Monday, 1 December 2008

I'm a coward first and second and quite possibly third and then I'm a waiter...

a-ha....
I'll be getting my coat then...


I sort of slept in on Saturday morning, not long enough to be late for work but too long to allow me to do all that I wanted before my shift started, not that I was intending to do much. With only an hour to spare from getting up to going to work I had a Sophie's Choice of a decision to make - shower or eat. There was no time to do both. Whilst showering would please everybody I came into to contact with, eating would make me happy. Ok maybe not happy but certainly less grumpy.

Obviously I went with the showering. What was I to do, one must be minty fresh. Still it made for hours of grumpiness and snapping and generally being a complete shit to everyone I met, more so than normal that is. Serving people their dinner when you haven't had your breakfast doesn't make Manuel a happy little waiter man. Life as a waiter isn't all backslapping and fake laughing, there are tough days too.

I was half listening to the news as I pulled my socks on, it was survivor stories from the hideousness of the Mumbai attacks. As I struggled, manfully, with the putting on of socks and boxer shorts I became more and more intrigued and consumed with tale after tale of heroism and bravery as recanted by the lucky ones, the ones that got out. One chap praised the staff of the hotel with whom he had shared a basement or a wardrobe or whatever it was for all the help they had given him.

"Huh, nice work...", I thought as I sat on the end of my bed with my mouth wide open agog at the tales of heroic waiters and bellboys amongst others. I wondered what I would do if I was in that sort of situation, as a waiter. I didn't have to wonder for long.

"Fuck that...", came my almost immediate response. "....fuck that and then some, not me."

I'm all for helping guests, I really am, I mean I will go all the way to the store at the top of the building to get them an unlisted bottle of wine. I will venture into the lair of the chefs to fetch a special sauce. I will plead their case to the management when their lamb is less than luscious. Hell I will sing happy birthday to them and lead the whole restaurant in three cheers in celebration of the day they were born, I did it twice this weekend. Honestly I am a very firm believer in doing all that I can to make the guests experience a happy one.

But at some point the waiter/guest relationship ends - when the customer pays their bill, when they leave, when they soil themselves (or you) and quite obviously when the hotel/restaurant is attacked by raving loonies with machine guns hell bent on terror, chaos, carnage and murder. Obviously. First sign of an AK-47 and I'm a goner, apron off, shift over, sign out, ta ta now. It's every man woman and child for themselves at that point. I'm not guessing here and I'm not acting the big fella either, I'm speaking from experience....

It was 1991 or maybe 1992 and all in Belfast wasn't well. Drugs were the new bete noir of the middle class newspapers and ironically of the paramilitaries, ironic as they are were the main movers of drugs at the time. Everybody was against drugs, except apparently everybody under the age of thirty who were consuming E's, Acid, Speed and dope like it was CoCo-Puffs. The newspaper headlines screamed that drug usage was at epidemic proportions and that society was on the verge of collapse. Collapse? After thirty years of guns and bombs what was there left to fall over?

The paramilitaries would save the day, they would cleanse the streets of the odious peddlers of brain rotting MDMA and what have you. Huzzah said the people, except they didn't. The people were having too much fun to notice. But the people were too shit faced to know what they wanted so the paramilitaries sold them the drugs with one hand and then closed the nightclubs they went to with the other. This is were I come into the story.

I was working in a bar/restaurant on the edge of the city. It was a swell joint as popular with the kids as with the kids mummies and daddies. As the "drug scene" took hold the bar's nightclub changed to appeal to the new excitable raver, the fridges were cleared of beer and filled instead with water and chilled coke, a-cola. The music changed too, from 70's and 80's twee disco to the harder repetitive thumping of early 90's happy hardcore. Eeeew.

Oh yes this bar was ready to embrace the naughty nineties and all the drugs it could throw at it. So the men with wooly faces had to put a stop to it and they did, twenty five of them, with guns, one Sunday evening. Crikey. They had a little chat with the boss who quickly came to the same point of view as the men with wooly faces and guns that drugs were bad and that maybe closing the nightclub was the best thing to do. So he did. And all seemed well until the following Friday.

