There are very little jobs quite like working at a restaurant/bar. Maybe retail, maybe some kind of customer service, but to be fair you don’t usually have to deal with drunk people when you work at Old Navy. Then again, I myself have shopped at ON a little drunk on margaritas that were made too strong, on a Saturday afternoon at Applebee’s. Of course, that was back when Applebees was still the best place to go. But, I digress.
I started bussing tables at a country club when I was 17. Now look it. This was technically called a “Country Club”, but I’ve been in real Country Clubs in my adult life, and what the Leavenworth Country Club really was, really, was a beer join on a golf course. A sub-par 18-hole golf course, to say the least.
My best friend Rachel got me the job. She was serving, illegally, at 16 because her French grandmother had worked there for years and years, and also because it was a private establishment which means all sorts of illegal shit could go on and no one would say anything. And, uh yeah, all sorts of illegal shit went on there. Not just cooks smoking weed in the pantry, either. Members routinely cheated on there spouses in the women’s locker room, “straight” men met other “straight” men in the pool shack for a good time, teenagers snuck off to hole number 7 to do it doggy-style while they hoped the people in the houses that backed up to the course were peering out their windows. Don’t worry, they were. Lots of underage drinking. Lots of it. And that isn’t even scratching the surface. In fact, while we worked there, unbeknownst to us, the General Manager was embezzling so much money that the members were routinely called to be told they hadn’t made their monthly minimum or paid their dues, when in fact they had, but you know, he stole it all. Good times. Good times.
Rachel and I were just kids though, and we didn’t do too much in way of the illegal shit, besides of course the underage drinking part and the serving alcohol part (you are supposed to be 18 to serve) but that didn’t seem to matter to many people, even Jimmy V., our high school principal. He was a member at the club and he always smiled at us as we came though the door to the poker room with a double Jack and Coke in our hand. In fact, Rachel and I routinely let Jimmy V. behind the bar to make his own cup for the road on his way out. In return, whenever we had, uhh, failed to make it to class on time, we would stroll past his secretary and smile, waiving our tardy slip for him to see. “Hey Girlies,” he’d shout in his all encompassing, good-natured way, then motion for us to come on over to his desk so he could excuse whatever mess we had gotten into with our damn Home Ec teacher. “See ya Wednesday night!”
Ahh, the joys of learning reciprocity at such a young age!
Fast forward a couple of years and Rachel was the “official” Beer Cart Girl, a prize to be bestowed upon the prettiest, thinnest, blondest of us. The beer cart was just like it sounds. It was a golf kart that had been outfitted with more rugged tires, a little more power (as much as can go on an electric golf cart) and the back seats had been stripped and a large cooler put in it’s place. It’s as janky as it sounds. I mean, it wasn’t like an Igloo strapped to the bumper, but pretty much.
Rachel fit the bill quite nicely, though she would never dye her hair a more golden like advised. She did, however, enjoy wearing short shorts and low-cut polos and she was a natural at flirting with the 60-year-old men who could be found on hole one promptly at 8 am each day. Every once in awhile Judy, our boss, would let me go out with Rachel, particularly if we were hosting a golf tournament . These were the BEST days, and here is why.
The members never dealt in cash. All their transactions were recorded the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. (Until one glorious day when a computer was installed, that we all hated very much and promptly ignored it.) So every time a member came in from the course and had lunch, or bought rounds for their whole group, or came in for Friday night’s Surf-n-Turf buffet, it was recorded on a ticket and they squared up at the end of the month.
The wait staff worked with a tip pool, and each ticket had 10% added to the total to give to that tip pool. Like this: Family of four comes in for dinner. They spend $100. They end up paying $110 at the end of the month, and that extra $10 went to the tip pool. If Rachel and I were the only ones on the shift that night, that means Rachel and I would earn $5 each toward our paycheck that week, less taxes (and your boss stealing a portion of it to support his gambling addiction). Those 10% tips were on top of our hourly wage, which I think hovered around the $5/hour mark, but it could have easily been more. I don’t remember. But I do remember when I get my first serving gig outside of the LCC, my actual fucking mouth dropped at the hourly wage. It was $2.35/hour. Gross.
