Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Don't Look Now, But It Ain't You Or Me

Who will work the field with his hands?
Who will put his back to the plough?
Who'll take the mountain and give it to the sea?
Don't look now, it ain't you or me.

Don't Look Now (But It Ain't You Or Me)
Creedence Clearwater Revival

Monday evening, I was watching my son play baseball, when I got a call from Pete, the owner of the restaurant I work at part-time. Ricardo, the lead cook at the restaurant was killed in an automobile accident on Saturday night. His funeral will be this afternoon, and his body will be shipped back to Mexico to be buried in his hometown.

I can't really say Ricardo was a friend. He was, though, more than a co-worker.

A few months ago, my wife was telling me about a conversation she had with her father. My father-in-law had seen celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's show "Kitchen Confidential," and Bourdain had referred to the camaraderie in the service business, and sharing a drink with your co-workers at the end of a night. There is nothing quite like the intensity of a restaurant or tavern on a rocking night. It is difficult to come down from it. Bourdain talked, my father-in-law had told my wife, about the uniqueness of that experience, sharing a drink and talking at the end of one of those intense evenings. It's hard to describe it to someone who hasn't experienced it. I think that both my father-in-law and my wife felt like they understood me a little better, got a little insight into that part of my life.

Anyone who works in the restaurant business can tell you that in most restaurants there's divide between the kitchen staff and the waitstaff. Our restaurant is no exception. Sometimes there's open hostility. The perception of the kitchen staff is that the (mostly) white waiters are out there making a lot more money than they are with a lot less work. The waiters' incomes are dependent on the kitchen staff doing their jobs competently, and they see themselves at the mercy of resentful, sometimes surly cooks.

At the end of the night, though, that breaks down a bit. Waitstaff and kitchen staff share a drink, talk and wind down from the evening. That was my experience with Ricardo.

The restaurant business has been good to me. The extra income has allowed me to do nice things for my family. It's allowed me to travel and take an occasional vacation. It's allowed me to put extra money away into a retirement account. If my plans work out, it'll allow me to leave teaching and give me an income while I go back to school and change careers.

Ricardo's work was part of that. Without his work, mine wouldn't have happened and wouldn't have been as lucrative. I never forgot that, and never will.


GETkristiLOVE said...

Sorry JYen, you've had to deal with more than your fair share of life loss lately.

cheer34 said...

Nice tribute to Ricardo

Bubs said...

A good tribute Johnny. Restaurant work is one kind of labor I've never done, and it's always struck me as being very hard work. Hats off to you for doing it well.

lulu said...

Bourdain's piece in Kitchen Confidential is so respectful of the guys in the kitchen; it is obvious where his love and loyalty is.

I had a student read the book (not Mason, a different kid) and he said that it was the first book he had ever read that actually related to his own experience, because his dad started out as a busboy, and has worked his way up to executive chef.

I'm sorry to hear that you lost a team mate. I'm sure he'll be missed at work as well as at home.

The Elk said...

Slan Ricardo

Skylers Dad said...

Sorry to hear you lost your restaurant mate JY. Did he have family here, or leave anybody behind here?

Splotchy said...

I'm sorry to hear about Ricardo.

I have worked in the kitchen of a restaurant before, and can speak to that strange, satisfying feeling of camraderie after an exhausting night.

vikkitikkitavi said...

At the restaurant where I worked the longest, I had your typical like/hate relationship with the kitchen staff. Once the head line cook left a carrot carved like a penis in my order. I took his prized cleaver and chopped it violently in two.

But when his newborn baby and wife were hospitalized, and we knew he didn't have insurance (none of us did), we all dug deep to help him out. That's just the way things were.

So here's to Ricardo.

Erik Donald France said...

Sorry to hear about Ricardo. Sucks.

Natalie said...

Sorry to hear about Ricardo. It is hard to lose a member of a team. While I haven't worked in the restaurant industry I have hung out with many people that did. They would sometimes let me chill in the after work hours. There is nothing like it.

Mob said...

A very nice tribute, this was a great way to pay your respects.

Beth said...

A lovely tribute, Johnny.

'Bubbles' said...

Isn't it amazing how we are just going on, living our lives, and suddenly we are forced to stop and think because of an accident?

I wonder how much family he had here vs. Mexico?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm very sorry to hear of the death of your coworker. My heart goes out to Ricardo's family.

Anonymous said...

Great tribute. As a former fellow coworker of Ricardo's I echo your sentiments...who will make the tiramisu???

Coaster Punchman said...

Sorry about your coworker.

I did several years of waitering and would like to be able to fall back on it in times of need. However, I fear chronic back problems would flare up if I were doing that. It can be physically exhausting depending on where you work - as I'm sure you know.