Broadway is Dark Tonight (The Goo Goo Dolls)

I know that I said that his blog would be about songs (and it will be), but before I get to that I must digress for a moment. Mainly so that you know what brought me to my choice, as it was not random or accidental today.

Following yet another seemingly endless, nonproductive (in fact, counterproductive), stupid, ridiculous, nonsensical, uninformative, and just, downright, time-wasting Saturday morning stupid server meeting yesterday morning I was very, very angry, hopping mad, pissed off, spitting nails, hurt, dumbstruck, and, quite frankly, a little embarassed (and then I got all the more livid for feeling hurt, dumbstruck and embarassed — ugh!). Suffice it to say this was not a good meeting, but then they never really are. The sheer frequency of meetings that this particular restaurant chains insists upon is unparalleled in the history of theme restaurants. Well, actually I don’t know that for a fact, but this company certainly seems excessive in its demands upon my Saturday mornings. I swear that every eight weeks I am required to participate in this nonsense (my former employer held meetings about three times a year).

I truly believe that no one should be required to get out of bed, shower, and present themselves (in full uniform, no less— don’t even get me started on this stupidity) at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning to be shown a video of the latest corporate commercial. Anything that can be done through access to the company website or, I don’t know, E-MAIL (!!!), should be done that way. NEWS FLASH: It’s the Twenty-first Century (for crying out loud)!

That being said, I try very hard to be a “make the best of it” kind of gal. I made a concerted effort at being positive (positivity being a corporate watchword),  knowing all the bullshitty things they want you to know (the usual mumbo-jumbo— mission statement, steps of service, blah, blah, blah), insured I had all of the pieces of my uniform in order and on my person (pants the proper color, shirt ironed and correctly buttoned, shoes shined, wine key present, change of a twenty, etc.), cup of coffee under my belt and, most importantly, I brought my smile (seriously, they tell you to do that — bring your smile to work).

And this is how I am rewarded: I am forced to watch a commercial that, as it turns out, will NEVER be shown in our market, offered food items that no self-respecting person could ever consume at 9 AM (not to mention that everything was covered in shellfish — to which I am highly allergic), and then I got to listen to our illustrious leader inform us that while we went from 54th in sales in our region to 19th in one earnings quarter, but where we fall short as a staff is teamwork (so much for the positivity)! So, let’s just focus on that for a moment, shall we?

It has been my experience that you cannot teach people a work ethic. They either have it or they don’t. It really is that simple. And, like in any other workplace in the world, there are those who do more and those who do less. What I have never understood is how those that do less get to keep their jobs. But there are, apparently, lots of rules about firing people, which basically boil down to documentation— if  you really want to get rid of an employee you can and should document their poor work habits. This, however, would require a bit of extra work on the part of a manager (this may come as a shock to you, but documentation actually requires one to, oh, I don’t know, DOCUMENT— preserve in writing— that information that you need to gather and preserve). So, very few people manage to actually lose their jobs because they come in consistently late (but have managed to find the time to stop for a latte), look like slobs (but check out their Facebook pages for how they manage to attend to their personal hygiene outside of work), are seemingly incompetent (hmmmm? you have a 3.75 GPA in Mathematics at Columbia but you just cannot seem to wrap your mind around the whole waiting tables thing? Really?) or, worse, purposely lazy and useless (see last parenthetical observation).

In a restaurant, the purpose of teamwork is so that the restaurant functions as a whole. The sole purpose of waiting tables is that the individual server make as much money as possible in as few hours as possible.  Thus, the structure and practice of waiting tables favors an “every man for himself” philosophy.  It does not take a genius to grasp the inherent disconnect here; which leaves us with a system that is fatally flawed.

For the young, often college-aged boys and girls who comprise most of a corporate restaurant’s employee base, the goal is to make their money and get the hell out of Dodge, thereby leaving plenty of time for extracurriculars like excess alcohol intake, illicit drug use, club-hopping, extreme shopping, exotic vacationing, and the like.  A much smaller percentage of the work force tends to consist of older, more experienced workers who have different reasons for choosing this type of employment. Some stayed on after college graduation (realizing too late that the degree in zoology or evolutionary biology was not as marketable as they had hoped) while others retain these jobs because they enjoy supplementing their teaching/sales/entry-level salaries. A group I like to call the jugglers are people for whom the scheduling flexibility affords them the opportunity to be available for their families while still making a decent living. And there are always a few who are simply untrained for anything else (though this number is often negligible); but this does not mean that they are lazy, in fact because they ahve fewer employment options, the opposite is often the case. Of course there are exceptions to all of these rules, including the older staff members who just never did come to terms with the fact that the odds of them becoming a rock star/film star at this point are slim to none and/or (because this may be the same person) the guy/gal who, frankly, just parties too much and could not hold down a 9 to 5 gig.

