Throw a dart into a crowded room in America and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll hit somebody who does work or has worked in the food industry. Don’t do that though. Throwing darts at people is bad. According to the American Jobs report of 2016, food workers make up 8% of the workforce in America and over half of the population worked in the food industry at some point in their life. In today’s world of college graduates dripping in student debt, throwing ‘bows to get a foot in the door, the food world is one the last frontiers in which you can start on the ground floor with no education or experience and claw your way to the top with heart and loyalty. The same jobs report said that 25 percent of people listed working in the food industry as the first job they ever had. It was certainly where I started. I was a pool boy at a high end spa and resort in California. Now I know what you’re thinking… You!? A pool boy?! NO WAY!!!
Oh what’s that? I’m literally exactly what your mind conjures when the words cabana and boy start coming together? I’d get offended, but I was a fucking cabana boy, so…
I was nestled into the gnarled bosom of the serving world as a favor from my dad, who was managing the spa at the time and had grown tired of watching me fuck off all throughout high school. I had been producing a bunch of mediocre YouTube videos, and I loaded them into my success cannon and pointed them at the stars instead of doing homework and applying to colleges. There was an underwhelming sizzle as they misfired and I was left to find a big boy job to put myself through community college.
My cabana boy days consisted of me parading around in khaki short shorts, slinging club sandwiches to the 1% and giving Gwen Stefani Long Island Iced tea. Old ladies spit mad game at me. Fell in the pool once on accident. Pretty standard stuff. I did my time and made my meager tips and at the end of the summer I got a new job as a golf bitch, at which I was equally mediocre and unmotivated. I didn’t think about those sun soaked pool days until a family reunion in Orlando this week.
As it turns out, if you throw a dart into a room full of my family, you will almost definitely hit a former food service worker. But seriously, don’t throw darts. What the fuck is up with you and darts?
In our hotel living room, we all got together and the talk turned to the subject of the food.
It was 9 O’clock on a balmy Florida night, bugs whining in the trees and beer sweating in the cooler. Storytelling conditions. We began to round robin the topic and it slowly came out that my sister, her boyfriend, my father, mother and wife had waited a table, bussed a tray or at least handled a mop in a cafeteria. We hashed out our best tips and our longest shifts. Worst things we ever saw in the kitchen, and the biggest asshole customers. This prompted my mother to tell us about Michigan street cred and how she got hers.
She was working a dive bar in Western Michigan while she was in college, getting her degree in American Studies. Pitchers of beer and overly salty snacks in a room full of raucous college guys and a handful of businessmen fresh off of softball games, hankering for some glory days. “Those were the ones who got ‘grabby’” she said. They would wait until the waitresses hands were full to reach out and get a handful, banking on the tray full of drinks to dissuade any retaliation. I’d chalk shit like that up to the time period, but apparently the times they aren’t a-changing. According to a study by the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, the women in the food industry (who only make up about 7% of the women in the workforce) experience 37% of all workplace sexual harassment. That less than ten percent of any population would absorb more than a ⅓ of all the harassment is unforgivable. Yet, there we were and here we are, forcing people who are just trying to do their jobs to fend for themselves. Which brings me back to my mother in a crowded college bar with a grabby group of knuckledraggers. They’d pinched her for the umpteenth time and the bouncers didn’t feel like it was their problem so she made an executive decision. On her next pass, she made sure she had a full pitcher of beer in hand. As the worst of them reached out, she daintily dumped that pitcher in his lap like his dick just won the Super Bowl. He scampered off to drier places and what my mother lost in tips that night, she made up for in “don’t fuck with her” which is Michigan for respect.