be a speed-demon.

And why this morning was so gleefully rewarding.

An impatient woman made her presence know from the time I entered traffic this morning commute. She was in a shiny new red Toyota RAV4, and was noticeable changing lanes many times amongst the orderly bumper-to-bumper traffic. But she never seemed to gain any ground, always staying within sight, no matter how many times she cut in and out. I've always remarked to myself that there ought to be a law limiting how many lane changes someone should be allowed each mile travelled. (I know I sound like an old fogey, but really, in slow-moving, orderly traffic, what's the use?)

The big bottle-neck I face each morning is approaching Gulf Breeze High School. Four lanes turn into three with people trying to merge from one side to the other for various reasons. The speed changes from 45 to 35, and then to 20 in the school zone. The far left lane often gets backed up with those needing to turn into the school. Just past the turn lane, it turns into a long expanse of open lane, beckoning those who are patience-challenged. And the perfect place for a cop with a laser gun.

Miss red RAV4 couldn't pass up the opportunity to swerve to the left and zoom past all of us lemmings in the middle lane. I was doing my usual 24 in the 20mph school zone, and she left me in her dust.

And there was Gulf Breeze's finest, where he should have been. One slammed door, two chirping tires, many swirling lights, and one fist pumped in approval signalled someone finally getting her due.

I hope I wasn't the only one celebrating. Speeding in a school zone has grave consequences at worst. I'm hoping the hit to Miss Rav4's pocketbook will make her think twice about why she's in such a damn hurry.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What Can You Say....

Every once in a while, we happen upon someone who touches our emotions in a way we don't expect strangers to do. A seemingly normal woman, 70ish, 80ish, entered my store looking over assorted cooking paraphernalia.

"Hi, how are you? What can I help you with today?"

"Well, I'm looking for a coffee cup that's not too heavy. Not one of those porcelain ones. Those get too heavy when you add coffee."

"Okay, so you're looking for maybe a plastic or melamine cup?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"Right this way, we have a small selection of those, not too many restaurants request that, but we have some that we sell by the each. Here we are, but I'm afraid these we have are not the most fashionable of colors."

"Oh, The colors don't matter much, as long as they're not too heavy."

By now, I've noticed the not-quite-straight fingers signalling arthritic digits. I've also noticed a slight down-trodden attitude from this amiable, but sullen woman. Wanting to fill the silence that has intruded, I probe for a talking point.

"Have you visited our store before?"

"Oh yes, I've been here 3 or 4 times before with my late husband. He absolutely loved to cook. It was his passion. He could shop for pots and pans for hours, but not me. This was his world, and I only came because he loved it so."

"So he was the cook in the family?"

"Definately, I hardly boiled water, but he spent many hours cooking for us and for friends and family. I have so many big pots and pans, I don't know what to do with them. I don't use them, and I can't handle them very well either."

At this point, she was getting semi-emotional, which was getting me big time. It was obviously a fairly recent loss, but she remained fairly composed. I blathered on a bit about how I love to cook, and how many pans I have also, blah..blah...blah. What I wanted to do was to hug this poor woman who was missing her late husband so much. The store had no pull for her beyond it's magnetic pull for her deceased spouse.

She was looking over these salmon-colored melamine coffee cups we had that had probably been there since Madonna was a virgin. They had a riduculously high price on them, and she said that they were more than she had planned on. She probably didn't need them, but wanted something from the place her husband felt so at home.

"Let me look these up on the computer. I can probably get you a better price than that, they look like we've had them awhile." (Probably from when I still had a full head of hair)

She started talking more about her late husband, how much he loved to cook, and how she never got that involved with that aspect of his life. I stood there, trying to respond to her small talk, trying not to get too involved, all to no avail.

Although I didn't ask, her loss must have been recent, and I felt the deepness of her emptiness. It really touched something within me, and I had a hard time not succombing to my feelings. She truly exuded that much pain and loneliness.

I only wish there will be someone who feels that way about me someday. And I wanted to tell her how lucky she truly was.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Honey, Sweetie, Darlin', Buddy

Whether buying a six-pack of brew, a new pair of shoes, or lunch at the local eatery, I'm continuously astounded at the lack of manners shown by service personnel. Call me "old-school" if you will, but, until you know me better, my name is "Sir". This phenomenon is more prevalent here in the deep South, but the virus has spread wherever I go.

I remember a sweet, young thing named Allison in Massachusetts who was one of my best servers. Hard-working and with a permanent smile, she was a breeze to manage. I never had a complaint about her until one day a table of business men responded with silence when questioned about how their lunch was going. One man, obviously struggling with the decision, finally told me, "Allison is sweet, and a good server, but when we're out on a business lunch with our customers, we feel being addressed as 'Sweetie' is a bit unprofessional". I wholeheartedly agreed with him, apologized, and told him I'd take care of it without telling her where the criticism came from. At the first opportunity, I pulled her aside, and let her know that I had overheard her addressing patrons as 'Sweetie', and as calmly as possible told her to refrain from this too-personal addressing of guests. 'Gentlemen' was thrown out as a possible replacement, while also explaining the professionalism might also incur higher tips as well. With big puppy-dog eyes, she agreed. I made it a point to be within earshot more often as she was greeting tables. She had a hard time learning this new technique and was caught many times. Finally, tough love had to be employed. "Allison, unless you want to be waiting tables at Denny's (no affront to those of you who may work there, I swear!), do not address tables as sweetie, honey, or darlin".

She was never the same after that. I guess it threw her off her stride or something. But, there are some things that just won't fly if you're trying to project an upscale image. Like chewing gum, my personal bugaboo. I know it's my personal upbringing, but seeing someone chew gum with their mouth open makes me think of cows chewing their cud. In my opinion (as humble as that may be), it instantly takes 20 points off your I.Q. One of my current peers does it, and it drives me bat-shit. Whenever I would see one of my servers sneaking a chew, I would grab a bev-nap, walk up to them, wherever they were (not in front of their guests), hold it out, and say, "Spit it out!" (I would, however, do it in front of their peers, to prove a point). If they were worried about their breath, I would offer them a mint from my briefcase (my man-purse I would joke). I still kid my dad about my gum aversion, since he was the one who instilled that into my psyche.

I had lunch a couple of weeks ago at a Denny's. Everything went fine until my male server greeted me. A server young enough to be my son, if I had been so inclined. "Hi buddy, what can I get you?" Long pause. This is not my restaurant, keep calm. I went on with my order. He did a really good job with all the steps of service, but each visit was injected with the sobriquet 'buddy'. "More sweet tea, buddy?" "Would you like dessert today, buddy?" "I'll be right back with your check, buddy." At least 8 times I was addressed as 'buddy'. It's a wonder I could chew with my teeth clenched and tongue bitten like they were. What's worse, the table of women next to me were addressed as "ladies" throughout their meal. I know, I should have done him a favor and left him a nice little note, but I constantly remind myself that I'm not in the business anymore. People couldn't care less about my experience, and are not looking for tips on how to improve their service. I just left him 20% and left, wishing I had the balls to say something.

Twenty years ago, I would have replied to being called 'Sir' with the standard, "I'm not 'Sir', that's my dad". When I was a server, I was guilty of calling tables 'you guys', as in "Would you guys like to see the wine list?" Or the other stand-by was 'you folks'. With experience and age, one learns that tables like to be called 'ladies and gentlemen', whether they are or not. Now I like to be called 'Sir', and don't take it as an affront. I view it as respect.

And next time, I'm leaving a note if they don't.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Catching Up

Sorry, everyone, for the lack of posts lately. Like many of you, this is a hectic time of year. I just returned Sunday from the frigid North, giving Thanks with relatives I haven't seen in way too long. Since so much has happened in the last two weeks, I'm going to write this in a non-associative, stream-of-consciousness type of word-play. In other words, I can't be bothered to write 20 posts, catagorized by time-lines, locations, etc. I can get lazy, don't ya know. So sue me.

*Flying has changed a lot since the last time I braved the wild blue yonder. The changes I've noticed:

People dress a bit nicer than before. Used to be, I was horrified at the amount of sweat-suits
everyone wore to travel in. Grannies, fatties, and everyone else were wearing togs that I
would not be seen in public (besides the gym) in. Public decency seems to have won out over
absolute comfort. I wonder where that came from?

The employees at check-in are alot nicer than they used to be. I was met by a friendly
woman at the Pensacola Airport Delta check-in (at 4:15am) who was so chipper. She
checked my reservation time, "Good job, you're here over 1-1/2 hours early!". She weighed
my bag, "50 pounds, good job!". I think she used to be a kindergarten teacher. Or she has
access to really good drugs. Pass them on, Alicia!