Whatever their reasons for being there, the larger group is often the college/young crowd, but the majority of the shifts are probably worked by some configuration of the other sets. In my experience the bulk of the actual work is accomplished through the efforts of the jugglers and the unskilled. As a result, the lack of teamwork is a constant concern to management and eternally frustrating to the jugglers and the unskilled.  Because what I have witnessed is that very often in an attempt to maximize the hours workedto the money made ratio some will do whatever is necessary in the front of the house (that part of a restaurant that is visible to customers— oops, I mean “guests”— I keep forgetting that we call them that now) to increase their tip percentage (cartwheels come to mind), but will expend as little energy as possible executing their back of the house (that part of a restaurant that is not visible to guests— namely the kitchen) responsibilities.

I bring these things up because this idea of “teamwork” is always a bone of contention and is usually addressed in some way or another at these idiotic meetings. Let’s face it, people get defensive when they are being told that they suck at their jobs! I have often wondered if that is because they truly do not believe that they do or because they know that they do and will do/say whatever necessary to take the heat off of themselves. When things took their inevitable turn for the worse (that is, when the backstabbing and accusations began) I offered up some suggestions for “focusing” on certain things that could, possibly, lead to a more harmonious work environment. In my attempt to steer things in a more positive direction I was attacked! And, worse, by a guy that probably makes the most money and does the least amount of work of anybody in the restaurant (this is a direct result of outlasting the competition— he has worked there for so long that he has the best shifts/best section by default).

Before I get to the accusations leveled at me, I have to back up the bus to about six months ago, which was when our general manager (this title is the top of the food chain) was transferred to our location. As they always do, new general managers often implement certain changes that they hope will increase sales and attentiveness to guests. Sometimes these changes were successful in their last location, other times these are changes that they have always wanted to make, but never had the power to do so. The particular change that affected me involved scheduling a food runner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. This position involves reading the ticket that gets put on the food as it comes in the service window and (surprise!) running it out to the proper table. At first the idea was to rotate this position amongst the folks that already worked the shift.  This would mean that we would have a different food runner every thirteen weeks, or so. In and of itself this whole idea of rotating this position was problematic, in that those who made more money than that which would be available to them in this position were extremely unhappy with this whole idea. And they made it known that they were unhappy about it.  As loudly and as often as possible. Also, food runners are paid by the staff for whom they are running the food; in other words, they are tipped out by the servers at the end of the shift. I think I have already established that servers are in this job purely for the money. So, anything that threatens to reduce the amount of money that they bring home at the end of the night is cause for as much bitching, moaning, and whining as management will endure.

Though I have over twenty years of restaurant experience I was new to this particular establishment. That being the case, I was lower in the pecking order on the weekends in terms of what section I worked in and how early I was asked to leave. So, often I was not reaping any great monetary rewards on these shifts. After having been assigned a food running shift (I was pretty early in the rotation) I discovered that I liked it. It also occurred to me that in order to be competent at this job one would have to do it more often than once every thirteen weeks. So, I volunteered to take the position on permanently. This is where the trouble began.

When it became clear that I was going to do the job regularly the handwriting was on the wall that this change would be permanent, which foiled the plans of the opposition (a minority, but a vocal minority nonetheless).  Many even tried to talk me out of it in a reasonable manner.  But I would not be deterred. I was up to the challenge.  I even convinced myself that I could win them over eventually through hard work and perseverance.  I am happy to report that, by and large, I did just that. Most of the staff have come to terms with parting with a few bucks, some have even come to understand that the presence of a food runner translates into faster table turnover, better guest attentiveness, and less work on their part.

