Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
- Community Blog
- Living in El Fin Del Mundo
Destination: The French Gourmet
It recently dawned on me that I've spent most of my blogging time writing about my work commute, or life in my Palatial Wooden Shack on the outskirts of eastern Tijuana. As much as I harp on my six hour commute, I rarely talk about where it takes me. That location would be my place of employment; The French Gourmet in Pacific Beach.
A couple of years back, when construction was flat lining in San Diego and throughout most of our nation, I was fortunate (?) enough to secure a job as a dishwasher at The FG in PB. I'm old enough to know that the construction industry works in a cyclical fashion and therefore I figured I would ride out the 'crisis' washing dishes until times got better. So far it looks like our economy is still in the hospital. If and when it bounces back, I've got a feeling I'm going to be washing dishes for awhile. My PWS in Tijuana doesn't cost a fraction of what I was paying for my two condos in Temecula. Plus I guess you can say this place has grown on me.
On the day that I started working at The French Gourmet, Michel the owner, told me that the employees were like one big family. After two years of working there I must agree with my boss. It is like one big family. One great big, always bickering, dysfunctional family, sprinkled with black sheep, red-headed step children and other colorful characters.
As a writer, I seek out interesting personalities. People with character traits, be they flaws or perfections, which make them easier to describe and therefore write about. As an artist, I seek out artistic personalities who push me to better my craft. I firmly believe that artistic people give off artistic vibes and I definitely recharge off it. Such folks abound in the restaurant biz. Watching a person design and build a custom cake is like watching a sculptur or muralist. Their art, patience and dedication shines through in the final product. When I see Richard (Chief Executive Patissier) snapping photos of one of his marvelous creations, I think I know what he's feeling. It's that same thrill I get when I scribble -30- (journalistic code indicating story completed) on the final page of my latest article. It's a rush. A sense of accomplishment.
I never would have thought the male dominated construction industry and the much more mixed gender restaurant business would have very much in common. Surprisingly, there are similarities between the two. For instance, both trades have an 'off time.' During the rainy season, construction grinds to a halt. While after the holidays, restaurants suffer because most people are broke and can't afford to eat out.
Another resemblance occurs in the 'gypsy work style.' In construction, loyalty to a contractor usually exists for as long as the contractor is bidding (and winning) contracts. While you only work for one company at a time, when the job site you're on wraps up, if the contractor doesn't have another one to roll you onto, a fellow starts looking around. No hard feelings and thanks for the t-shirt. In the restaurant business, it's different but the same. You will have employees who work for two different restaurants/ hotels/ fast food chains... at the same time. I think it's due to the lower wages. Many rank and file employees have to work 60 plus hours a week to afford to live in San Diego.
When I first started working at The French Gourmet I was worried that my expletive deleted, hard hat tongue would cause problems with the ladies in the catering department. They pass by my washing station when they load their delivery trucks. Then I overheard a couple of them talking and I knew everything was going to be all right.
My hard hat buddies and I used to say that working with a bunch of women must be like being stuck in a chicken coop full of gossiping hens. After two years of dishwasher research I have concluded thus; "Ladies, you can holler equality all you want but when it comes to gossip the male of this species has got you beat."
If there is one thing that these two fields definitely have in common it is what I call 'the hum.' As in humming on all cylinders. Construction sites and restaurant kitchens can be frenetic, swiftly moving operations that require intelligent coordination. The smoothest construction sites always had good project managers and I think the same can be said about operations managers in restaurants. When everybody knows their job (and doesn't mind doing it) then you get that hum of a solid crew at its best. It only gets more efficient over time. When you're carrying a ten foot section of fourteen inch HVAC round pipe, it's nice to know which way the guy coming at you with his material is going to lean. Shoulder left or shoulder right. The same thing applies to trays of hot food.
Being part of the hum is best of all. It means you can work as part of a team. Check your ego at the door pal and jump on those dishes. Prima Donnas need not apply. Yeah, I like being a part of the hum. You see it means knowing that if Arlene is charging toward the racks, with a sheet of cookies, you'd better get out of her way. It means remembering to give Elena the thickest floor mat to stand on. Because if you don't, she'll tell you about it. It means being rewarded by both of them with delicious pastries whose names I can hardly remember but whose wonderful tastes I can never forget. And for heaven's sake, don't piss off Michel.
Yup, every working day I spend six hours on buses, taxis and trolleys crossing two countries to be a part of the hum at The FG in PB. Call me twisted I like it.
COFFEE'S READY, GOTTA GO!!!
More like this:
- The Rumors of My Professionalism Have Been Greatly Exaggerated — July 22, 2011
- El Blvd de los Muertos (The Blvd of the Dead) — Sept. 28, 2010
- Idiots from I-15 to 7-11 — May 24, 2008
- Curious Traveler — May 19, 2005
- Dot-Com Survivor — Nov. 15, 2001