Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Restaurant Work

It is July 20 and I have been at the Nittany Lion Inn for over a month now. It is a steady job, steady work, very tiring, and exactly what I've needed this summer. I'm wondering what it will look like in the fall to be a server there, but for now, I'm a DRA: dinning room attendant. I set up and take down buffets, I clean things, break down trays, fill in the holes, take up room services.

It's pretty messy. And awkward at times. As my roommate said, "I'm still trying to figure out how a standard, classic like white dress shirt, black pants, and black apron could go so very wrong." I agree. First time I put that uniform on I thought "Good Heavens! I'm a marshmellow!" Other awkward moments have been waking the wrong room up to give them breakfast and really hating it when men answer the door in their pjs or won't turn on the lights. I just about told one groggy dude to pull his pants up. Other times have been wonderful, especially when I could bring food to a mom and her kids, or someone who is in State College because they are alumns and just wanted to come back for a time. I think the interactions with people have been my favorite part of this whole thing, which is why I'm training to be a server and should start that soon. While I can do the routine work and kind of like it, my favorite times are when I can interact with others and serve them somehow.

The attitude towards work is very different than any place I've yet been employed. So far my credentials include: janitor, research/lab tech person, kids crafts store, writing tutor, RA, and camp counselor. Of all of these, janitor is closest to what I am actually doing each day. However, the setting of Hershey E Free under the superb leadership of Dain Kulp and Ron Hoover, combined with crazy detailed work people like Nate Davidson, Mike Wolgemouth, hard and long and never weary workers like Josh Wagner, eternally cheerful like Amy Nicholson and Hannah Ray (oh those Disney song hours in the bathrooms!), just seem a bright contrast to the attitudes that can spread like a cold in a day care center in the Inn! Part of it could be encapsulated in a conversation I had with a server when I was lamenting not being able to hang out with the retired faculty that eat lunch with us every Wednesday. She said, "Why should you care? You'll make better money doing this. I wouldn't do this job if it weren't for money." Hm... in a way, that is very, very true. Working in a restaurant doesn't exactly count as anyone's top ten favorite things to do. Getting paid is absolutely imperative. And yet, why shouldn't hanging out with a group of older folks who take an interest in your life and you in theirs be more interesting and desirable than making tips over at this table?

Another thing about restaurants: if they pretend to be fancy... they probably aren't as fancy as they want you to think. Or half as clean.

There is quite a cast of characters who work in the kitchen. It's a whole world unto itself and I get confused if I see them wandering around real life without their different uniforms on, whether its Chef Andy without his white jacket and fluffy hat (so I don't know real names of these things yet) or Samantha or Gail without their brightly colored, cold side hats and checkered pants, or even me at the end of the day when I change into normal clothes again. Gail would be one of my favorites. She's woman from China who knows what she wants and gets it, but also remembers your name and asks you cheerfully every morning how you are doing and tries so hard when you need something from her. Chef Andy is an older chef and sings when you get there in the morning over his eggs and homefries. He also remembers names and when you ask how he is, he replies (without fail to everyone) "Oh much better now that you're here!" There is Mills, the son of a military family who walks and behaves as if he was in it himself. Wes and Jon are the clowns, the perpetrators and the brunt of every joke and snide remark that goes on. It's an interesting crowd and one that I enjoy studying, all the while desperately keeping my head out of the drama. You can smell it in the place but I'm still ignorant as to what it is and where it started, for which I am quite grateful. If I can keep this up till next summer, it promises to be excellent!

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