Flight attendants: No changes. Still as aloof and fake-smiley as before. Can you get any faker than you are? Is that part of your training? I know you're paid for shit, but you know that from the get-go, so what's up with that? You're a glorified waitress, for goodness sakes! And don't remind me about the "safety" shit and all that. Burger King cashiers deal with more emergencies that you do. Get over yourselves already.

*How do you respond when a relative (who looks like death warmed over), tells you that you haven't changed a bit? Do you say, "Thanks, you too!"? I usually say, "Thanks for lyin'!" and change the subject. Really, some people really let themselves go. It makes me feal good, but also bad at the same time.

*Flying in and out of Atlanta, the thing I noticed the most was how brown all the lawns were. No green anywhere. All the colorful leaves were gorgeous, but the lawns were dead. How sad.

*All my fears about flying out late on Sunday (on the worst-in-the-nation rated airline) were realized. Luckily, I was at the airport 3 hours early to see off my aunt, who was leaving earlier. Instead of a two-leg trip, it turned into a 3-leg. And a lot of rushing. And finger-crossing. But it all ended well, except for a flat tire on my waiting vehicle. Luckily, I keep an inflator in my car.

*I have one aunt who I'm closer to than any other relative. It's been five days absent and I miss her desperately. She's the one that will drive me to tears upon seperation. I just got off the phone with her, and I'm having a hard time right now. [small break]

*Being non-communicative with my mother makes it difficult to enjoy the holidays fully. Mother's Day is the worst, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are tough too.

*Having an uncle, who's four years younger than me, dying of cancer puts life in perspective. I have so much respect for him. He's got one son, two step-kids, four step-grankids, and one step-great grandkid.

*I have a step-cousin my age that I used to have the biggest crush on. He was the pretty boy on that side of the family. Today, he is an HIV-survivor for 15+ years. I'm no longer envious. He looks old enough to be my dad.

*I can't believe what airlines allow as carry-ons nowadays. It seems the standards have been relaxed, with people bringing on a small suitcase and a catch-all bag. I bring a regular lap-top bag only for ease, and I wish more people would follow suit. Maybe smaller carry-ons would equate to a little more knee room somehow.

All in all, there are many, many things I'm Thankful for:

+The high temperatures I left in the North are my lows.

+I've got a job I really like, with the hours I've always wanted. My job also keeps me in touch with the industry I've always been attached to, for better or worse. It will always be in my blood.

+I can make the best banana pudding on Earth.

+I like who I have become, metaphysically.

For now, that's it. As always, a work in progress.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Feast, Famine, Deluge

I read the newspapers. I subscribe to restaurant magazines online. I peruse way too many blogs dealing with the "industry". No matter what the pundits say, restaurants will not be hurt by the down-turn in the economy. Americans are not willing to sacrifice their valuable time to buy groceries, cook said groceries, and clean up their mess. We've become too spoiled, too time-challenged, to do these things ourselves. Not to say all restaurants will fare well. We have more choices than ever before. And we will have more.

There are many hungry restaurateurs-to-be waiting in the wings. Many, many people are watching Emeril, Rachel Ray, Iron Chef, Top Chef, etc., and thinking, "How hard can it be?".

The ones who do their homework will do okay. The ones with experience and do their homework will do well. The ones with foresight, a sense of quality, and respect for service, will flourish. I meet very, very few of any of them. Mostly, I see people with dollar signs in their eyes, and few dollars in their pockets.

Little do they know the expenses involved. Shiny new Vulcan ranges, Frymaster fryers, and fine linens do not come cheap. Often, these are people far removed from the economics involved with running a restaurant. I meet many acclaimed sous chefs, proficient servers, and barbecue aficionados who think that will translate to culinary stardom.

I'm sure Emeril, Alain Du Casse, or Phil Romano did not start with spanking new equipment in a pristine building. And I get tired of hearing people who are shocked at the price of brand new fryers, char-broilers, and bar-stools. It must be the Wal-Mart-isation of America. $900 for a fryer? $4 per crystal wine glass? $200 for a lemon wedger? Sorry, I cannot pull a brand-new, stainless steel reach-in freezer out of my ass for $500. Dreamer, meet Reality. Reality, dreamer.

Despite all this drama, more people than ever are looking to start their own little Tavern on the Green here in the Redneck Riviera. Some will succeed, most will be the next blurb listed under bankruptcies in the local paper. And It's getting easier to forecast who will fall by the wayside. They are the ones who think they have all the answers. Fools.

By the way, I don't really think I have all the answers. This is all opinion on my part. Lord knows, I didn't get as far as I wanted in the "biz", just learn from my short-comings.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Shoe, Meet the Other Foot

After years in the trenches of the restaurant wars, I look back in amusement and dismay at the way I treated vendors. Everyone knows what a vendor is right? He or she is that poor schlub who intrudes on your busy work day to entice you into buying their brand of rum, high-ball glass, bar stool, or two-door reach-in freezer. Hello, I am now that schlub, nice to meet you. I admit, I was borderline rude on more than one occasion to various vendors who dared intrude. I was too busy to waste my valuable time. Curt blow-offs(with eye-roll) were not unheard of. They had to accommodate my ever-changing schedule. In my twisted view of reality, they worked for me. They existed to serve me. Bow down, my subservient friend.

Kharma is a vindictive bitch, and I now experience her wrath. Luckily for me, and my creditors, I'm salary, and not commission. I'm still learning the ebb and flow after almost six months. My boss is not losing money on me by any means, but I'm still looking for that one impressive sale that will validate his faith in me (remember, I'm a feedback-junkie). Plus, I could really use a raise.

Now, there has been no pressure from above to produce bigger numbers. I manufacture plenty of that myself. I not only have to earn my salary, but that of the delivery people and the book-keepers. I keep a constant tally of profit to justify my paycheck. I actually want to make money for my company. It's sick, I know, but a precedent learned from the past.

I still have vendors who visit now, only now they are area representatives from Manitowoc, Sheila Shine, and Cambro. I've learned to listen a little closer, trying to learn from them instead of blowing them off. Please treat them right, one might be Ex-Restaurant Manager :) Or just a hard-working salesperson trying to earn a living.

Just trying to earn back some good kharma.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Just When You Thought.....

I must admit, I'm a feedback junky. I want to know how I stand with my bosses and co-workers. I welcome constructive criticism. If I have short-comings, I, I need to know. If I don't know, how can I get better? I've seen all too often what happens when a worker-bee is left to twist in the wind while management avoids communication on the subject.

We show up, we work, we feel we're earning our salary. What's the next enticement to show up for work? We know that tip, that paycheck is coming. What drives us to show up early? What drives us to dress as requested, or above the standard? Feedback junkies are usually the best-dressed, don't you know? Guilty.

I finally got some good feed-back today. Years of paranoia from my chain restaurant water-boarding had me wondering lately if this was the job for me. I still haven't produced eye-watering numbers for the company, but I'm making in-roads, I think. Today, one of our sister stores was swamped with business while the "Head Guy For This Store" (we don't really have official titles) was enjoying his vacation. I told my Boss/Son of Owner, "Hey, I worked that store. If they need help, I'll go."

"No way, Dude (He didn't really say "Dude", but he really could have), you're staying here. They can't have you"

Out of the blue, some affirmation. That's why we show up ready to work early, and ready to work, period.

Have you told an employee of yours "Thank You" today?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I think I've got an admirer. He's my neighbor. He showed up at my door tonight with a small baggie of Halloween candy and a mini-pumpkin. It was sweet...and a little creepy. Totally not my type, since I seem to favor men with more than 2 teeth. Not so much the ones with mullets and wife-beaters. He's sweet really, and one of the few at this apartment complex who actually speaks. But, still.

We're handing out candy tomorrow night while drinking beer. I must remain lucid.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Leaps of Faith

Every once in a while, when things aren't going as planned, change seems the only viable answer. Any change, any path other than the one you're stumbling down. If X doesn't work, try Z. If beating your head against a wall won't produce the results you're searching for, you stop. You reflect. You ask yourself, "Self, what do you really want to do with your life?". But what if you don't really know what you want to do? Or what you can do.

Reaching this non-conclusion only brings more uncertainty. It's akin to reaching a fork in the road with no tines. It's not a dead-end, but it's like the way out is shrouded in fog. And you've got a flat tire. And you're out of gas.

While waiting for that ray of sunshine to guide me in the right direction, I plod along the bumpy path I chose this time. I don't regret this choice, but I know there are smoother ones. I'm keeping my eyes wide open, along with my mind.

