I once cooked in a restaurant/bar on bustling 6th Street in downtown Austin, Texas, at a place called the ‘Paradise Cafe’. I had no vehicle, and made the 45 min. walk over the Colorado River Bridge and into the city, to & from work on a 4PM to 1AM shift (the bridge, and my out-of-body experience crossing it this same night, deserves it’s own story, which I’ll save for another telling)….this anecdote is all about horrific & nightmarish kitchen-madness, and the inevitable plunge into the vortex of chaos & abomination. A Friday night, crowds of weekend warriors socializing up & down 6th St., and jostling for elbow room at the bar.The menu was on fire, everyone wanting everything, and out front, 6 & 8 & 10-tops were the norm. I had a single dishwasher and a single ‘chop-chop boy’ (helper), both Mescans with as little English as I had Spanish; but, working together, we had stayed on top of things most of the night, despite some language-related failures to communicate. For instance, around 9 o’clock I realized that I was running low on chopped tomatoes, and told my chop-chop guy Manuel that I needed more. “Mucho?”, he asked. “Si, si,”, I said, “mucho.” Then a sudden, and extended, rush hit, and I had no time for anything besides filling orders…..it must’ve been an hour or more before the rush slowed and I remembered Manuel – where the fuck is Manuel?! He couldn’t be still…! I ran back to the little prep area, and, sure enough, there was Manuel at the chopping board with an open case of tomatoes and a tremendous 2-foot high mound of them chopped in a spreading pool of tomato juice, and he was still going at it! “Enough! Enough!” I screamed. “Jesus Christ no mas, Manuel no mas!! Goddamn muotherfucking sonofabitch! etc”….whereupon Manuel got the point.
Orders started tapering off around midnight, so I told Manuel he could clean up and put things away in the walk-in, and he could punch out at 12:30 if business was still relatively slow. I began to wipe down and tidy up the line, putting new plastic wrap on the food containers and thinking about my after-shift pitcher of beer. The barrage of of the night had turned into a dull roar, and then petered-out into the occasional order of cheese sticks or hot wings. I had escaped, it seemed, another usually brutal weekend night without any visible emotional or physical harm, and so I cut a grateful Manuel at 12:30 and began cleaning the line, wire brushing the broiler, bricking the flat-top, filtering the fryolater grease. I wrapped and put away most of the food, except for what little I’d need for stragglers seeking nachos & such, and wiped down every available surface with bleach-water. The kitchen was spotless; all I had to do at 1 AM was put away the little product I had out, and I’d be ready to unwind at the bar. Out front, things were mellow, with maybe 15-20 people at the bar, sipping drinks and chatting amiably. “Ah, mellow closing.” is what I was thinking in the kitchen, as I was putting the finishing touches on clean-up. I took the garbage out to the dumpster in the alley and fired up one last smoke. I sat down on an empty milk crate and let my muscles relax…..AND THEN, banging out the kitchen door in near-panic, came the manager, wide-eyed & terror-stricken.
“You ain’t gonna believe this, man, but it’s only 12:55 and the whole mutherfucking UT football team just came through the door…and they’re fucking hungry!”
“BUT..!!”, I wailed. “Sorry man, the kitchen closes at one. Get back in here!”
Waitrons were rushing for the bathroom door to snort another line in self-defense, I began hauling armloads of shit out of the walk-in, horrified, and within 10 minutes the tickets started flying into my basket. Everything they wanted, fucking everything! Appetizers, of course, then steaks & chops & fucking well-done burgers! Within no time my clean kitchen resembled a battle-zone, and still the orders came, more & more & more of the fucking things! Fancy-ass salads & cheese platters & pre-entree desserts! The waitrons, of course, flat-out on their Peruvian Marching Powder and dreams of hefty tips, were excited, damn-near joyous, urging me to get their orders up, all the while flinging more tickets in the general direction of my overflowing basket….I’m not entirely certain that actual tears flowed, but I certainly exhibited all the other symptoms of a despairing & hysterical crying jag; all the moans & shudders & howls & stammering, blood-curdling oaths.
I fed the motherfuckers, and didn’t get out of there until 2:30….I walked home a blithering wreck, a mindless slob, and on the way, on the Colorado River Bridge, I had a true out-of-body experience (mebbe I’ll tell ya’ about it).