May I take Your Plate, Sir?

Posted: August 26, 2013 in McTrip posts
Tags: , , , ,

Patina -- ArtI’m a 51-year-old college graduate working a $20-an hour job clearing dirty dishes off tables at black-tie events. Back when I had money and good income, I used to attend these functions, in tux and tails. Now I’m nothing more than background noise in the room.

I couldn’t have done this in the city where I used to live, my hometown, for over 40 years. I was a professional real estate investor and agent and ran with a pretty sophisticated group when times were good. When it all hit the fan in the economic meltdown, and blue-collar work was my only option, thank god I wasn’t in my hometown any longer. I couldn’t bear the thought of a friend of mine, or a former colleague, asking me for a doggie bag.

Even after several years in L.A. I don’t feel like I know that many people. So I was OK with the potential “embarrassment factor” of being a cater waiter. Not that there’s anything wrong with the job. It just felt like a long fall from my previous life.

This is not why I got a college degree. I didn’t string together two long-term careers only to lead to this. Are you kidding? “May I take your plate, sir?”

But as my financial situation deteriorated in the wake of the Great Recession I found it more and more difficult to earn money. The list of jobs I wouldn’t do started shrinking. Cater waiter wasn’t on the list. So when the opportunity came along, and I had no better options, I took it.

So what’s it like? On the down side, there’s definitely a servant feel to it at times. I can’t tell you the number of times I have asked a question of a guest only to be waived off like I a pesky nat. Catering to prima donnas sounds about as challenging as it truly is.

I’ve been called “you” by the head honcho as he poked his finger at me, barking orders, sans “please” or “thank you.”

Then there’s the ugly underbelly to catering: slop buckets for scraping food off plates and slush buckets full of drink remnants. Those delightful collections of discards need to be discarded at the end of the night. That’s now part of my job description.

And then there’s the physical toll. There’s a lot of walking, a lot of lifting, a lot of motion in general. It takes a toll on a 50-year-old body. On one particularly grueling afternoon, an outside event in the blazing sun, one waiter said, as he scraped food into the slop bucket: “Suicide party at my house afterwards.”

On the up side, there’s plenty of time to think. And plenty of opportunities for humbleness. And lots of chances to rub shoulders with famous people. I took drink orders for Sean Penn and Florence from the Machine, who were together! I got to meet Aaron Paul at the Emmy Awards gala. I was the only other person in the room when Randy Newman did a sound check (and one of the few people on staff old enough to know who he was).

But there’s been something much more rewarding about the job: I see how young people are trying to survive this economy just like me. I’m probably older than 90 percent of them, most are in their 20s and 30s. And many of them are in L.A. because they’re chasing a dream and trying to cover expenses while they wait to be discovered. They’re educated with college degrees, some of them with MBAs and master’s degrees. They work several jobs in between auditions. They come to work tired and hungry. They sometimes eat off dirty plates. One of them lived in his van for a year. You’d never know by looking at them but I bet a huge majority lives under the poverty level.

This job has given me something other than a measly income. It’s symbolic of the positive effects the Great Recession has had on me. There was a time I would have been appalled with myself to be in this situation—ME, a cater waiter.

But that’s back when I thought I was entitled to life being a certain way, back when I thought of myself as among the “elite.” Even if things got bad for a little while they’d always bounce back bigger and better than before. Because they always had.

Well, I’ve come to find out that’s all a bunch of bullshit. So here I am catering. And I have a new perspective on my life.

It’s not just OK, it’s better.

(To be continued…)

  1. Jimmy D. says:

    I feel your pain, brother – though don’t necessarily share your optimism. (But DO hope to “share in your victory!” 🙂

  2. Steve says:

    Being humbled can be one of the best gifts life can provide. It creates a totally new and better person.

  3. Randy says:

    Your blog is the first one I have ever followed. Very interesting. Enjoyable writing. You really have the ability to convey your state of mind. Looking forward to the next install

  4. Wayne says:

    At least your not trying to sell cars. Take care, Jim. Things will get better.

  5. Diane Hansen says:

    Always proud of you my friend. You are blessed with grace and introspection. I think I still owe you a truck 🙂

  6. Mike Weber says:

    After living large during the prosperity bubble I too am reshaping my expectations and dreams. I do however, still firmly believe all things happen for a reason. Now, if i could just learn to embrace change. Wishing you the best my friend.

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