I only know that this path I'm on is temporary. Thank goodness, I can't walk this one the rest of my life.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Excuse Me, Have You Seen Noah? It's Important!

It's always interesting to see the burg you live in splashed on the national news. And, although it's not the best of news, at least it's not for a child-molester, corrupt elected politician, or a hurricane. True, a tornado is never a good thing, as I feel for those poor folks who had their houses torn asunder, cars tossed about like Scrabble tiles, and lives disrupted. But it could have been so, so much worse. Not one single fatality, not even a serious injury.

We had witnessed torrential rains inundate our area since very early Thursday morning. Solid walls of precipitation had been falling non-stop. Sleep was hard to give up, no matter how many times the snooze button blared it's warning. The best slumber occurs during rain, with a few boom-booms thrown in for good measure. Driving to work was more of the same, only more so. There's one section of 98 near Gulf Breeze High School that floods with two inches of precipitation, and we'd already had five (sometimes it's good to drive a truck). Later in Pensacola, a section of Main Street near the Waste Water Plant (hold your nose), always floods, and again, doesn't disappoint.

We're all at work talking about the torrential rains, the near-dark skies, and blah, blah, blah, when one of the salespersons gets a call from a friend at the Naval Air Station. There's a report of a tornado touching down there! Only a couple of miles away. Everyone heads to their computers, since there's no TV or radio at work. Reports start coming in about funnel sightings just down the road. Our delivery people charge into the store reporting seeing chaos while crossing the Bayou Chico bridge, cops scrambling all over, all the while talking with that giddy, hyper chatter of people who have witnessed something remarkable.

The tornado bopped around, hitting here and there and heading north, toppling cars in a Target parking lot, and peeling roofs off of taco joints. All exciting stuff, reminiscent of hurricane stories I've lived through, only smaller in scale. And the rain continued unabated. And on, and on, etc.

Waking up Friday morning, things were as usual. Rain pitter-pats conspired to make me hit the snooze button way too many times. Tap, roll over, luxuriate. First, to the "bladder evacuation facility", to the kitchen to hit the coffee ON button, then back to the bedroom to see what I could wear on "casual Friday". Stroll around, set up the ironing board, smell the sweet aroma of coffee. Pour a cup, savor that first sip, let loose that sigh of "Oh my God, coffee! Sweet!" Then, a sound interrupted my reverie: drip.....drip.....drip. Within 5 seconds I spot the cause of my interrupted bliss. There is plaster hanging from my living room ceiling. Fuck. Fuckity-Fuck.

It's not too bad. Only a wet rug, but damn. Now I have to contact the office. There will be people coming into my sanctuary to look around and judge (just like we all would) while I'm not there. I can't just take the day off for a one-foot-square of ceiling hanging there.

But I can postpone going in to work a little while. And now, I have to straighten up. That cereal bowl has to go in the dishwasher. Those clothes tossed casually next to the linen basket have to be actually inserted inside. Back to savoring that cup of coffee. No rush to iron that shirt now. Better take some pics with the cell phone for proof. Stroll into work an hour late, no biggee. God, I love my job sometimes.

Anyway, 26+ inches of rain later (yes, 26+ inches of rain in 2 days) and things are back to normal. Kind of. Except for those unlucky enough to be in the path of a tornado.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are You a Leader or a Manager?

I've met and worked with many chefs and managers throughout the years. With a few exceptions, they can be divided into just two categories that I was taught many years ago by a wise sage. Those two categories are: leader or manager.

What's the difference, you may ask? The difference between happy and motivated employees, or grumpy, mindless zombies. Here's how you can tell the difference:

A leader motivates, a manager threatens.

A leader raises up the weakest links, a manager weeds them out.

A leader focuses on problem-solving, a manager assigns blame.

A leader praises hard work, a manager demands it.

A leader accepts praise for the team, a manager grabs it for himself.

A leader works more hours than their charges, a manager scoots at the first sign of a break.

A leader spends 99% of their time on the floor, a manager spends 50% in the office getting the paperwork done early.

A leader gives praise in public and condemnation in private. A manager the opposite.

A leader leaves his private life at home, a manager lives it at work.

Which was I? I fought hard to be a leader. Leaders are looked at with fear by chain restaurants. They are thought to be Mavericks, totally unpromotable and unpredictable. Managers are rewarded with many opportunities. Am I bitter? Yes. Do I have regrets? No. Ummmmm....yes. I wish I had never wasted my time with chain restaurants.

Now, this may seem like sour grapes to some readers, but it's really not. If I can help someone avoid the mistakes I made, it will be worth it. If it makes a manager or two look at themselves in the mirror differently, it will be worth it. If I make a server's ( or dishwasher's, or hostess's, or busser's, or line cook's, etc.) day a little get the idea.

Are you a leader or a manager?

Just remember to treat your friendly, neighborhood salesman nicely. He might have been in your shoes once. And he (or she) might be more help than you ever imagined.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

There But for the Grace of God........

Anyone happening upon the city of Pensacola, Florida for the first time will discover many things. First, an inordinate amount of garbage, detritus, and litter lining many roadways (future blog-post, for sure). Second, what many possibilities there are for a true destination-type city: beautiful bays and vistas, historical architecture that has stood the test of time (and hurricanes), and amazingly friendly, truly hospitable people. Third, with many miles of city streets navigated, a preponderance of pan-handlers.

Now, when I lived in South Florida, there were many pan-handlers, true. The intersection of Biscayne Blvd. and 163rd, close to where I worked, had one on duty from dusk till dawn. The difference was, down there, they were selling a little newspaper (the name escapes me), or flowers, or sunglasses, or something. Up here in the "panhandle", they sit on the corner with a little cardboard sign, cigarette dangling from their lips, with phrases to cough up sympathy. Except for a few who have no pride anymore. One sign the other day said, "Why lie, I just want a beer!". And people were giving him money!

I understand that this area of Florida is having a rough time. Hell, all of Florida is experiencing what may be a recession, or what some pundits may say is a "hiccup" right now. Insurance has gone through the roof (even with Insurance companies reaping huge "Exxon/Mobil" type profits), cost of living is ever rising while salaries are stagnant, and companies are still going the ex-pat route to foreign lands.

I talk to many, many restaurateurs and managers on a daily basis, and the consensus is that they can not get enough people. Anyone in the business (and that's probably all of you reading this), knows that there are never enough dishwashers or bussers applying to keep up with business. From past experience, I could never have enough dishwashers, especially. As for bussers, that was usually me during lunch, or the whiny, spoiled waiters (I know I'll get some comments on this!). And I can guarantee there are no dishwashers I've been associated with who make minimum wage. I would say dishwashers make more than check-out people at Wal-mart, or the customer service person at Borders.

I could never figure myself as one who would rather prostate myself before strangers for the money to buy a hamburger. Or a place to lay my head at night. Or whatever. That's the way I was raised. I've been working legally since I was 14. I did other things before the legal age for spending money. When I left the Air Force after five years, I accepted unemployment for 7 weeks before taking a job for less money, just because I was too proud to keep taking from the government dole.

I guess that I was raised different from those poor guys sitting beside the road with their little signs, smoking their generic cigarettes, buying the pints of cheap vodka, never looking you in the eyes as you avoided theirs. Or maybe I've never been in their shoes. I had family who told me how smart I was. How I was destined for great things. How proud they were of my accomplishments.

Could I really judge these guys by my standards? If it was me sitting there with the little cardboard sign, that would truly be a shame. True, my life was not the easiest by a LONG SHOT, but I don't know their history. I may resent them being there, bringing down the area, making me feel guilty, but I now don't feel the anger I once did. If only we could make them productive, contributing something besides blight, increasing their self-esteem.

I have no answers, that's for the professionals. But I know many restaurants that could use these guys in the dish-tank every night.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bloggal Constipation

Sorry for the absence of posts lately. It's only a short lapse, I promise. Believe me, there are plenty of drafts saved, but aborted when I was not happy with what I wrote. I'm either getting pickier with what I produce, or I've hit the creative wall. I just know that I don't want to put forth words that I'm not proud of, just for the sake of posting another post. I will post something soon, something good, something worthy of your time.

Some bloggers make it all seem so easy. Others have much more interesting lives. The chosen few can make the mundane seem fantastical (Is that a word?). I'll be one of those...soon. Hang in there.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cheap Versus Value

Learning the retail side of the restaurant business is a lot harder than I thought it would be. When I first interviewed with "Mr.T" almost five months ago, I did it with the swagger of someone who thought they knew everything, had seen everything, and had used everything they had to offer. I'd often been used in past restaurants as the procurement manager. I was good with budgets, how to prioritize acquisitions, and knew when to order items to put it under the right time-line. Unfortunately, all the big-ticket items were generally ordered from the head office, so I had no idea of the $-to-value ratio so many restaurants depend on. I was a "small-wares" expert thrust into a big-ticket maelstrom.

