when i was 15 years old i came home from school with my very first “real job”. My teen years were spent on top of a hill , in the middle of a christmas tree farm, on a long windy rural road, so a job off that hill and in town seemed so cool. i came home with my trainee badge and polyester uniform in hand all excited. i was going to work at a restaurant, Friendly’s, the ice cream and burger place. you know the one right? my mom laughed and said i would last a week. she could NOT imagine me, the teenager, serving the masses. surely i would drop a sundae on someone, or worse, coffee! ( i have done both.) she didn’t think i would have the patience or the chutzpah to stick with it. this is what she said, but what i didn’t know at the time, was what she really meant was that SHE couldn’t do that job. (she fully admits this) waiting on others IS hard. people can be mean and rude. you have to have some thick skin, but i was determined, so i went, and i worked, and i was good at it. really really good at it! i got to be social, i do have the gift of gab. lots of my peers worked there, so it was like an extended after-school party every night. i came home with pockets full of cash. seriously. i would empty out my tips on the kitchen counter and my mom was shocked. that was it, i was HOOKED! and so i worked my high school years out at that job.
fast forward: i went to college, i left college, moved to FL, back to the restaurant business, met a boy, had a girl, moved back to PA with my girl, not that boy, single mom, back in the restaurant business again. phew! did you get all that? now i was 21 years old, a single mother (hello work!), enter TGIFridays. This became my home, and my second family, for most of my 20’s. granted, it was the most dysfunctional, crazy ass, insane, derelict family, but it WAS family. we worked long hours, 14 hour shifts some days, late into the night (or technically, the wee hours of the morning). we sweated, yelled, cried, laughed, danced, got crazy, slept together, fought, ate, drank, cooked, served, cleaned up and did it all over again the next day. (soap opera? yes there was always drama. Anthony Bourdain was not lying in,”Kitchen Confidential”, it truly is a sub-culture.) we had our own language, we said words like chits, otle, dub dub, expo, in the weeds, and adding on a ho, and that all made perfect sense to us. we had our own inside jokes about the bacon stretcher and napkin press. i got a nickname, “bubbles”. the names read like the cast of characters that we were: bubbles and trouble, hustler, doug e fresh, smiley, crazy craig, chalmers, bergman, the perez brothers, tommy the barber, fonze aka zucchini boy, and crazy karen just to name a few. our managers were no better, and some were no older. a large group of co-workers even lived together in an apartment affectionately coined “the orphanage”. we worked HARD. we had FUN. after 6 months as a ‘dub’, i got promoted to the bar and became something i don’t think i could have ever imagined. (ever see the movie “Cocktail?” does hippy hippy shake ring a bell? you know, back when Tom Cruise was hot, not weird.) That movie is based on TGIFridays. they even wear red and white stripes in part of that movie. i became the female Tom. I threw real glass bottles of alcohol all around my head. (and broke a few on the rails) i could flip an ice-cube into a glass with marksman like precision. i threw and caught full pints of beer. i played games like the whipped cream trick. i wore a vest in which i would nest a tin drink shaker, then i would flip the bottles, pour your libations into that tin shaker and shake! (crowd.goes.wild. see photo below: that is me, “bubbles”)
i wore ridiculous buttons (or “flair”) all over that vest. buttons that read klassy things like, “don’t talk to my breasts they’re deaf” / “you’re not as much fun as an enema” / “i majored in liberal arts. do you want fries with that?” / “it might be looking like a am doing nothing but on a cellular level i am really quite busy” / and these little bits of crazy were required. seriously, you had to come to work wearing a minimum of 15 “pieces of flair” or risk getting written up.
there were worse buttons. MUCH worse. dirty worse. but being a bartender, dirty and crass is all part of the job. the more you are, the more they come back to see you. i kept the really bad ones on the inside of my vest for special occasions.
people started to forget i had a real first name, bubbles was how i was introduced and bubbles was how i was known. still am. remember i started that gig at 21… i am 40 now. i guess it stuck. i still have some of my old buttons. weird right? one day i will pull them out and tell my kids this story of younger me. i will tell them i was not always this me in my comfy mom jeans, that i used to wear black doc martens with crazy tights, a skirt, red and white stripes, and that vest. people called me bubbles and came to watch my circus act. that their mom made a kick ass long island iced tea and margarita, and could bust out a row of “chits” with 3 blenders rocking at once. that i shook hands, made people laugh, made lots of great friends, met interesting mix of people and paid the bills. another crazy karmic universe sort of thing, if i had never been ‘bubbles’, they would not exist! see, not only did i meet my very best girlfriend there (aka hustler), i met my husband there (aka fonze /zucchini boy). he too wore the red and white stripes and boots (motorcycle, not docs). he had a ponytail, an earring and a foo man choo! we flirted BAD behind that bar, eventually threw all sense to the wind, moved in together, got married (pretty fast) and there ya have it ladies and gents, restaurant love. i made a real family out of that restaurant family. 15 years later we are still those crazy kids from behind that bar. we raised one and made 2 more beautiful kids together.
i worked that gig for years and “professionals” would ask me, “so when are you going to get a REAL JOB?” sometimes i’d shrug, or tell them my story of single motherhood (insert their eyes glazing over), or some days i would tell it like i saw it. this IS my real job dude! if it wasn’t, who would be pouring your 4th beer tonight while making you laugh if this is not a real job? did they really think i enjoyed all that banter? that i was there purely for recreation? really?!?! they were not picking gum from the bottom of the tables, refilling ketchup bottles, changing heavy kegs in a crammed tiny beer closet, squeegeeing the gross back line, or shining the brass taps at 8 am on wednesday mornings (pack-n-play and one baby in tow. she too was one of the family.) after closing the bar at 2am the night before, all while waiting on people, some of who stiffed you. these same professionals, who deemed themselves to have “real jobs”, would be the ones to cutely ask me to ring them in a few more beers under happy hour prices, when happy hour was over. they would drive home in their sweet cars to their big homes, while i hopped in my geo and fell through my door at 3am, dirty, tired and reeking of their beer and their cigarettes. i know they felt superior, but they never saw the inside of ‘the orphanage’ or bergman do his infamous “i sat in gum” trick, and they surely never ate craig’s dub grub of easter peeps with the heads already bitten off. that my friends is living. they could have their fancy stuff, i had my bucket of “wow” pins and my crazy family.
i have been out of the business for the past 3 years, now enjoying life as a SAHM, but i still miss it. i still have restaurant dreams. (nightmares really. i am in the weeds and the micros is down and the beer won’t tap and my food is taking FOR-FREAKING-EVER!!! calm down kristin, it’s only a dream… or is it?) many say it is in your blood, i can’t disagree. as for that crazy band of characters i worked with back in the day, well mostly we grew up, or we most definitely grew older. we all live in different places, different states, but even after ALL these years we still laugh til we cry about some of those stories about back in the day. they were good times shared by good people. really good people. who could have guessed that fateful day at age 15 would turn into all that?
so what did you do before you became the you now? did you have some crazy job back in the day? did you do something wacky to make a buck? did you have a funny nickname? something that when you tell people now they look at you, smile and nod, but you know in their head they are thinking, really? you? NAH! no way.
ps. tip your bartenders and servers well please! bubbles thanks you.