With the nightclub closed new entertainment was sought and secured, a nice little sing-a-long-a-provo band. What better example for the kids than that? But everyone was happy. The boss was happy he still had his business and his legs, the staff were happy as we all had jobs and the paramilitaries were happy as they looked like the heroes who had saved the community from the evils of the drugs they were selling. Oh yes for five whole days the world seemed okay again. That is until Friday night.....

I was working in the lounge bar [shudder] serving Pernod and black and Satzenbrau Pils (the only pills we were now allowed to sell) to all the jolly mummies and daddies when Andy came through from the other bar carrying his jacket over his arm and a pint in his hand.

"What's your game matey?", I asked. I was only a teenager but still a slacker is a slacker in my book.

"There's men in there with guns, fuck that", says he.

"Bullshit", says I and storms off to see what he was on about.

"Where the fuck you going, get fucking back." All of a sudden I was very aware that Andy was indeed right and that there were indeed "men in there with guns", except now there were in here and not so much in there. I got "fucking back" quick sharpish like I was told.

The music was halted, a blessed relief if you ask me, and the chaps with guns and baseball bats set about their work with relish and gusto, their work being the smashing up of the place and general threatening of all and sundry. They were jolly good at it too. I was quite literally pooing myself. All the screaming customers and staff were told to stay put and not move. Stay put and don't move? No problemo. Then another man appeared with wire and gas canisters and various other bits of kit that resembled something from MacGyver or maybe the A-Team. This wasn't so cool. Actually nothing up to this point had been "so cool" but this was a marked turn for the worse.

"Here...", asked one of the more mouthy waitresses, that constantly scared me, in the direction of the man with the plan "...are us uns getting out of here?"

And I will remember his answer to the day I die, "Dunno love, I'm only planting the bomb."

There was squealing all around. I sat there on my hands, this is a time before I had found the joys of smoking, singing to myself.

"This is the end, beautiful friend the end...." Cheesy now that I think back but true. In the end we did get out (and not in a quiet calm line either with staff helping customers out), obviously or I wouldn't be sitting here writing this account. It turns out it was another paramilitary group trying to make a name for itself in the community.

They blew the building to smithereens. Which was disappointing, less so was the sight of one of the wooly faced fuckers who had managed to burn the chops of himself with his own firebomb. I giggled, not at the time as I had underwear to be changing and shakes to be stopping.

It's not the same as what happened in Mumbai, not the same at all, but no less real and if I had been offered the chance to save myself or a guest I would have saved myself. It's not very heroic but very damned true.....

So I say huzzah to the waiters of Mumbai. They are better people than me......

22 People trying to get Manuel's attention:

daisyfae said...

it was just about 15 years ago? damn... you got out. alive. bonus points all around!

i usually assume i'll be quiet and sheep-tastic if ever faced with something like that. no heroics in my dna...

Manuel said...

daisyfae: no one knows how they will react I suppose until faced with it....fingers crossed most never will have to...

A.B. said...

I would have eaten, not showered.

But I work alone, thank Lordy.

(Sobering story and sobering times right now in the World.)

Manuel said...

a.b: yes i will do that next time....wet wipes and breakfast...

MikeTheWaiterDotCom said...

Well manuel, we appreciate your honesty.... we ain't paid enough for bravery ... i am hardly brave enough to put up with children in the restaurant for intermittent periods ... as far as eating or showering... geeze, i don't know about you ... but I eat at the restaurant... 99% of the time ... try a quick trip to the walk in, my brother ... :)
mtw

LiLu said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and just wanted to say hey.

I love this post, and you are so right. Keep up the good work...

MJ said...

I was running late and in my clothes from the night before (ahem) so I just Febreezed myself and sprayed some dry shampoo in my hair.

That way I had time to eat.

Klassy with a k.

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

I guess if I was single and younger I might have helped but with kids and older I am heading for the exit quickly to save myself. I want to see my kids grow older and spend some more time with my wife.Or maybe I would have been out of there if I was younger too. I am not very brave.Helluva story Manuel.

Silverstar said...

I've no idea what I would do, and never hope to find out. Glad you survived.

Magdalena said...

This all reminds me of an incident about 14 years ago, when I was 19 and working the night shift as a receptionist at a hotel in a small town here in the North of Sweden.