I now have an 8' x 10' room full of catalogs and the equivalent on my computer to put together bids and quotes on everything from toothpick dispensers to Vulcan 8-burner ranges and $20,000 custom made exhaust hoods. The ranges of quality for each item is stupefying, with varying prices according to construction. I'm now learning the hard way which brands I can successfully suggest to those who are wanting Lexus quality at Hyundai prices, and those which should never be uttered, even to those with limited accounts. One that comes to mind today is an account I visited yesterday who bought a sandwich grill, along with thousands of dollars of other things, from us back in April. This one item was of the, shall we say, discount variety. This deli/bistro is not high volume to say the least, but the grill is trashed. Screws snapped off, electrical cord fraying, grill coating peeling away. It was also about half the price of the "quality" grills we offer, the buyer opting for the frugal option. The manufacturer was contacted, and even though it had a 1 year "limited" warranty, they would not honor it. You gets what you pays for. Unfortunately, the salesman forgot to tell the customer about that, or else the buyer chose to ignore the warnings. I think the latter is closer to the truth.

Our company quotes many ice machines, four-burners, deep-fryers, etc. every single day. It's not an exact science, believe me. We have a list price and a net price. Our customers never pay list price, a number picked out of the blue by the manufacturer. The trick is to present a sale price that the customer can live with. Or pay for. Our big customers get bigger discounts to keep their business. But, you also don't want to overprice something to the smaller customers, since they may be big someday. Also, nicer people get better deals. Today, a chain manager came in today for some required items, thermometers, 1/6 pans, other stuff. He was also a manager who 6 weeks ago had me special order a heated fudge server ($295 list price), took up an hour or so of my time, and then reneged on the order when it arrived because he was over budget for the month. Normally, he would get a 25% discount. Today, he got 10%. I'm a bad, bad man. Although I think I will still sleep very peacefully tonight.

Now, some may think from this that the list price we post is over the top. It is not. We sell heavy-duty, restaurant quality items. And most of you know what kind of abuse this stuff has to endure. I went looking at Kohl's last night and we had some of the same stuff, and they were higher on almost everything. It's all about relationships. We have great relationships with very small establishments and huge conglomerates alike. It's all about reading people and figuring out if they're trying to use you. And if it's them or their bosses pinching pennies. Or if they can really afford Libby or fine crystal.

One company we're dealing with right now started out very promising in a mucho up-and-coming waterside tourist trap. Great credit, good concept, very promising indeed. Opened up in late spring to booming business. Unfortunately, one of those where the husband was starting up a business to get his wife involved in a business. Well, 50,000 dollars later, the marriage is as failed as the restaurant. With us holding the bag, and the debt. Who's at fault, the salesman who sold them all of that equipment, the accountant who okayed the credit, the owner who okayed all of the above? Good luck phoning the now-bad-credit customer.

As in life, we must all learn who to trust, who we must keep a short leash on, and those who need to shop at the "used equipment emporium" down the road.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Top Manager

For all of those "Front of the House" managers out there without a TV show geared to them, I am proposing a new reality show. Everyone else has Bravo's Top Chef, Fox's Hell's Kitchen, "Who the Hell Remembers Network's" Restaurant (the infamous Rocco Dispirito flame-out), and Food Network's Next Food Network Star. I'd like to call my little show "Front of the House Follies", or "Manager Meltdown Mania", or "You Gotta Be Shittin' Me!", or something equally pithy. I'm sure there are many well-paid network hacks who can come up with a consumer-generated title that will draw in the viewers and advertisers.

Here's the premise: First, we'll start with your normal, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, chain restaurant. Your typical expense-pinched, corporate in-bred, tacky commercial-plugged, tired menu-d, family meal emporium.

Next, we'll gather 12 managers who think they have what it takes to run a successful restaurant. We'll put them in a double-wide trailer right outside the back door of said restaurant. They will be on notice 24 hours a day. Vacations may or may not be allowed depending on staffing levels, which will never be above 75%. Sick day are not allowed, since they are already short one assistant manager.

Then, we will promise them the world if they can be managerial, according to their Area Director's whim. Huge monthly bonuses, lucrative stock options, and more will be theirs if they can survive! Of course, the Area, Regional, and National Directors will change on a daily basis. This will challenge the contestants to conform to different ideals with mercurial analysis.

Now, we will throw these contestants into the middle of a lunch rush. But, we will throw a wrench into the machine. Their lone hostess has called in sick. The closing manager has forgotten to place a change order, so all they have is $20 bills and 10 rolls of pennies. And the linen service has not shown up, so they have 50 napkins when 250 guests will show up for lunch. Oh, and by the way, the hot water heater has self-destructed. And the walk-in is at 42 degrees and rising. And toilet #2 in the women's room is stopped up. And the last bag of chicken breasts in the house is still frozen.

The first contestant has gone gallantly into battle. The battle-scarred busser has been thrown into service as a host, which can work, since they know better than anyone else which servers can handle that extra table. But that contestant dissolves into puddles when the first guest of the day pays with a $100 bill.

The next contestant is rushed into battle! Only to blather incoherently when table 61 starts to yell that there is no hot water in the restroom. Send in #3!

Number 3 swoops in gallantly. But is never to be seen again after dissappearing into the ladies' room.

Contestant #4 has disappeared into the back rolling silverware with toilet paper.

#5 is on hold with the HVAC service, hoping that they have someone, anyone, who can come that calendar year to fix the walk-in.

Big, tough, challenger #6 is going through the rollodex trying to find a vendor who fixes hot water heaters.

#7 through #10 are standing around the toilet in the women's room giving direction and encouragement to #11 on how to dislodge the "obstruction".

Meanwhile, #12 is going around to all the tables in the dining room, saying "Hi!" and thanking them for their patience, and helping bus the tables the busser-hostess can't get to. He also called the competitor next door to borrow 200 napkins, promising lunch on him in exchange. In addition, he went to all the servers and requested all their spare change, and begged and borrowed from his guests their singles and fives, and sucked up his pride and called the competitor next door again to get some quarters.

I see Emmys. I see Nobel Prizes. I see good managers leaving in droves.

But it sure would be great television!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Top Chef and Irony

To think that only 3 days ago I was writing about Continental Airlines and the New Jersey Airport. And I get reminded about it once more. On one of my favorite shows. Not funny, not at all.

I guess Continental is spending all their Customer Service money on food and commercial time on Bravo.

I've bought tickets for a round-trip flight in November. My two choices were Continental or Delta for $20 more.

Guess which airline I chose. Tough choice? Nahhhhhhhh. I'm cheap but not masochistic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years Ago Today....

I couldn't let this day pass without writing about my memories and observances of this very special day. It didn't start out very different for me. Wake up, make coffee, bathroom break, stand by coffee pot, pour coffee, begin to wake up. I had a ritual (some would call it a rut, and I do much the same thing now) where I would get going with the coffee, set up my ironing board, pick out my shirt and tie for the day, and iron while listening to my favorite talk radio station.

I was scheduled for a mid (11am - till - whenever) that day and was in no big rush, had all the time in the world. Although I did want to get in early, since our Area Director was planning a visit to our store that day. I was still in that phase of wanting to impress my superiors with my skill at getting to work early (roll eyes).

So I had picked out a favorite shirt and tie and was ironing away when I turned on the radio. It was very early into the disaster, because the voice coming from the radio wasn't sure what was going on, only that there was a fire in the World Trade Center. Well, this I had to see, so I turned on the TV, which happened to be on the Today Show. Matt Lauer was talking about the situation like it was a mistake that a pilot had made, and how could someone possibly fly into the tower like that?

I was engrossed now and gave up on the ironing for a few minutes while I sat down to watch what was unfolding before my eyes. Certainly no one could make a mistake like that nowadays, could they? And that was when the world turned topsy-turvy. I know it's not verbatim, but Matt said something like, "Oh my God, another plane is making the same mistake!". With my eyes glued to the set, I watched the plane slam into the second tower. Now the mind starts going through different scenarios: Did someone re-program their auto-pilots?; Was there maybe nukes slipped on board?. Being as I lived on Long Island at the time, I lived only 40 miles from Ground Zero and worked only 25 miles away. Would there be evacuations? For some reason, all I could think of then was to get to work. I had to get to work.

