Suicidal Fruit - 03.08.99

During the summers when I was in high-school and college, I had the pleasure of working in food service. While it did have its bad days, I probably don't have nearly as many horror stories as other people who have done the same kind of work.

For one, I worked at a state park restaurant, and while it was busy a lot of the time, there was an entirely different attitude than I've noticed when I go out to eat other places. Not only were the people that I worked with (including my supervisors) laid-back, but so were most of the customers. Because it was in a state park, most of the people eating in the restaurant were either camping or on vacation anyway, and really weren't in a major hurry to get everything.

While we didn't completely slag off while on the job, it was a little easier not to get into a frenzy because the cooks were running late or because things got busy suddenly. Especially after I had been working there for more than one summer, I learned to not take anything too seriously, and even if there was a complaint, I wouldn't let it get to me enough to get me hyped up.

Although the atmosphere itself was nice because it was low stress, there were also several other things about the restaurant that I worked that made working quite enjoyable (and also very cheesy).

The first one of these things can probably only be explained by the fact that the state park I worked in was located in Nebraska. At the front of the restaurant in the middle of the wall was a fireplace (which by itself isn't really that interesting) that I never saw burning in the 5 years that I spent there (partially due to the fact that I worked during the summer). Above the fireplace on the front wall hung a huge stuffed head of a deer. On the left hung a stuffed buffalo head, and on the right a stretched hide of some sort.

Not only did the animals provide a fright to some and an intense interest to small children, but they gave the employees hours and hours of fun as well. Over the course of the summer, dust would inevitabley build up on all of the three animal hides and one lucky person would have to vaccuum them. On a particularly goofy day, a friend of mine hopped up on a ladder and put a cigarette (unlit) in the deers mouth. Only after a customer had complained did our manager make us take it down.

If the animals and hangings on the wall weren't enough to frighten someone, one look at the menu usually surprised most. While we did serve the traditional burger and fries and had quite a selection of other things (including a rocking salad bar), we also served buffalo meat. We had buffalo stew, buffalo strips (like chicken strips) and the infamous "Buffalo Burger." Before you get upset at me, let me remind you that buffalos are no longer an endangered species, and besides, I only served the things. I stuck to eating salad bar and pasta whenever they had it.

Yet another thing that made me laugh almost every time I looked at it was the juice machine that we had located right next to the fountain pop. On the front, it had a nice stock photograph of a pile of fruit, and the words, "Enjoy Natural Juices" were emblazoned on the front of it. Yes, enjoy them indeed.

Even though the work itself wasn't that bad, I think that most of us that worked at the restaurant actually looked forward to cleanup as much as anything. While it was gross cleaning up the occassional chewed-up baby goop (that an inconsiderate parent didn't feel like picking up), it was the time when everybody kicked loose and enjoyed themselves.

A friend of mine would always bring his rather large boombox and we would pop in a CD as soon as the last customer had stepped out the door. Usually it would be something corny and loud, but damn it if it didn't feel good to whip my apron off into the dirty pile and lip sync while playing a vicious air guitar with a broom. If they were lucky, customers would walk by outside and catch a glimpse of the performance.

Still, one of the most interesting features (and one I've excluded talking about to this point) of the restaurant was that there was a deck that ran around the entire one side and back of it. Also connected to the deck just 50 feet from the restaurant door was a 100 foot tall steel observation tower. Sure, just climbing up it and looking over the river valley was a lot of fun, but we soon discovered other things that were a lot more fun when mixed with the tower.

On most nights, our supervisors would leave after they had finished balancing out the register and leave 3 or 4 of us in charge of the place to finish cleaning and lock up. We'd go about our business usually quite dilligently until we were finished, but then we'd meet in the kitchen and go into the walk-in cooler to liberate any bad fruit (or eggs) that we could find. Loading up dirty aprons with the canteloupes, oranges, apples, and occassional watermelons, we'd bust out the back door and up the steps of the tower.

Once at the top, we'd sort everything out on the floor of the landing and start chucking things into the parking lot. The fruit (especially weakened because of its mouldy state) would scream towards the cement and explode with more force that anything I've ever seen Gallagher manage. It was a quick, cheap laugh, and we'd be back down the stairs and into the restaurant after only a few minutes. After grabbing a glass of fountain pop or juice for the way home, we'd be on our way.