Sunday, February 21, 2016

I'll be your server today . . .



      Many people have worked as servers (or waiters and waitresses as it used to be called) at some point in their career.    They may start bussing (clearing tables and setting up) or hostessing (greeting people at the door and seating them with menus) but many want to work up to serving.   The tips are better there.    Serving is hard work, especially for the minimum wage most restaurants pay.   The tips from customers make the situation more palatable.   

     Any server will tell you that the job doesn't just entail taking orders and bringing out plates with your best smile on your face.   Many servers have to do some finishing work on the food as well as build ice cream sundaes.   Then there's the back up work like refilling creamers and sugar containers, ketchup bottles and  syrup dispensers.

    A few people do stick with the job for life.   In some restaurants the management or owners are friendly and pleasant and schedules can be flexible to accommodate school and home commitments.   Good servers make the job look easy but there is constant multi-tasking, not to mention an ironclad memory.

     Here's the prologue from Death at Table 15, pictured on the shelf above.   Set in the Metro Vancouver area, the young heroine of the series attempts to solve another murder:

   PROLOGUE – December 22th

The first thing you think when someone drops dead in front of you is that you’re supposed to scream.  But you can’t.  Women in movies scream; their shrill voices echoing on and on.   But your throat has just clenched shut and you can’t make a sound beyond a muffled squeak.

Everything slows down.   You blink several times.    Even though you dislike Mrs. Schlotsky with a passion that she has well warranted, there is something so unacceptable about her lying face down in a plate of zhizhig-galnash meat dumplings, her brown velvet hat askew on the top of her head.  As time stands still in that first five seconds there is ample time to notice the small details:  her gun-metal grey hoop earrings with a reddish-brown stone at the bottom, the heavy gold chain on her left wrist,  the long dark brown strands of hair escaping from the careless chignon style that she favours.   It all seems so pathetic.   For a few seconds everything is silent except for Mr. Schlotsky’s voice, “Dagmar, what’s wrong, what is it?”

Then, everything speeds up again to the normal pace and everyone is talking at once.

 Jaswinder turned and went over to Boris, the manager, who had just looked up from the soccer game he was watching from the bar.    “Call for an ambulance, Boris, right away.   Mrs. Schlotsky is ill.”   Don’t think that she looked dead, Jaswinder told herself.   Maybe she had just fainted?”   

“What?   What’s happened?” Boris dragged his eyes away from the game and looked in her direction.

“Never mind, Jaswinder, I’ve already called.” Right, Manisha had a telephone at reception area at the front door.

Dave, the busser, came over from the kitchen and stood staring for a second.   “Do you want me to take the plate away from under her?”

“Yeah, okay.”  CPR, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation; you were supposed to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when people collapsed, weren’t you?  Jaswinder had been required to take a class in that for her dental receptionist diploma.   Maybe someone else knew how.   She felt terrible but the thought of kissing Mrs. Schlotsky on the lips . . . she could feel the vomit starting in the back of her mouth.   “Does anybody know how to do CPR?”  Jaswinder looked hopefully around the restaurant.

Mr. Umarov came striding forward, more quickly than Jaswinder had ever seen the elderly owner move before.   He’d been upstairs in his office on the second floor, hadn’t he?     He must have heard the commotion.  

“I was trained in the navy . . . move over.” 

  At Table 15 Mrs. Schlotsky was now sprawled across the table leaning on her arm.   Dave had taken away the offending plate.    She looked grotesque, her face smeared with meat sauce and a dumpling stuck on the front of her velvet hat now almost entirely off her head.  Mr. Umarov lifted her down from the table and put her on the floor, wiping her face with his shirtsleeve.   He pulled her head back, causing her mouth to open, and began giving the kiss of life, as Jaswinder had heard it called.   Two breaths and then he began chest compressions.  By the time he got to eight, the door opened and the paramedics were in the door.   A pale Mr. Umarov, kneeled back, looking exhausted by the effort or strain, and let them take over. 

“Move back, everyone,” one of the paramedics ordered and some in the assembled gawkers went back to their meals.   Jaswinder could see several tables start to leave.   One couple left without paying, a couple of women went to the front reception, where Manisha was standing, with their bill. 

 The three paramedics had Mrs. Schlotsky on the stretcher with Mr. Schlotsky standing beside, looking helpless.  “Have you got a pulse?” one of them asked of the other who shook her head, then looked at Mr. Schlotsky.  “You’re the husband?   Come with us; you can tell us what you know of her medical history.”  They wheeled the gurney out of the restaurant, letting the door close behind them.

The sirens started up and then they were gone.   The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes.   What had happened?

Mr. Umarov, looking old and frail, was leaning back on the bar, looking out the window where the ambulance had been parked a moment before.   Then he seemed to rouse himself.   “I’m closing the restaurant for the rest of the day.   Boris, take care of it.”   He turned and walked slowly out to the kitchen to go back up to his office. 

Boris looked started.   “Close, he said close the restaurant?”   He looked around as though he was expecting someone to deny what he thought he had heard.   Dana, another server on duty, looked frozen in her place as if waiting for someone to nudge her awake.

“That’s right, Boris, he said close the restaurant for the rest of the day.”   Jaswinder had been standing a couple of meters away and had clearly heard the old man.

“But, but, he’s never . . . we never . . . what about the rest . . .”

Manisha walked over to the front door and turned the sign from OPEN to CLOSED.    “I’ll telephone the evening reservations and cancel.   Good thing we’ve got the telephone numbers in the book.”

“But, but . . . ” 

“Boris, maybe you should call Mrs. Umarov to come in?” Dana suggested.  Good idea.  Mr. Umarov hadn’t looked well and one collapse today was enough.   Was it something in the zhizhig-galnash?  She started going around to her tables and told the customers to take their time and finish their meal if they wished but they all seemed inclined to leave.   Jaswinder couldn’t really blame them. 

She spoke up to the customers in her section, “Mr. Umarov will be pleased to give you a credit for the meal for your next visit.   Just give your names on the way out, if you like.”  She had thought of that on the spur of the moment and fervently hoped that Mr. Umarov would agree with her initiative.   If not, well, he could take it out of her pay.   There were four occupied tables in her section so that would pretty well take her entire pay for the shift.   Almost as one, the customers got up and started to put on their coats and stopped by Manisha to give their names.  

Jas walked over to Asma, the other server on duty that evening, and told her what she had told the customers.   Asma looked stunned and slowly answered, “Okay, okay, I’ll tell people that, also.” Then she spoke to Dana in her section.

Over the next few minutes the restaurant emptied out.  Jaswinder and Manisha sat down in one of the empty booths.   Dave looked up from his his desultory wiping of tables with a worried expression on his face.  Jas moved over and indicated with her hand that he should join them. Now that it was over, she felt completely drained.  Only four weeks on the job and now this.  Was it the end of her grand plan?

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