I rushed through the whole shower and shave thing and got to work faster than I have ever before. I walked in and my Area Manager, the opening Assistant Manager, the prep cooks, and the opening bartender were all standing in front of the two TVs in the bar. One tower had already gone down on the ride in and we all stood there helpless watching the second one succumb. We all turned to the AD with a look like "Okay, big guy, what do we do? Close, stay open, volunteer?" No, we would go ahead and open. Are you freekin kidding me? How could we open at a time like this? All our AD was concerned about was getting back home to Connecticut. All the stations were reporting that all bridges off the island were now closed. AD kept his cell phone burning and took off like a bat hoping to get on the last ferry leaving from the midpoint of Long Island to Connecticut. He just made it, surely breaking many speeding rules in his BMW.

As soon as he left, we all just king of looked at each other and said "Screw this shit!". We only did enough opening prep for a rudimentary opening and mostly just shlumped around like zombies. We opened the doors and No One Came. Quelle surprise! I think the people of Long Island had other things on their mind besides pasta. Besides Manhattan, I think this catastrophe hit Long Island the hardest. Long Island is considered the bedroom community for Manhattan, and a large, large portion of the fire fighters lived on Long Island, from Hicksville to Long Island City. Everyone on the island knew someone or was family to someone who worked there.

A little while after, our Sunday bartender showed up quite shaken and animated. During the week she worked in the Empire State Building, which was one of the first evacuated after the attack. She was lucky enough to be on the last train allowed to leave Manhattan, but also had a front row seat to see the towers fall as she was being swept off the island.

In the meantime, many of us gathered out in the parking lot, eyes glued to the NorthWest. Plumes of dark, evil smoke could be seen billowing on the horizen, and it was very quiet. Very, very quiet.

We finally got the "higher-ups" to let us close at 3pm after $200 in sales. Pricks.

The next couple of weeks were somber indeed. Almost daily, driving to work, there were funeral processions, many proceeded by red fire trucks.

Being in the restaurant business at the time, many of my thoughts were for those poor, unfortunate souls who worked at Windows on the World Restaurant on the top floors of one of the towers. One minute serving breakfast, the next....... My favorite reference book for wine is Kevin Zraly's book Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. I never got to go, although I had planned on many occasions to splurge sometime, and now I would never have the chance.

What I brought away from my experiences on Long Island changed me forever. I learned a lot of patience. I learned how noble firefighters really were, and how human. And I learned I had to leave there at all costs.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Worst. Trip. Ever. Continued.

So there we were in the great state of New Jersey. No seats. No connections. But, there was another flight in an hour that we could get on the waiting list for. We were originally scheduled to get into Columbus around 3pm, plenty of time to pick up the rental car, get to the hotel, and get ready to go to the Night Before the Wedding Cook-out. Yeah, right.

So we didn't get on that flight either.

We had one last chance. The last connecting flight out of Newark to Columbus would be leaving around 7pm. And again we put ourselves on the wait list. With the power outage going on, everyone was on a waiting list. Except for the bars, which were doing great business.

Well, we did make that last flight, woo hoo! A plane full of grumpy people headed for Columbus freaking Ohio. Which sat on the tarmac for almost an hour because of back-ups across the country.

We arrived at around 9:30pm, picked up our rental car, and were on our way to the hotel. We got there after 10pm and decided to pass on the party, since we had been up all night the night before. We were in no mood to party. Naturally, at 1am, our friends and family woke us up when they returned from the party.

The next day was the wedding and it was great. My aunt and I were the only ones without a hang-over, and still resentful. A beautiful ceremony, seeing old friends, older family, and meeting a lot of good people ensued.

Now for the return trip.........

We arrived at the airport Sunday morning, turned in the rental car (red "service now" light glowing), and headed to the check-in. Everything was proceeding as planned, except for that ominous background music playing through my head.

We checked in at the gate for our return to New Hampshire through Newark (planned this time). The gate attendant had some bad news. The radar system for New England was experiencing "problems". Apparently it went down and was in the process of being totally re-booted, which would take some time. We settled down with some magazines and joked about this latest hiccup. Thirty minutes after our plane was supposed to leave, I'm starting to worry about meeting our connecting flight. I went to the gate attendant and let him know about my worries, and received a slightly convincing "Newark knows of the delay and will be holding planes for the connecting passengers."

Anyway, our flight is called, and we finally board the plane. We taxi out and sit. And sit. And sit. Finally, our captain makes an announcement, "Due to the weather situation that delayed our flight today, we have to wait just a bit longer to depart." WTF! Now they're blaming the delay on weather. Total Bullshit! If you read between the lines on your ticket agreement, it clearly states that the airline is not responsible for weather delays. A man-made problem like the original computer problems would mean they are responsible. Suspicious, indeed!

We finally got into the air almost an hour and a half late. Our original lay-over in Newark was supposed to be, you guessed it, and hour and a half. If we made decent time, we would have 0 minutes to change planes. I mentioned my wariness to the flight mean flight attendant. We got the same ole "Newark will wait for all the connecting flights to arrive". Yeah, right, and that's ginger ale in Britney's champagne glass.

Upon arrival at Newark, half the plane was rushing to get out to meet the "waiting" connections. We jogged the 50 yards to the connecting gate to find an empty waiting area. I approached the desk and with patience strained to the breaking point asked, "Where is the plane? Our flight was delayed and it's only 5 minutes past the departing time! We were promised you would wait for us!"

"I'm sorry sir, it's against company policy to hold a plane for one that is late. It wouldn't be fair for those who arrived on time."


"But we'll be glad to put you on the waiting list for the next flight."

"No, you will give us boarding passes for the next flight to New Hampshire. Your gate attendant in Columbus, and your flight attendant told us you would hold the flight, since your computers were being re-booted, which made your flight late in the first place."

I guess I don't need to tell you that we were put on the waiting list. And the flight left without us. And it was the last flight to New Hampshire. And it was now 9pm. And all the airport restaurants and bars slammed (and I mean slammed!) their gates shut at 9pm while we were arguing with "customer service". And we got no vouchers for hotel rooms or meals or transportation. Just a lot of shrugged shoulders and rude "service managers".

Dinner was a bag of cookies and a Diet Coke from the snack cart on the lower level of the airport, the only thing open after hours. Our bed for the evening was chairs in the waiting area. A very over-air conditioned waiting area.

We did leave on the first flight out the next morning, and arrived with no more drama. But what a trip it was. We missed the big party before the wedding and spending those extra hours with loved ones we travelled 500 miles to see. We spent way too much time going in and out of secured areas to have a lousy cigarette (no sooty, blackened, smoker's rooms like they have in Atlanta). Way too much lack of sleep. No food.

Things didn't improve when I spent may back-and-forths with the Customer Service website for Continental Airlines. DID YOU SEE ME WRITE CONTINENTAL AIRLINES? Customer service continued to blame everything and everyone but OJ for what happened. True, the power outage was not their fault, but cancelling our boarding passes for the connecting flight was. And there was no weather problem on the return flight. They found a stray cloud and blamed it for the rest. And now I'm spreading the word on what a shitty airline it is. Continental, Continental, Continental! I warned them all those years ago, and now I will spread my wrath to all 5 people who read my blog. That'll teach 'em.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Worst. Airline. Trip. Ever.

I can't remember if it was 2004 or 2005, and the exact dates don't come immediately to mind. It should because of the horrific circumstances, maybe I'm just blocking. Many people in the Northeast and Midwest will remember it as the big black-out, when large areas of the country went powerless for no reason whatsoever. It was also a time when I had big plans for a wedding trip.

My cousin (who is more like my nephew, really) was getting married in Columbus, Ohio. I was living in Massachusetts at the time. All of us family members, scattered far and wide, had been planning this trip for months. Finally, we would be getting together for a happy occasion instead of for a funeral, which was our usual M.O. I would be driving up to New Hampshire to fly with my aunt Pat out of Manchester, connecting in Cleveland, and on to Columbus. We had snagged some really cheap tickets on Continental on the net, and all was set........

Now, conventional wisdom is to get the earliest flight out. The later in the day, usually, the more you have delays. The ole' domino effect, what have you. Well, we had the first flight out. Paranoid as I am about over-sleeping for something like this, I pulled an all-nighter. Earlier in the day, there had been reports about black-outs in New York and Ohio, so I kept a close eye on the news and on the Continental web-site. Around 2am, the web-site started saying to call the 1-800 number for "possible" delays. So I did. And I got put on hold. For an hour and a half. But I had to leave to make it to the airport. So I left. And drove. Really, really fast. I picked up my aunt in Nashua. And we drove. Really, really fast.