Of course there is always one holdout in every crowd. You know, the guy who even in the face of cold, hard facts and scientific evidence is still convinced that the earth is flat. This same personality that was a thorn in the side of Christopher Columbus has been reincarnated in my workplace: his name is Will. Will is the guy that took the job in order to go to college, but stayed on. He is so unhappy with his unfulfilled life, but does nothing to change it. As he is opposed to making the necessary changes in his own life, one cannot be surprised at his unwillingness to embrace changes in the workplace. He works in the same section every night. He works the same shifts every week. He only runs his own food (on shifts with or without a food runner). His section is closest to the kitchen and adjacent to the bar (this enables him to know the score of every televised sporting event). His participation in teamwork is limited to grabbing a stack of plates here and there (he closes the restaurant, so has no assigned sidework on any shift— save checking that of others). You get the picture.

He comes across as an experienced team member. He talks a good game. But, underneath it all, Will is an asshole. And he is a vocal one at that. So, for the past six months he has done everything in his power to undermine what I do. He has told the staff that tipping me out is voluntary.  Officially he is correct.  Unlike bussers and bartenders, there is no company policy for tipping out food runners. When asked by some of the younger staff members how to figure out what to tip out the food runner, his typical response is “whatever you feel like giving” (you can imagine how much that was). He, of course, tipped me out correctly (in order to throw me off the trail of his malfeasance no doubt).  I have it on good authority that his “advice” was deliberately designed to make me “give up the ship”. When I uncovered his plan, management did step in and instruct the servers to use a more mathematical approach.

Once in a while I do have to take a day off. When I do there are a couple of my coworkers who do not mind food running. They find it to be a nice change of pace from the clusterfuck that is, say, Saturday night. I am not threatened by any of them. In fact, I am happy that I can cover my shifts if need be. Whenever possible Will likes to let me know that server X or Y or Z did a great job covering for me. These types of comments are code for “you suck and they are better”. I never take the bait. Mostly because I know that it is not true. And I know this because they, themselves, have told me that I do the job better than they do. To wit, if I can help it, I never auction food (if the server rings it up correctly and the guests don’t move from where they were originally sitting one should not have to go to the table and shout “who gets this?”). I always have ketchup at the ready. I do not drop the food and run, for fear that a guest may ask me for something additional (like a sauce or, God forbid, a drink); in fact, I look at the table to insure that they have full drinks, and even ask if they need anything while I am there. Now, if the server is readily available I communicate the needs of their table to them, if not, I get the necessary items and bring them back to the table. Sometimes I can do this while running out the next order; sometimes I cannot. I always try to incorporate running items to a previous table with running food to the next table; this is not always possible, as God only gave me two hands. But I still contend that I run out about 80% of the food that comes out of the kitchen on any given shift (oh, and I also run out appetizers, soups, salads, and desserts—- a practice that my fellow food runners readily admit that they either cannot or will not do).

Finally, this brings me to the Saturday morning meeting where Will says, in front of everyone. ” I don’t understand if we are tipping out a food runner why we are always being asked to run food?”, to which I replied, “Because no food runner would ever be able to run 100% of the food, some of it is dependent on the number of plates in an order and some of it is dependent upon how the kitchen pushes the order in the window; sometimes the cooks push three or four tables at a time. In order for the food to go out hot, sometimes more hands are necessary.” This is all true and, yes, I actually speak like that, particularly when I have a well thought out argument at the ready. But next, he says, “Well, that’s funny, because when Annie or Leo work for you I never have to run any food and neither does anyone else.” God Bless Them! They could have just smiled and been proud to have been singled out by what would pass for a compliment coming from Will (and which are about as frequent as ice ages), but they did not. Instead, they let him (and everyone else at the meeting) know that they disagreed. Our manager quickly changed the subject because I am sure that she saw that this thing could get ugly, as she took one look at me and saw that I was ready to spit nails.

I would like to say that my initial reaction was, “I don’t need that asshole’s approval and it really is more about his lazy ass behavior and the fact that he has to give up a little money each weekend then it is about me!”, but I am just not that evolved. I sat there seething and toying with the idea of getting up and leaving. Luckily I talked myself out of the latter (mostly because it would just give him the satisfaction that he got the better of me and it might send the message to others that I agreed with what he said, which I wholeheartedly did not). Being a person who experiences human emotions his comments made me feel “less than”, even though I know I am not. The fact that I could be made to feel this way by someone that I have absolutely no respect for made me angry— with myself.

After the meeting I came to find out that he badmouths me and my job performance every time I give up a shift, which made me realize that, at least for him, it is not simply about having a food runner; it is about the fact that the food runner is me! For six months I have been fending off his piss poor attitude, ignoring his snarky remarks, and suffering through the shifts where I made less money as a direct result of his actions by trying to convince myself that none of it is personal (even though I have always had the sneaking suspicion that it was). But it is personal and I am, once again, really, really angry with myself for not listening to what I knew was true (the earth is round! the earth is round!)!