Non-members didn’t have a running tab, so they were either sponsored by a member and allowed to put anything they wanted on their tab, or the more routine way, they paid for everything in cash. So when non-members were there for a tournament, or a wedding, or a day at the pool, they had to actually tip us, and usually they would over-tip for cool points with their member friends (although, can you really ever “over-tip” a server) and they tipped us in cold, hard, cash. Whoohoo!
So, a normal tournament Saturday on the Beer Cart went like this:
Rachel and I roll into work together (because my broke-ass didn’t have a car, so she picked me up every day) about 8:00 am. We are half asleep and a little hungover and her grandma is already there and she has already clocked us in. Thanks, Grandma. We eat whatever she has ordered for us, or scavenged after the breakfast rush so that Connie, the mean ass “chef” didn’t see. Usually it was sausage gravy and biscuits. Mmmmm. Then we walk downstairs to load the cart.
The cart was kept outside, but behind a fence because no one wanted to offend any of the members by seeing a golf cart parked outside… Every night it had to be plugged in so that it was fully charged. This was normally the job of the maintenance dude, or one of the cooks when they took the trash out (just remembering right now that the cart doubled as the “trash cart”, which I am sure broke at least 15 health code violations). Most of the time the cooks were too high to remember to plug the cart in, so it was always a crapshoot about how much juice it would have. Most days it was about half, so we would plug it in as we loaded it.
Loading it was a bitch. You had to load up the whole cooler with beer and water and Gatorade and whatever else you think the golfers would want out there. This meant to have a wide variety of everything. The beer was all downstairs near the cart in a room we called “Beer Alley” (but maybe I just called it that in my head) because it was a long storage room with cases of beer stacked up. It was locked, but I feel like everyone had a fucking key, or there was a hidden key or something, cause how the hell else were we always down there drinking the beer?! Who had the damn keys?!
Anyway, Rachel would usually con one of the cooks to come down and help us load that bitch up (they were all in love with her) and then I would start dishing out buckets of ice to pour over everything. Let’s be real, Rachel was the valiant steed and I was the donkey. After we got the cart loaded down with ice and beer (by this time Grandma has yelled at us for at least 30 minutes that the people on the course “want their beer”, keep in mind it’s like 9:00 am at this point). So we load up, grab our “tickets” for purchases, our cash box (which really is just whatever fives or ones the GM can pull out of his pocket when I stick my head into his whiskey-soaked office and say, “Dan, fucking wake up, dude, we need cash”), and a drink for the road. It’s morning, so usually a vodka/OJ that Rachel made when Grandma was in the bathroom. She also made a drink for the cook who helped us, because reciprocity. (Read: he was the weird one and she wasn’t going into a linen closet with his ugly ass.) Because we always keep it classy.
Rachel would drive for the most part, mainly because it didn’t matter how many times I went out onto the course, I still never remembered where hole number one was, nor did I understand the actual fucking rules of driving on a golf course, of which there apparently are. We would plan to spend all afternoon on the course, which meant our first spot was hole number 7, the same hole that, at that point in my life, had seen more action than I had. Hole number 7 (again, it could be hole 13 or 29, I don’t really know) butted up against a row of houses with senior citizens swinging on adorable back porch swings. They would watch us slide to a stop, the ice and beer shifting in the back, rocking the whole cart a bit, and then slather ourselves in baby oil, or some other kind of “tanning lotion” that Rachel bought from the “tanning salon” that she took me to (that was actually in a two houses connected by a tunnel) so I didn’t look so “sick all the time”, and I ended up getting third-degree burns from. “Maybe you shouldn’t use a tanning bed” she said laughing as she was forced to slather aloe on my lobster arms. It was her mess, she needed to fix it.
Usually I would pass on the lotions and what not, and just stick a sweatshirt over my legs and pray that the sun was nice that day. It never was. By this point we had already downed our vodka/ojs in the foam cups, so one of two things either happened. Either we were smart enough to have hide a foam cup in the bottom in the cooler, or we would just start pounding beers, either way it was time for another drink as the first group of golfers rounded the hill and spotted us. “Son-of-a-bitch,” I’d mumble as the actual guests I was actually being paid to serve started toward us smiling and waving like madmen.