We got to the airport 45 minutes before the flight, and believe me, the adrenaline was pounding. We approached the check-in and proceeding to be chastised for not arriving 2-hours before the flight. As our flight was for 6:30, I asked the lady if she was there at 4:30. "No, we don't open the window until 5:00." (Insert quizzical, smart-ass look here) I replied, "Well, I've been on hold since 2:00 this morning." Things only got uglier from there.

"Your flight from Manchester to Cleveland was cancelled, but we might be able to re-route you through Newark." Tap tap tap tappety tap. Tap tap.

"Yes, here we go, I can get you on the flight to Newark and then on a connecting flight to Columbus. It's leaving in 20 minutes, so you'll have to hurry." She printed out the boarding passes for this trip and the connecting flight, and we were off!

My aunt and I made like OJ and ran to the Security Check. Do I need to tell you about the line there? And this was before the ole' 1 ounce of this and one ounce of that shit. We got through the line with about 5 minutes to spare, arriving at the gate unable to breathe and made it by the skin of our teeth. And received the evil-eye and tut-tuts from the gate staff, but we got on anyway. I guess my stare-of-death softened them up a tad.

Breathe, breathe, find the seat, relax. We made it! We're on our way! No little power outage could stop us! Ha Ha! The rest of the trip should be toast now! Dum, de dum dumb. Cue the black cats and circling vultures.

We arrived in Newark the victorious warriors. On to the next menial task of checking in for Columbus. Our flight was called and we stepped up with our Golden Tickets for Wonka-land. Slide it into the receptacle 10 feet from the entrance to our chariot. Red light. Slight chuckle. Let's try this again, shall we? Must be some mistake. Red Light! again. Not funny.

"I'm sorry, sir, could you step aside while I check out your boarding pass?" Tap tap, tappety tap.

"I'm terribly sorry, it would appear your boarding passes have been cancelled."

"So, tell me, how could these be cancelled if we were up in the air when it happened?"

"I have no idea, it must have something to do with the black-out."

"Well, Manchester had plenty of power, and, unless I'm totally blind, you seem to have plenty here in Newark. Just print us out 2 more boarding passes and we'll be on our way."

"I'm sorry, sir, the flight is booked solid, so we'll have to put you on the waiting list."

"And how many people are on the list, pray tell?"

"Uhhh, eight so far."

Care to wager how far down the wait list they got? If you chose eight, you win the stuffed giraffe.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Watching the U.S. Open and Dreaming of What May Have Been

If there's one sport that I can watch for hours on end, it's tennis. I know, I know, many of you will go "Uggghhhh, how boring!". I think a lot of the appeal for me is that I was an only child. Although I've always been a very competitive person, I played very little team sports. I also was raised by a Dad who was very athletic. In his youth he excelled in tennis, basketball, baseball, and golf, so those became the sports I was exposed to. Growing up, I was also one of those kids whose parents had to occasionally shop in the "Husky" section. In these PC times, no department store would dare use a word like "Husky". Now, you're just "short for your weight". Or "normal".

All that changed when we moved to a small city in the middle of Mississippi when I was 13. We moved there for my dad's job, and it was all a big adventure for me. Shortly after, an aunt, my mom's sister only five years older than me, joined us. We lived in a cramped 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment in town. Luckily just down the street was a brand new park, with six lighted tennis courts. To escape the small apartment, we started playing tennis pretty regularly. With my mom not being very athletically inclined, we had many epic Australian doubles matches (which is 1 versus 2). Over the course of that first summer, we all became pretty good, although my dad was always the victor. Just making it close was a victory for me. During singles between my dad and I, play would get pretty heated, but I never won a match that I remember.

During all this, I was volunteered for the JV football team, mostly because I was "Husky", not that I was a football phenom. I was pretty ignorant about the rules of football, really. The coach kept putting me on the defensive line, and all I knew was to tackle the guy opposite me, and not to go after the guy with the ball (How weird this all is years later!). I got mad because I collected splinters on the bench and quit football. I guess all the coaches figured they didn't need to teach the rules to the Yankee.

It wasn't until my senior year in high school when this redneck school decided to add tennis to the curriculum. Yay! Something I could do, finally! (Although I had figured out the whole football offense/defense thing by now, who wants to do that in Mississippi, in the heat, at a school without air conditioning?). Unfortunately, they couldn't afford to hire a real tennis coach, so the football coach would have to do. As far as we knew, Coach had never picked up a tennis racket in his life. And as far as strategy, Coach didn't have a clue. In our matches with other schools, you had boy's and girl's singles, mixed doubles, boy's doubles, and girl's doubles. And you could only play in one category.

Now, I knew I was the best boy on the team, so naturally I should be the boy's single player, right? No, since I was the only one with doubles experience, I was always stuck with the worst female player in mixed doubles, to "even it out". Needless to say, I saw very little action on the court, as the female player became the focus of our opponent.

I'd thought I was on the path to tennis scholarship, to playing for a University, maybe being the next Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, or John McEnroe. No, I was on the first step of being the new Manager at the Jack's Hamburger joint. I had been working 40+ hours most of my high school years at the local hamburger place, cutting down to part time during tennis season.

Things I did accomplish: I moved out of Mississippi the morning after graduation; I later played a guy on the University of South Carolina tennis team and beat him; and I never shopped in the "Husky" section again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

BOH Versus FOH

One of the great rivalries in the restaurant business is BOH versus FOH. For those of you who have never worked in a restaurant, BOH stands for Back of the House, and FOH stands for Front of the House. Back of the House comprises the Chef, Sous Chef, Line Cooks, and Dishwashers. The Front of the House encompasses the Floor Managers, Hosts, Servers, and Bussers. Depending on the restaurant, the Expediter can be either. Some restaurants foster resentment betwixt the two, the smart ones foster a team philosophy.

My worst experience with inter-restaurant wars was with an independent, family owned, high-end Italian chain in Michigan. If you've watched the Sopranos, you know these characters. I was a server at the time, and I would have felt right at home on Riker's Island. These guyz had a real Godfather fixation and tried to browbeat everyone into a subservient role. Imagine arriving to work and having to pay $3.50 to park there (valet was $3, but unavailable to worker-bees). Opening sidework was a 2-hour ordeal, starting with wiping down every single plate and piece of complete silence. We would be standing side by side and not allowed to talk to each other. Then, your individual side-work, which would be done in, you guessed it, complete silence. Then, the dining room would be set to Obsessive Compulsive Perfection. I'm picky, but compared to them, I was Oscar Madison. (For you guys under 30, that's an Odd Couple reference) Next, while waiting for our section to be sat, we would line up next to the Host stand in formation. Again, in complete silence. And you would be shooshed if you talked! As each table would arrive, it was our duty to seat them for the, Hostess.

Dealing with the BOH (Back of the House) guys was even tougher. We were taught a complex language of how we were to ask for our food. One word off, or out of order and you were severely reprimanded by the Neanderthals behind the line. Oh, these Cretins put out some delicious food, incidentally. As long as you didn't get some of their cigarette ash mixed in. And if you were to make any mistake ringing in that order? You bought it. But, you couldn't eat it. That was for the cooks between Marlboros.

There have been good relationships, although they're harder to remember, being rarer. That was one good thing about Macaroni Grill. There was interaction between the FOH and BOH, since the kitchen is an open kitchen. Chit-chat was offered back and forth, and things were generally cordial.

I think the main generator of discord was $$$. When business is booming, those guys behind the lines know the servers are raking in some high dollars per hour. And I know some prima-donna servers don't realize how hard those cooks are working and sweating so that they can make those bucks. I think they should all work a week in each others' clogs. Maybe there'd be a little more harmony, a little more compassion. server alive would last a night as a dishwasher, the real backbone of any restaurant.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Everybody Wants To Be Bobby Flay

Being in the position I'm in now, I talk to many, many people who come in to check out all the paraphernalia associated with starting up a restaurant. They see shows like "Top Chef", "Iron Chef", "Rachel Ray", (insert any Food Network show), etc. and somehow get the notion that "Gee, that looks easy and glamorous and rewarding!". Some I just want to slap upside the head like Cher in Moonstruck. [GET OVER IT! Whump!] Others, I want to put my arm around their shoulders and talk to them like a father to a kid wanting a dog. "You'll get tired of it soon, it takes all your time, let's start small with, like, maybe a fish. I'm a bit gentler than that, after all, I'm there to sell all that stuff. I do, however, see a lot of these folks leave with the glassy stares of someone in shock.

