Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sick Day at the Restaurant


In an office job, if you're sick, the powers that be want you to stay home. If someone tries to gut it out, they are invariably told over and over again to go home and get some rest.

This is not the case in the biz. You'd think that GMs would want folks to stay home rather than cough on customers, food, or other servers. Sanitization is key... except when you're sick and you haven't found someone to cover your shift.

Sick Day at the Restaurant

I wake up around noon with a cough. Not a little tickle cough, but big hacking, whooping coughs that wrack my entire body. Add on muscle aches and a headache, and I know I've been overtaken by the flu. Super.

It's a Thursday and I'm sheduled to work the evening bar shift. This is a problem. We're short bartenders, but I'm in no condition to work.

I set the alarm for 2 pm and then fall back into those technicolor dreams that let me know I'm in the grip of a fever. I'm on a football field, breaking tackles and heading for the end zone. The problem is that the field seems to stretch on forever, and there are way more than 11 shadowy defenders on the field trying to take me down.

The alarm brings me out of my slumber. The sheets are soaked, like I was actually running down a mile-long football field. I roll over and pick up the phone.

"Thank you for calling the restaurant, this is Valerie speaking, how can I help you?"

"Valerie, I'm sick as hell. I'm coughing and running a fever. I'm supposed to be bartending tonight. What do you want me to do?"

"Hold on." I hear rustling in the background.

"Call these people." She rattles off a list of names and numbers. I take the down.

"You find someone or you come in." Click.

I spend the next half hour calling the bartender list. Not surprisingly, nobody wants to help out. If it were the end of the month, people would jump all over this. But in the first week of the month, everyone has already payed their rent and thus they have no need for bartender money.

After I hang up on my last option, I pull myself to a sitting position. Waves of dizziness crash over me. I wait til this passes, and then I stand up and head for the shower.

In the steam of the hot shower, I begin coughing up clear-colored nastiness. Great. It's viral, so even if I could go to a doctor, there isn't much they can do for me.

I towel off and put on my uniform. I grab the bottle of DayQuil. I take a huge swig, recap the bottle and put it in my pocket.

The drive to The Restaurant is uneventful.

Pulling in, I pray for a slow night. I can't handle busy right now.

Walking in the door, I spot Soldato wiping down the menus. He looks up at me and stops mid-wipe.

"Dude, you look like shit." There's something to be said for brutal honesty.

"Thanks man. I think I feel worse than I look."

"Not possible. You look like an extra in Night of the Living Dead." He resumes wiping down the menu.

"Shut up or I'm gonna cough all over your Dago ass."

"There's no need for name-calling or threats, my friend. I'm on your side." He looks over the floor plan at the host stand.

"Hey, you're not on here. Why you here?"

"I'm bartending."

"Oh man, that sucks."

I couldn't agree more. Not only do I start an hour earlier than most of the servers, but I have to close down the bar, which is open a half hour later than the dining room.

Two hours later, I'm alternating between chugging tea and DayQuil.

I got my wish. It's dead as a doornail in The Restaurant. I'm actually wishing it was busy. All I can do is wipe down the bar top and concentrate on how crappy I feel.

I've got two tables going in the bar, and I've managed to supress my coughing fits while taking their orders and dropping off their food. Still, both tables gave me odd looks.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror behind the bar, I understand their concern. I'm sweating and my face looks pale and drawn.

I walk back into the kitchen. My body feels hot. I'm burning up. I need to cool down.

I open the door to the walk-in cooler. Stepping inside, the fridgid air feels amazing. I lean against the racking and then slide down to the floor. I grab a nearby jar of pickles. It's blissfully cool. I press it against my forehead and close my eyes.

Someone's kicking me. I smell pickle juice. What the hell?

I open my right eye. I see the jar of pickles, broken on the floor. That explains the smell. Panning right, I see a worn leather shoe, cocked back to deliver another kick.

I put my hands up in defense.

"Oh good. I thought we'd lost you." It's Soldato, and he's laughing. "Wake your ass up."

"How long have I been out?"

"Only about two minutes. You're lucky I needed to refill the mayo." He steps over me and grabs the industrial-sized jar of mayo off the rack. He spoons the goopy white mixture into a plastic container.

"I don't think I can make it," I moan.

"Sure you can, boss." He leans down and grips me under my armpits. With a mighty heave, he pulls me to my feet.

"You're getting fat," he says, puffing.

"This is so stupid. I'm gonna get everyone sick, and I'll never get better if I keep working. I don't have a day off for another week."

"Is it heavy?" he asks.

"Is what heavy?"

"That cross you're carrying. We've all worked sick before. It's part of the deal. Remember, This is the Business We've Chosen!" Great. Godfather logic.

He pushes open the walk-in door and shoves me back into the kitchen. Resigned to my fate, I square my shoulders and head back to the bar. Only six more hours to go...