Monday, July 31, 2017

Nightmare on Christmas

Author's Note:

So I managed to log into my old blogger account!  Lo and behold, there was already a story written... but it was just a draft.  I thought I'd publish it, see if anyone is still out there listening!  If you are... let me know!


This story takes place in The Bar on Christmas Night, in 2004.

Oh Holy... Crap!

As I'm driving to work the night shift on Christmas day, I'm seriously considering looking for the infamous "real job". I mean really- who works on Christmas?

The only plus, as I see it, is that business will probably be slow and we'll get off early.

I slide into a parking slot close to the front door and kill the ignition. Usually, I'm about 25 rows back. By the time I get to the door, I normally find myself cold. Tonight, the parking lot is only servers and bartenders, and I'm close to the front door. Old Toyota Camrys, Honda Civics, and my little black Jeep Wrangler fill the strip mall parking lot. Servers drive hand-me-down cars that they usually dress up with liberal, hippie bumper stickers. We're Saving Whales and voting Yes! Legalize It! That's how we roll.

Walking through the door, I see exactly what I expect to see; nothing. The place is empty. Trendy music ricochets off of empty booths and a patronless bar. The pool tables stand primed but lonely. I half expect tumbleweed to roll lazily across my path as I stroll to the back, mindlessly swinging my apron.

The song changes to the only country song I can stand... "I step into the room, handing out hundred dollar bills..."

Normally, the three rooms of The Bar are populated with 3 bartenders and 13 servers. Tonight, there is one bartender and 5 servers on the floor. I wonder why so many have been scheduled.

The manager holds a quick shift meeting. His basic message? Hang in there, kids- it'll be over before you know it.

Now, there are traditions and superstitions in all professions. In baseball, you don't step on the foul lines. When working in an emergency room, you don't say "it's dead in here." Waiting is similar - the second you plan for a slow night...

The first customer strolls in around 6:30. It's a younger guy- early 20s. Probably home from school.

"I'm meeting someone else- can I have a pool table?"

I seat him in my section, thinking he and his friends may be our only customers that evening. Oh, how wrong I was.

Oddly enough, it wasn't waves of patrons crashing through the doors. It was a steady trickle... but someone forgot to turn off the faucet.

First The Green Room filled up... then The Burgandy Room, then the main dining room. I felt like a frog being being boiled slowly in a pot of water. I did not realize how busy it had become until I looked up and realized that the place was packed... and more people were streaming in the front door.

Not long after, I took to telling tables that they should order two rounds at once, as it was likely the bartender would be behind. And shortly after that, I realized that it didn't matter how drinks were ordered- the bar was backed up to the point of no return.

I took a walk back to the service bar, where all the other servers were waiting impatiently for their tables' drinks, and where the bartender was sweating bullets trying to get beers out to the crowd stacked three deep around the bar.

The bartender had a wild, feverish look to his eyes. He was working on instinct, grabbing whatever he could, whenever he could. He wasn't just "in the weeds", server parlance for being super-busy.  This man... he was in the jungle, and the tigers were circling.

I saw the moment he gave up. His feverish look broke, replaced by a look of "Awww fuckit".

He looked out over a sea of people- some were waving twenties, others were shouting orders, and all were looking pissed. Looked like the zombies had come, and he was the last available set of brains in the room.

"Who wants a drink?!" he screamed to the writhing throng.

70 people raised their hands. He laughed maniacally.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I hadn't been trained as a bartender at this place, but I'd bartended for years at The Restaurant. I jumped behind the bar, which is normally a capital offense for a server.

Grabbing the bartender, I whispered/yelled into his ear - "You take all these people- I've got the service bar- we're gonna clear this shit out!"

He nodded and started filling beers and cracking bottles at lightning speed.

I went over to the service bar and yanked off the tickets... and then i saw how bad the problem really was.

The chits formed a tail, which had begun stacking itself on the bar behind the printer. The stack was two inches thick. If I had stretched the paper out end to end, it probably would have stretched a quarter mile.

Not wanting to take the time to stretch them out and count them, I dove in. Yet no matter how quickly I cleared tickets, it seemed as though more would shoot out of the printer to take their place.

I kept thinking this was a nightmare... but I never woke from it.  I stayed behind that bar clearing tickets until we shut off the lights and closed the door.  I never knew what happened to any of my tables.

Plus side, the bartender split his tips with me, and we sipped a free Blue Moon after our shift before heading out into the cold Christmas night.  'tis the life of a server.