Mind you, many of these people do about 1 hour of homework before showing up with scraps of paper littered with lists, diagrams, and words with big ???'s next to them. Those are the slappable ones. They watch way too much Food Network, Home and Garden TV, and QVC. They've never seen the inside of a Williams and Sonoma, let alone a real working kitchen. They ooh and ahh over the stainless steel saute pans and stock pots, not knowing most kitchens use cheaper aluminum. They ogle the Vulcan char-broiler and flat-top, until realizing you can buy a decent used car for the same price. Bone china plates and German crystal would look super on their non-existent linen tablecloths, but alas, chinese plates and Libby glasses would better suit their meager budgets. Lord help them when they encounter the hurdles thrown up by local, county, and state administrators! The romance fails quickly, they quietly go back to their "so-called" mundane lives, and we never see them again.

Then there are the ones who've done their homework. They worked as a waiter/sous chef/assistant manager at XYZ restaurant most of their working life and want a place of their own. They walk in with a thick binder full of notes and lists and pictures torn out of Saveur, Food and Wine, and Restaurants and Institutions . They've saved their pennies, worked two jobs, driven an ole' beater for years to finally be their own boss. These are the ones I want to succeed, and pass on tidbits of insider info: how to impress the Health Inspector; where to spend their meager budget smartly (and yes, if they can get something cheaper somewhere else, I tell them where); what areas are begging for a good bistro. They've been in the trenches and know it's a marathon, not a sprint, and are not afraid to put in the sweat equity required to start a budding empire.

None of those TV shows will tell you all of this. Some magazines may touch on some of it. Networking with other restaurant professionals is the real key to starting your own Spago or Commander's Palace. Read all the books you can on the subject. Just don't be a Rocco and self-destruct on national TV. That was just sad.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Linguine Bistro" For Sale. Make Your Best Offer!

There's been a lot of turmoil in the restaurant ranks lately. Rare Hospitality (Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse) is being bought by Darden (Red Lobster, Olive Garden). IHOP is buying Applebees. Darden closes it's Smokey Bones BBQ joints. And now, Brinker International has announced that Macaroni Grill is for sale. Obviously, some of you are smarter than the average bear, and can glean from earlier posts that I worked for Macaroni Grill (Linguine Bistro). Since I never signed a secrecy pact, I will give my impression on where they went wrong, and where they can get it back.

When I first started at Mac Grill, they made all of their sauces from scratch. All of them. That was one thing that seperated them from Olive Garden. It was a genuine pain in the ass, though worth it. I still remember boiling over a whole steam kettle of Garlic Cream sauce while in training. (Not my finest moment, and quite a mess!) There were two things, mostly, that put the kibosh on scratch cooking. One, labor cost, the other consistency. Labor costs were a crappy reason, really, but that's what we were told. The real labor cost was having a Kitchen Manager to make sure the sauces were made correctly. Once they got frozen bags o'sauce, they could get rid of the Kitchen Manager position. As far as consistency, with no "chef", all the worker bees in the kitchen wouldn't make the sauces to the recipe without someone to watch over them. They're reasoning was to kill two birds with one stone. What they did was to kill a concept.

Next, when the old CEO left for greener pastures, they hired a person with no idea of what she should do. They hired the discarded head of YUM Brands ( Taco Bell, KFC). Yeah, that's the ticket! Can you say lowered food standards? The Chairman of Chalupas running things, what could go wrong? Everything! Management perks being amongst the first things to go. Stock options? Only for GMs and above. Bonuses? Now there were maximum amounts you could earn. Evaluations and raises? Now tied to Guest Surveys and Year-over-year guest counts. And now only once a year and not every six months. Can you say "Exodus"? Before I left, I found out my original GM and Area Director had defected to another concept.

During all of these changes, it came down from on "high", that many things that were a part of the culture of MG were being shown the door. Forget the opera singers. No more ringing of the bell for 86's. No more clapping when someone dropped a plate or tray. Now, they were, indeed, "mainstream" (read: Olive Garden clone).

Anyone who has ever been in the restaurant business knows that "It's the food, stupid!". That should be step one. I almost had a stroke last week when I went to the neighboring Publix supermarket and saw Macaroni Grill Entrees in the refrigerated section. Oh...My...God... Now they're TGIF, offering their restaurant food to anyone in the grocery store! Why even go to the restaurant now? No reason that I can think of.

Any corporation thinking of buying Macaroni Grill ( and Phil Romano is supposedly thinking of it), should go back to what made it a success back in 1986. Good, made-from-scratch food. Quirky, but fun service. Down to Earth atmosphere ( when I saw the new Pensacola store, all I could think of was "Who put the Fine Dining Restaurant in the Macaroni Grill space?). I've spoken to employees at the Pensacola store, and they say that people coming from the mall walk in the door, and then turn around and walk out because it looks too upscale. It worked once when it was the anti-Olive Garden. And it could again. Just sayin'.

Friday, August 17, 2007

TGIF Ya'll!

Today was one of those days that adult cocktails were invented for. Things started out crappy (and I'm not talking about the fish), and went slightly downhill after that.

First thing that I need to do is get a new alarm clock. I've threatened to do that since I bought this one about a year ago. It has a severe design flaw. The snooze button is small and is right next to the alarm off button. Which Einstein at Durabrand signed off on that design. I know, I know, I should have noticed that when I snagged it at Wallyworld. But, how much time did you last spend studying the box of an alarm clock? You expect those things to be worked out by 2006. Anyway, I must have turned off the alarm instead of hitting the snooze button and woke up on my own an hour later. Luckily, I woke up early enough that I only had to skip the second cup of coffee, move my butt a smidge faster, and get to work 10 minutes early instead of the usual 20-30. No biggee, but an inauspicious way to start the day.

Next, I had a pre-arranged meeting at 10:00, 30 minutes away from work. At 9:00, I got a phone call from a customer telling me they had decided to buy the item I had quoted them on the day before. But only if they could get it before 1:00 that day. Uhhhh, okay, that's a $1700 item that I don't even know is in stock at the distributor, I don't know where the delivery guys are or when they'll be back, and I've got to be out the door in 30 minutes, tops. Quick phone call to distributor only gets me the dude's voicemail "Hi, this is ****, I'll be out of the office for a couple hours this morning, leave a message, blah, blah, blah." Crap! Call back to talk to the Mensa-member receptionist.

"Hi, this is X-RM at *****, I need to talk to someone about stock."

"Okay, let me transfer you to the salesman on duty."

"Hi, this is ****, I'll be out of the office....." Double crap. Tick-tock. I really should put this number on speed dial. Call again, this time another receptionist.

"Hi, this is X-RM at *****, I really, really, need to speak to a live person who can tell me if you have this item in stock!"

Finally, I get a real, live person, who tells me that, unfortunately, the item I need is not in stock, nor is it still in production! Say what? But we do have 2 of the newer replacement at a $100 difference. Call back the customer, fill him in, he's fine with that, when can the delivery be made? Well, here's the rub. Our delivery guys are 40 miles away and won't be back until early afternoon.

"Well, sir, if you really need it that fast, you can pick it up at our distributor. And luckily enough, our distributor is only 2 miles from you." He takes that option, thankfully, and that is that. I look at my watch, 30 minutes until my meeting. Okay. Pedal to the metal.

I arrive with 2 minutes to spare at the meeting at the new restaurant that needs a new high-capacity ice machine. I'd spent an hour of my time putting together a nice package with print-outs of 4 different options, spanning a full range of what they might need. During my call to his secretary the day before, she had said that he only wanted to meet in person, as he didn't want it e-mailed or faxed, it needed to be in person. Okay, fine, I can deal with that. We are talking about a $4000 purchase. I go in.

"Hi, I'm X-RM from ***** to see the boss about an ice machine."

"Boss isn't here, did you have an appointment?"

"Yes, I talked to his secretary yesterday and she said to be here at 10:00."

The MOD (Manager on Duty) gets on his cell phone, talks for a minute, and then hands it to me.

"Hi, I'm X-RM from ***** and I'm here with your quotes on an ice machine."

"Hello, well, I'm in Gulf Breeze and won't be there for a couple of hours. I don't recall having an appointment with anyone."

"That's funny, your secretary, Paula, said to be here at this time."

"Well, just leave the paperwork, or fax it to me, or e-mail it to me, we don't actually have to meet in person. I don't even know if we need a new one or not. The repairman should be there soon, and we'll know then if we need to buy a new one."

Needless to say, I hope Paula gets crabs the next time she goes potty.

So, to make my time out on that side of town worth something, I thought I'd go have lunch at a place I've been trying to get some business from. Show the owner, "Hey look, I want your business so much, I'll even eat here!" So I drive the extra 10 miles to her place, take a seat and proceed to enjoy lunch with the paper. As I'm sitting there with my average burger and so-so curly fries, she pops out to the bar to make change.