I was as usual the only one on duty, completely alone except for the guests sleeping in their rooms upstairs. Unfortunately, one of the hotel guests this very night turned out to be an absolute madman... He had gotten pissed earlier that evening, and after violently smashing up mirrors and other stuff in his room, he came downstairs in the middle of the night - blood literally dripping from his hands - threatening to seriously harm me or worse (he was apparently annoyed because he couldn't watch a rental video in his room, since there was no VCR). Needless to say, I felt like the smallest and lonliest person on the planet ever... I was dead scared. After I managed to un-freeze, I quickly backed away into the kitchen, called the Police... and had to wait for about half an hour, hiding in the darkness behind locked doors and surrounded by big knives and other sharp throwable objects, before they finally showed up. They "escorted" the still raving madman back to his room (!) and told me that unfortunately, this was all they could do, since after all he was a paying guest. WHAT?! And then they left. I called the manager up at home, waking her and tried to get her to come over immediately. She didn't, just told me to stay put. What if he would come back? There was nothing or noone to stop him. In some sort of shock, for the rest of the night, I was cowering in a dark corner of the back-office, close to the exit, phone in one hand and a personal security alarm in the other - finger on the button - until sunrise came, and with it also a few other staff members.

Luckily, the madman didn't come down again that night. However, when he did leave his room later the next day he did so without paying and without getting noticed...

I still can't believe I actually stayed there all through the night, alone! And I can't believe how the Police handled the whole situation. Why did I stay? I still ask myself the same question. I don't think it was about bravery, servicemindedness, or for the safety of the other guests. Perhaps just because it was the "right" thing to do... as in you don't leave work early, you don't leave the place unattended, you never say you don't know when asked something by a guest. It's just not done.

I've promised myself that I wouldn't accept things so easily, risking my life, if it (God forbid) would ever happen to me again. I would like to think I've learnt a lot since then. But who knows? In strange & unexpected situations where you are out of control, you tend to make very strange decisions.

And Manuel - thanks again for very interesting and entertaining blog posts, as always! Keep them coming :)

savannah said...

no one knows how they will react I suppose until faced with it....fingers crossed most never will have to...

that says it all, sugar. xoxox

Manuel said...

mike: the walk in eh....too close to the chefs and we are not on speaking terms with the agents of the devil due to a cutlery incident....long story, probably for tomorrow....hehehe

lilu: welcome.....

mj: you are my hero....

steve: I'm not brave either and have things I wanna be doing......dying not being one of them...

silverstar: yes, being alive is far more favourable than the alternative....

Magdalena: welcome! true, you just don't really know...

savannah: damn sure it does.....

sheepworrier said...

You gotta love the hypocrisy of it all.

So I guess someone forgot to leave out the brown envelope for santa that year then?

Manuel said...

sheepo: envelope? direct debit more like.....cunty cunts...

Conan Drumm said...

DAAD = "you buy from us or we torch the place because we need money for the cause." Those fucking hypocrites.

You're dead on, of course, none of us knows how we'll react. I was once in an entirely different emergency situation and the 'women and children first' axiom kicked in without me even thinking about it.

psychoknitter said...

That is seriously crazy.

paddy said...

bugger me that would have been scary. No paramilitaries in Australia, but we do have outlaw biker gangs. A barman mate and I had a deal that if it ever kicked off between rival groups it was down the cellar, bar the door and hope the beer holds out till the coppers arrive. Luckily I never had to test that one out... yet.

Sharon said...

Glad you got out back then.

What bad people we share the world with. The hotel and restaurant workers in Mumbai saved so many lives. They deserve praise and rewards. You were faced with an impossible situation. The only thing anyone can do faced with mad bombers is to get out of there.

"I'm only planting the bomb." Chilling.

I looked under the shelves of the shop where I worked in my border town (the shop was past the checkpoint) for a bomb once, having been rung up by the RUC saying there'd been a scare. What the hell was I thinking?

Medbh said...

Scary!
I figure as long as your not pushing to get by kids like George Costanza did, then looking out for yourself is the sane way to go.

Lottie said...

@MJ - I just Febreezed myself

Genius!!!

Nil Zed said...

in less dire but still dangerous situations (house fire, childbirth) I have already proven myself to be panicky and useless. My only goal/hope is not to behave in a way that further endangers myself/those poor souls nearby.

being a parent, I still hope that, should my or other children be around, I'd be more useful, but it's a thin hope (see childbirth reference above.)

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