Knowing what I now know begs the question: What the hell can I do about it? Our general manager has already assured me that he will be “spoken to”.  But what does that mean, exactly? (“Play nice, Will”… now let me slap your hand and send you on your way).  Certainly nothing he has said/done to me so far is grounds for termination and, barring that, I will have to find a way to work with him. But how? He is a sneaky little fuck (he makes sure that when he makes remarks to me no one in a position of authority is around to hear him—- his comments at the meeting being his only misstep); I am neither sneaky nor a fuck. So, do I rise to his challenge and try to beat him at his own game? A game for which I am, incidentally, ill-equipped (having established that I am not a sneaky fuck). Or do I simply meet his animosity and bitterness with pleasantness and humor (character traits that I do possess)?

On my way home I began to think about what kind of music would shake the mood that this meeting had put me in. I would like to say that I am the kind of person who tried to examine her own inability to confront her own insecurities with a thoughtful and heartfelt song. I am not. Instead I focused on what a big, fat loser Will is and The Goo Goo Dolls Broadway is Dark Tonight popped into my head immediately. It is a song about losers; there is even a line in it about “The Loser’s Day parade”. And it’s about as head-banging a piece of music as I am familiar. Given the combination of rock guitar and subject matter I decided that it would be the song of the day.

Unlike songs like Slide, which force you to piece together what they are about (or, at least what they are about to you), Broadway Is Dark Tonight is fairly straightforward in its observations about wasted lives, disappointment, and the inevitable, and probably far too short, journey toward death. It is neither hopeful nor uplifting. But, it’s a great song. And I think part of its appeal is in its absence of nuance.

It’s one of those songs that is moored in a particular place, in this case an “old man’s bar” (think tavern: sawdust on the floor/Schlitz on tap/cigarette smoke/the smell of urine and old vomit/pickled hard-boiled eggs in a jar) that exists in every working class neighborhood in every city in America, particulary those old cities abandoned by their primary industries; lost river cities, factory cities, union cities.  Johnny Reznick and his fellow Goo Goo Dolls happen to be from Buffalo, but they could be from any number of places where the work dried up. This particular city has a Broadway, but it could have been Main Street, High Street, Five Mile Road. Broadway, we sense, will remain both “dark” and “a little bit weaker than it used to be”; as will its inhabitants. No one in this song is getting lighter or stronger, that’s for sure.

But maybe, just maybe, the narrator did escape the fate of the people he sings about; that his observations are so keen because of his close proximity. He could just be the “the young man sitting/In the old man’s bar/Waiting for his turn to die”). This is one of those songs that is easily visualized (for whatever reason it has always reminded me of a less hopeful version of Harry Chapin’s Better Place To Be).  Even as briefly and fleetingly as these people are described, you know exactly who they are.

Broadway is Dark Tonight is easily parsed. Each type of personality gets a verse. The violent guys (“The cowboy kills the rock star/And Friday night’s gone too far), the not-so-young-anymore women trying desperately to pretend they’ve still got it (“The dim light hides the years/On all the faded girls), the know-it-alls (“You talk about the world/Like its someplace that you’ve been), the guys still pissed off at their his ex-wives (“You choke down all your anger/Forget your only son”), the remorseful, alcoholic Catholics (“You pray to statues when you sober up for fun”).

Whether he is one of them or just someone documenting their pathetic lives, the narrator has no sympathy for these people. He says, “Your anger don’t impress me/the world slapped in your face/It always rains like hell on the loser’s day parade”. He points out how they would “love to run home/but you know you ain’t got one” and how they are “living in a world that you’re best forgotten”. In other words, you have no business feeling sorry for yourselves, you all brought this on yourselves by choosing this bar as your home rather than holding on to the one that you had or trying to make one when you had the chance. And he tells them this is “the one small point/you know you been missin’ round here”. Talk about kicking a dog when it’s down.

This song begins with the chorus and ends with the chorus. It is, like life, cyclical. It is also, like many great rock songs, loud, guitar and percussion driven, and just plain old annoyed. It was the perfect song for me to listen to given my state of mind. Did it make me feel better? You betcha!

Tell Me What You Think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s