The first group would load up, because they saw that we were going the opposite direction. Two to three beers each, a water or gatorade, and they’d ask if we had peanuts or some crazy shit like that, and I’d look at them like they were from outer space. Rachel would try to be accommodating and explain that we had lunch ready for them after their round, or that they could put in order in for something and we would run and grab it for them, but really, do you actually see that we are a golf cart loaded down with actual beer and maybe you should plan ahead you pieces of steaming dog shit and also thank you for my $5 cash tip, you know what, I am going to see if I can drum up some airplane peanuts for you. Wink. Wink.
The entire time I sat, stone-faced and a little drunk in the cart and recorded the transaction. Then a man would hand her a $20, and I’d look at Rachel and say, as if neither of us didn’t already know, “We can’t break that.”
“Oh, no!” Rachel would smile and put her arm on his, “We don’t have enough to break a $20. If you give me your name I will run up and get change and find you at the next hole.”
“Oh gosh no, girls, don’t worry about it, you keep the rest!”
“Oh are you sure, it’s not a bother!” She’d laugh, as she slipped the $20 in her pocket and said, “Have a great game!” As we sped off. It went on like this, hole after hole.
Our halfway mark was the bathrooms at the end of the course, right next to the main thoroughfare in Leavenworth/Lansing, Highway 7. So many times I sat in the beer cart, Rachel taking a pee break, and looked out onto the cars whizzing by and yearned for it to be three o’clock. So many times I watched as people sped by, honking occasionally, and I wished I were free from this beer cart, free from this stupid job, free from this routine. I was afraid. I was in community college by then, having drank my way out of KU the year before. I was concerned my life was going nowhere. I was afraid this was life, for Rachel and for me. Honestly, it very well could have been.
At some point on the way back up the course, the beer cart battery would become critically low. We’d gamble a bit, hit a few more holes, make $30 more dollars or so, then head in around lunch time. Then, after the cart charged, we restocked, helped Grandma in the bar for a the lunch rush, ate lunch ourselves to stave off the drunkenness, and go back out with the afternoon groups and do it all again. And it went on like this for four years.
Looking back now, I don’t regret my time there. I learned so much about friendship, about people, about working and patience. About how to have a good time all the time, even when it seemed like you couldn’t. But mainly I learned these things:
- How to open my throat to let the beer just slide right down
- How to drink gin. Tanqueray only, I don’t fuck with Beefeaters
- How easy it is to talk a drunk girl into making out with you
- How hard it is to get vomit out of your clothes, so maybe don’t fuck with the drunk girls
- That straight women LOVE gay men and sort of, kind of, want to do the sex with them, even though they are married and they absolutely know that the man is gay
- How to properly call into work
- How to make a realistic looking police report
- How to decide if the situation calls for the actual police in a hurry, of if we can get by with a call to the non-emergency 911 number
- How to put out a grease fire, tip: It’s not water
- How to flirt with old, white men who were once my track and field coaches in order to get an actual, goddamn $2 tip
- How to talk to people who think they have a ton of money, but in reality they live paycheck to paycheck like me, but they just have a lot more credit
- How to smile politely when you want to actually set a goddamn fire to the whole motherfucking place
Honestly, the best thing I learned the from my time at the LCC, was that I didn’t want that to be my life. I didn’t want to be a beer cart girl or a pissed off server for the rest of my life, and believe me we had them there. I didn’t want Rachel to be one either. I also didn’t want to be one of those gross members who spat out their orders at us like we were their slaves, and I didn’t want to be married to one of those guys who spent his whole life on the golf course, flirting with young girls, hoping that maybe one of them would flirt back.
Luckily, I am very far away from that girl today. So is Rachel. Rachel is married to a man who does not golf (thank the baby Jesus) and he’s a pretty fucking solid dude. She is also a third grade teacher in the #1 school district in Kansas, and a semester away from her Masters in Education. She’s probably gonna be your kids’ principal soon, and guess what, she knows how to make the “bad” kids feel comfortable, she knows how to teach the “lower” kids how to learn, and she knows how to work in the crappiest of circumstances, so she will be fine. And I’m super, duper proud of her.
Every summer Rachel comes to visit me, wherever I am, and we sit on my back deck and we laugh about those days, those girls, and all the lessons we learned. And we hope and we pray our kids have better fucking sense than we did. I’m pretty sure they do. 🙂
Hey Rachel, thanks for letting me ride along all those times. I love you and miss you like crazy.