The first time I ate at the restaurant in which I now work—the only time, actually, prior to employment—was the day of the “Man Hunt” for the Boston bomber.
I remember this clearly because I had been shopping at the Providence Place Mall, having had my credit card declined at the Verizon store (twice, which I took as a sign to not purchase the latest iPhone), and was killing time before meeting my friend for dinner, when the emergency evacuation alarm started sounding.
I watched as hundreds of mall patrons rode down the escalators in an effort to exit the mall, and I followed suit, panicking because my cell phone was dying and how would I be able to call anyone and tell them what was going on? When I reached the bottom floor, I saw the restaurant where I was supposed to be meeting my friend (which was particularly convenient because until then, I didn’t know where the restaurant was), and as everyone piled out of the mall, I noticed the people who were dining seemed un-phased. In fact, instead of exiting the mall and standing in the rain like everyone else, they were eating their food. Rather than stand in the rain myself, I went inside and put my name on the wait list. They gave me a pager, and I went back inside the abandoned mall lobby, sat by a wall socket, and charged my phone.
Safety first, kids!
In all honesty, when the alarm had first sounded, I was afraid there was a reign of terror taking place—bomb threats to frighten the people of Providence, terrorists hiding out in Baby Gap–but when I noticed the restaurant diners were not forced to evacuate, I assumed it wasn’t a real emergency. A bad time to evacuate a four-story mall, though.
ANYWAY, the point is—my first dining experience was marked by a concert-decibel-level version of a car alarm, and yesterday, while working the dinner shift of my thirteen-hour day, that same emergency evacuation alarm sounded.
“I’ve lived through the alarm before: no big deal” I thought. We all went about our business and pretended like the alarm was not going off. I attended my tables–I had just been sat a twelve-top–and made a joke about the lovely ambience. I took their drink orders: Mai Tais, Grey Goose Martinis, Grey Goose and Cranberry’s, Jack n Coke, etc., and I went to the kitchen to grab some waters when the managers informed us that this was, in fact, an evacuation-required event.
Something resembling mass chaos ensued. I was already in the kitchen, so I was with all of the staff when we were told to stop what we were doing and GO. The line had to be shut down (burners, woks, etc.) and we wanted our jackets, so it was a crammed, pushing event trying to get our belongings from the locker room.
I learned that in the event of an emergency, our restaurant’s locker room is a hazard. We looked like sardines being squeezed through a toothpaste tube trying to get people in and out of there with their purses and coats. I, of course, am that person who locks her phone inside her purse inside her locker, guarded with a combination lock, so there I was, blocking traffic, twisting my combination lock while my manager is yelling at us that this is why people die in emergency situations. Some of my coworkers were unable to get their coats (likely because I was blocking the locker tunnel, and they were being pressured to leave and “save their life”), but I got both of my jackets and my purse and followed the stragglers into the frigid New England air.
Hundreds of us stood outside while the fire crew did Lord-knows-what, and we all facebook’d and tweeted and instagrammed and rejoiced in the way that kids do during a fire drill—“ha ha! No test today! We get to stand outside instead!” One of my coworker’s statuses even read: “entire mall evacuated, but we’re still on the clock!” I would’ve taken a picture, but my fingers went numb after writing a status and befriending two new coworkers, so this is one I bummed off my good friend, BP.
It was only when we were allowed back into the mall that we started realizing the implications of the drill. What if…I don’t know…the people who were dining before this don’t come back?
The restaurant looked like Armageddon had hit: empty tables with half-eaten plates of food, chairs pulled out, cocktails on the bar, menus on tables, napkins on the floor, tickets hanging from the kitchen window, drinks sitting under the coke machine. It was eerie. Then the madness hit.
Who’s coming back? Whose food needs to be recooked because it’s now cold? How many meals are going to be comp’d? How many people just stood outside for thirty minutes and now want to eat? Are we still on a waiting list?
My twelve-top never returned, and neither did half of the restaurant guests. There were the honest people who came back, and one woman with an infant child who offered to pay before evacuating (to which our server replied, “Just go!”), and I did have an elderly couple who hadn’t ordered anything before the evacuation—fragile-looking first-time guests—and they faithfully returned. But the restaurant lost a lot of money last night, as did all the servers who worked for the tables who received their entire meal and fled the bill. It was disheartening for many of us.
I finished my double with about as much money as one might make on a single night shift, but aside from the depressing nature of work itself, I was struck by the fact that while standing out in the cold, I got a text message from a friend who is a masseuse and “life coach,” and she—out of the blue—suggested I try giving up ice cream for a month. I could blog about the experience, she offered, but she thought it’d be good for me.
My immediate reaction was NO WAY!
Then…”Maybe, but not until New Year’s.”
I came home last night and ate ice cream, in fact.
But I realized this morning that today, December 1st, is the first day of Advent, which marks the beginning of the church year. Given the strange course of events and where I am at this point in the year, I’ve decided to take her advice.
So, for the month of December, I am going to try to not eat ice cream. I will blog my progress (likely, sporadically), but as Bel Kaufman says in Up the Down Staircase, “Let it be a challenge to you.”
Let my New Year’s Resolution (for one month) begin!