"Hey, *****, looks like they're working you pretty good!"

"Oh, hi X-RM, as you can see, we're really busy, so I can't talk to you right now."

One, I didn't come here to kiss your ass again, just to show my face. Two, duh!, it's the middle of lunch. Do you think I'm stupid enough to think you'd drop everything to talk about the price of beer mugs? Geesh.

The rest of the afternoon at work went pretty quickly, we were busy so the hours flew by. Then, at 30 minutes until close, I was taking a quick break out back when I was paged to the front. There at the counter, with brat in tow, was a woman who I had quoted some custom benches to months ago (so long ago that I had thrown out her paperwork).

"Hi, X-RM, remember those benches you quoted me on before?" Barely, but I remember you poo-poo'd my numbers against a fly-by-night web-site, where you'd get no service, questionable quality, and no recourse if it was all wrong. Put on big smile.

"Yes, hi, how are you?"

Well, she wanted to totally change all the dimensions and add some things, change the colors, and myriad other things. I dug out the catalogs again and realized we could be there for hours.

"Listen, ma'am, we're about to close, the vendor in Atlanta is gone for the day, so there's things I can't answer for you today. Let me do some investigating on Monday morning and I'll give you a call on Monday, okay?"


Needless to say, I was ready to go home. I hadn't accomplished squat at work, people had been less than professional to me, and I was in a mood.

But, I'm better now. I know those restaurant managers who blew me off are working their asses off this coming week-end. I've got a tall glass of liquid refreshment next to the keyboard. I've had some very nice comments on my blog this week. And I'm going to kick back and maybe watch a nice movie with said libation. For the first time in 17 years, I truly enjoy Fridays again. TGIF indeed!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Things Only My Best Friends Know About Me

*I'm very picky about my clothes. And no, I'm not a "label queen". One of my favorite shirts is an $8 Wal-mart find. But, that shirt is pressed just right, the pants match and the shoes go with it in a complementary manner. I'm the person people go to and say, "This is my closet, what should I wear?" When I wore a shirt and tie, I always got complements (yes, I miss that). And I never, ever pay full price. Money doesn't buy class, labels don't constitute dapper-ness, and trendiness won't make you trendy.

*I drive by the rules. I got my license when I was 14, that was 33 years ago, and I've gotten zero tickets. I've been in 2 accidents, both in the same car, and neither my fault (also my favorite car, sob!). I don't drive like a fuddy-duddy, but if I speed, I do it when others are speeding too. And I hate tail-gaters with a passion. And people who change lanes every 100 yards. I love it when I pull up next to them at a light after 10 miles of them zig-zagging like fiends, and me staying in the same lane remaining calm. I give them the ole friendly nod and move on, reminding myself why my insurance is much lower than theirs.

*My favorite snack is apple with crunchy peanut butter. Weird maybe, but don't knock it until you've tried it.

*The one sport I excell in is tennis. It's the only sport I "lettered in" in high school. I'm more of a one-on-one type of player than a team player in sports. Golf is my #2, although it's so darn expensive, I don't play as much as I'd like. If you didn't get it in the clothes paragraph, I can be a tad cheap in some things.

*People who don't know me well think that I have it all together. (Insert spit-take here) Hahahahahahahaha! I can be a real slob. I don't make my bed. (Horrors!) Dirty clothes litter the floor around my hamper. On days off, I rarely shave or shower. It's all mostly a facade, I just hide it better than most.

*Besides the sport thing, I'm a team player to a fault. Until you talk about me in front of my peers. Then, all bets are off. I don't reciprocate, but I will not cover for you ever again (that's the Taurus in me, I guess). I will not say things about you, but if asked, I will say the truth.

*I sooooo want to get personal, but I lost my trust a long time ago. I have to know you really, really well to open up. But, when I know you well, you know everything about me.

Okay, enough opening up, I don't know you that well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How Not To Apply For A Job

A job applicant this past week brought back memories of the many people who have pressed an application into my hands. In the restaurant business, you are always hiring. Learning which ones to spend your valuable time on is an acquired skill. Obviously, a skill they don't teach you in school, and one they should. If you are about to make the circuit to fill out those apps, a few words from the worldly wise:

If you show up with one of the following, that is strike one: shorts, flip-flops, dirty clothes, wrinkled clothes, mid-riffs, facial-piercings, cleavage-revealing tops (not every male manager is straight!), crazy-ass hair, jeans (yes, even jeans, I don't care if they're $200 jeans), dirty fingernails (my personal judge of people).

If you come in to fill out an application, bring a friggin writing appliance with you! If you ask me for a pen, that's strike two! 50% of you fail this oh-so-elementary step.

If you utter the word "dude", that's strike three. My name is "Sir", until I say otherwise. (I really don't like being called "sir", but this gives me an idea of how you will address our customers.) It also gives me a window into your parents' child-rearing skills.

If you show up with a four page resume, you killed a tree for no reason. There are a thousand free sites on the web that will tell you, "Keep it simple, stupid!". List where you worked and for how long. The details will be handled during the interview.

Anything I need to know will be found out during the interview. Be relaxed, look me in the eye while speaking to me, and smile where appropriate. Don't schmooze me, I'm schmooze-proof, and so are 95% of the people you interview with.

Don't keep calling back to see if you've been hired. In this business, if you're not immediately given a 2nd interview with the GM, or asked back within 2 days for a second interview, you are not what we're looking for. What we'd like to say is, "Don't call us, we'll call you", but some managers don't have the guts to say that, or our lawyers won't let us say that.

That being said, do not sweat applying for a job in the hospitality business. If they say they are not hiring, they are lying. If you are a clean-cut, responsible, mannered person, they will give you a chance. Even at restaurants where I was fully staffed, if I got a super-star applying, I'd give them a chance. There's plenty of flotsam to make way for.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

To Bagdad and Back

Bagdad, Florida that is. One of my favorite things to do is to look on the map and find a town or city that sounds interesting. Then I Google it to find out interesting things to see. Then I go.

Well, after reading the paper this morning, I saw that there was an antique glass show in Milton, and it's right next to Bagdad. These are supposedly "historic cities" and I decided to check them out. There's an antique mall in Milton called The Copper Possum that I wanted to check out also.

The morning started out stormy with a cleansing downpour, just enough to raise raise the humidity level from "sauna" to "gills required". After driving over the Garcon Point Bridge, things cleared up and it was sunny the rest of the day. There's something soothing and mind-clearing about a drive in the country. The best day-trips have a destination in mind, but no concrete route, and no time-table. Just put the radio on the 70's channel, turn it up, put on the sunglasses and cruise.

First, I got to the Santa Rosa County Auditorium for the Depression Glass Show, "Depression" being the operative word. There were more vendors than vendees. And I was the youngest person there. By a lot. And a lot of pink, pressed glass plates and cups. Thirty minutes and I was out of there. $3.50 blown. Oh well, maybe I'll win the door prize, whatever it is.

On to Bagdad! Upon arriving at the town limits, they have those signs saying "Designated Historic District". Last time I checked, "Historic" usually means something besides run-down and over-grown. I guess those years I spent in Massachusetts spoiled me. Maybe 1/10th of the houses had paint from this century. Most had old couches and other detritus lining their porches. Now, I know this area got hit fairly hard by Hurricane Ivan and Dennis, but that was three years ago. Damn people, I heard Home Depot might have gotten a shipment or two of paint since then. True, a lot of houses there could be really neat, but hardly anyone takes any pride in their abode. And every restaurant was closed on Sunday. Depression #2.

Just outside of Bagdad was a flea market that I had heard about, so I headed there. First impression, not so good. When the first thing for sale outside that you see is flags, including a Confederate flag, things don't look so good. Then next to the entrance is a guy cooking burgers on a George Foreman grill wearing a dirty wife-beater (the guy, not the grill). Once inside, things don't improve much. You remember all those dust-accumulating tchotchkes your parents had years ago? They've migrated here in all their glory. At prices above their original cost. Uh...buh-bye.

Things improved once I got to the Copper Possum. This was a nice antique mall, except for a few small things. A lot of the nicer old wood pieces were painted with cheap white paint. Neat old Hoosier cabinets, old wooden trunks, and some nice primitive cabinetry were all coated in a flat white paint. I blame the "shabby chic" contingent. If it wasn't covered in bad paint jobs, it was re-finished to a shiny newness that would bring the staff of Antique Roadshow to tears. Someone should be severely slapped.

By then, I was ready to just go home. Golf was on TV, there were coupons to clip from the Sunday paper, and there was Bloody Mary fixins' in the fridge.

Ahhhhhh.......civilisation at last.