Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 5

Day five began with both fatigue and pain. I hadn’t had much sleep and I decided that I definitely needed to start stretching before going to bed. I was, however, very optimistic that a breakfast crowd might finally form. Unfortunately, though, Saturday started off like every other day. I saw very few customers until coffee row, led by Lyle, came strolling in to suck down as much cheap brewed coffee as their bellies could hold. Once again they showed no shame in completely disregarding the menu.

Answering a knock at the back door, I found a tall slim fellow who turned out to be Marty. He seemed vaguely familiar but I couldn’t figure out if I was remembering him from when he had handed in his resume or if I was confusing him with a young Jon Voight from Midnight Cowboy. He had a young innocent face and an uncomfortable sincerity about him that just exuded a pure essence of ‘country boy’.

I had barely begun to show him around the restaurant when Anna arrived. Anna was only fifteen but she seemed to be the quickest study during training. I hoped that she had retained as much as possible because I needed her to finish showing Marty the ropes so I could begin cooking lunch. She jumped right at the opportunity to be the senior staffer for the day and sent Marty out to bus tables.

The menu for Siesta Saturday was quite basic. I had made the taco sauce the night before and really only had to cook the seasoned ground beef and mexi-seasoned rice. Once again I had set the beans to boiling early so I could season and blend them with some chicken broth to make some fat-free ‘refritos’. By 11:00 a.m. I had all the makings of our hard shelled tacos and my adventurously named ‘Baja Burrito’. The tacos were sold in pairs and either they or the burritos could be purchased alone or as a ‘La Cassa Platter’. This was definitely the widest selection of Mexican inspired cuisine ever offered in Humbug.

There was a little traffic before noon but not nearly what I had expected. I consoled myself with the upside of having an opportunity to get Marty and Anna a bit more up to speed before things got hectic. Marty took an immediate interest in the espresso machine and was very eager to make and try a latte. He seemed to have a natural talent for steaming the milk with or without foam and was quick to take an inventory of the flavoured syrups. I found myself hoping that he was gay, thinking that nothing kicks up the image of a little bistro like a gay barista.

Anna was amazing. She was young but had an incredible eye for what needed to be done and the courage to just hop to it. In no time at all, all the napkin, paper towel, and cutlery dispensers were filled and the counters were wiped down. I found myself thinking that Ray Kroc would have been proud of her and remembered his famous words, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

We decided that Anna would run the register and prepare waffles and that Marty would focus on beverages and bussing tables. When the Flintstone Whistle wailed, Anna took her place at the register and we counted down to the rush. The doors opened and customers began to trickle in. The first couple of orders went rather smoothly with the customers making fairly quick selections from what we had to offer but then we encountered our first full blooded Humbugger.

“What’s your SUPE?”

“We don’t have any soup. We’re serving tacos and burritos today,” Anna explained.

“What’s that?”

“It’s Mexican food.”

“Can’t you just make me a sammich?”

“Uhm, we don’t have any sandwiches.”

“Well I used to be able to get a sammich here!”

“That was when the coffee shop was here. This is a new bistro.”

“So you don’t have any SUPE?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Bah, well what kind of coffee shop is this supposed to be?”

And with that the little Humbugger spun on her heels and left. Anna looked almost heart broken but I told her that this had been going on all week. Fortunately the Humbuggers were again few and far between but, of those that we did encounter, they seemed far more confounded by the menu than on previous days. The few that did order tended to use an English pronunciation of the ‘j’ in the ‘Baja Burrito’ and others were completely confused as to how one would go about eating a taco.

I found myself going to a couple of tables and instructing these backward hicks on how to pick up a hard shelled taco and cup it while taking a bite with their head tilted sideways. One of them actually got stuck in a Humbug Huh as soon as she tilted her head. At one table they laughed and giggled like simple minded children. At the other table they just gave up and asked for cutlery with which they smashed the shells to create an apocalyptic looking taco salad. I had to intercede at a few tables to keep a few people from unrolling their burritos and in a few instances just wound up delivering more cutlery. Marty and Anna just watched the fiasco in wide eyed amazement.

At one point Anna turned to me and said, “I’m really sorry about all this.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I have no idea how these people have never seen tacos before.”

“It’s odd, I guess, but at least they are trying something new.”

“We have taco night at least once a month at my house.”

Marty chimed in, “Mine too.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess they don't.”

Then it dawned on me to ask Marty and Anna if they had been born in Humbug. Both answered no. Anna had been born and mostly raised in Cuspidor. Marty was from a neighboring town but told me his parents were from Calgary. I found myself thinking that although Humbug was only sixty miles from Cuspidor it seemed to be separated by more like sixty years. Just then a middle aged woman leaned over the counter and asked, “Can I get the two tacos without the shells?”

“You want something like a taco salad?” I asked.

“No, I just want the two tacos without the shells – to go.”

“Ok, so just layer the filling from the two tacos into a to-go container?”

“NO! Just make the tacos without the shells!” she barked.

“I’m sorry, but that sounds like a taco salad to me. I can actually give you extra fillings for the same price if you aren’t having the shells, you know.”

“If you can’t do it then forget it!” she yelped as she turned and left.

I had absolutely no idea what this woman was expecting. To this very day I have no idea what this woman wanted. Having encountered a lot of strange behaviors, orders, and reactions in Humbug, this one in particular has come back to bother me over and over and I have no idea why. I have really only bothered to relate this woman’s strange behavior in the hopes that someone out there can eventually explain to me what the hell this woman was looking for.

By 2:00 p.m. I realized that sales were not going to be nearly as high as I had expected. I decided to send Marty home but asked him to come back the next day. I kept Anna on for the rest of the day so I could get started on Sunday’s turkey dinner.

I had decided to pre-cook the turkey by sectioning and boiling it with onions and celery. In this way I could cook the different parts evenly and create the broth at the same time. I kept a large piece of the skin in tact so I could roast it on top of the dressing. I could use the reduced broth to reheat enough turkey for Sunday’s dinner as well as making gravy and flavouring the dressing and garlic mashed potatoes. Aside from losing the presentation of a fresh-out-of-the-oven bird, this technique proved to be incredibly efficient in allowing me to put the entire turkey dinner together in only a few hours on any given Sunday.

I sent Anna home at 5:00 when the restaurant closed. Her mother came to pick her up and asked how things were going. When I told her that sales were much slower than Friday, she told me that the craft shop up the street had had a workshop the day before. Aparently people from far and wide came to Humbug to learn old fashioned crafts - why didn't this surpise me? I realized that my big breakthrough on Friday was just the result of an artificially high influx of non-Humbuggers. A little piece of me died.

I finished de-boning the cooked turkey and reducing the broth and started cooling everything down. Anna had kept up on the day’s dishes but I still had to prep the salad for the next day, mop the front, clean the restrooms, and reconcile the day’s receipts and cash. Just when I thought I was done I realized I had to make the cranberry sauce so it would have time to cool. I also set up the front end with more hot holding for all the extra side dishes. Every time I turned around I seemed to find a few more things that needed to be done.

Putting on a full turkey dinner with garlic mashed potatoes, dressing, salad, corn, gravy and homemade cranberry sauce is a full day’s effort at the best of times. Trying to do this so that everything is ready at 11:00 a.m., while also cleaning an entire restaurant the night before, is ridiculous. By 10:00 p.m. I realized I was going to spend yet another night on the sofa in my office. As I lay waiting for sleep to ensue, my mind ran through the hours I had worked so far this week: 102. Fuck.