THE HOMESTEAD/ACCUMULATION YEARS
As mentioned in my intro, DH was a truck driver in Germany before he came to the US. He tried to get jobs in trucking when he arrived in Denver, but breaking into the union was nearly impossible for a foreigner. He ended up working in restaurants as a busboy, then as a waiter when he learned more English. When he moved to Seattle, he became a waiter in the restaurant where I met him 6 years later.
This restaurant was unique: open 24 hours, but with a huge and fairly expensive menu. You could order frog legs or steak and lobster at 3 AM. The tips were better than anywhere DH had previously worked, and he was delighted at first. He told a gruff older waiter one day, “I love this job!” The waiter replied, “You’ll get over it.”
When I started working there as a hostess/cashier, I also loved the job. (**Spoiler Alert**: We both got over it.) We worked the graveyard shift, and on Friday and Saturday nights it was a world apart. Remember: this was the early eighties, before AIDS or strict DUI enforcement. Nightclubs were huge, coke and excessive drinking were commonplace, and bar pickups were the social norm. Our job was a zoo.
The restaurant’s employees called the period from 2 AM (when the bars closed) to about 4 AM “Bar Wars”, and we commonly had an hour wait to be seated during that period. Take a bunch of drunk, coke-aggressive people, put them in a small waiting area, and tell them they can’t eat, drink or have sex for an hour…it wasn’t pretty. I sometimes visualized myself on one of those PBS nature shows where the photographer is in a shark cage, sharp-toothed creatures lunging at the bars.
The customers didn't improve by the time they did get seated. There were fights, attempts to run out on the bill, people sneaking in booze or throwing up or passing out. We had a sort of crazy janitor who had a real thing about people messing up the restroom. He once hauled a woman out of the ladies’ room and shoved her at the guy she was with, growling in utter outrage: “I caught her throwing up on the floor!” Her date got angry; shoving ensued. The janitor ran into the back and came out with a vacuum cleaner hose yelling, “I’m going to kill him!” The guy retreated.
The same janitor came to me one night and said, “There’s a naked lady in the restroom.” I checked, and there sure was. She had removed all of her clothes and was lying on the floor. I wanted to call the police, but the three (!) men she was with said she was fine and carried her out of there. I followed them outside and watched them toss her into the back seat of a car. I had never heard of roofies at that point, and I regret now that I didn’t report them.
We called the police at least once a weekend, and sometimes several times a night. It was standard for a waiter to come running past me and out the door yelling “WALK OUT!” I would call the police, and then we’d give chase. Once we caught a father and son trying to leave with a pewter soup tureen and wine glasses under their coats (Really. A large soup tureen.). The manager confronted them, and the son hit him in the face with a wine glass. The manager was lying in the lobby with his nose broken, blood and glass shards everywhere, and customers were still walking in asking how long the wait was for a table. We had to testify in court for that one. The manager quit.
Another time, I confronted a woman who was trying to skip out on the bill (with her young daughter in tow, no less), and she punched me in the mouth. I have no memory of how it happened, but the next thing I knew, we were outside and I was shaking her in a blind rage and yelling something. DH had to pull me off. The job didn’t really bring out the best in us.
After a few years of this, we developed a tremendous dislike of people in general. When we drove to work in the evening, I would look at houses with lights in the windows and feel so envious of those who were safe in their cozy homes. When customers came into the restaurant, I would look at them and think, “What’s wrong with you? You could be HOME! It’s the middle of the night!” I started having disturbingly violent dreams of shootouts and knife fights with customers.
DH worked from 9 PM to 5 AM, and I worked from 10 to 6. When his shift was finished, he would go out to the car and crawl into a sleeping bag in the passenger seat. When mine was done, I would start driving home while he slept. The drive was usually just under an hour, but I could never make it the whole way without getting sleepy. At that point, I would pull over, wake up DH, and we’d trade seats. When we arrived home, I was so tired and cold that I hated to get out of the sleeping bag and come into the house.
One morning, DH was sleeping so hard that I didn’t want to make him get up and take over driving. I figured I could stay awake that little bit longer. Next thing I knew…I woke up to a loud thud. The car was in a ditch, where I had clearly driven about 20 feet before hitting a big rock. DH had woken a millisecond earlier to the incomprehensible sight of grass flying by the window, and he Was. Not. Happy. He got out of the car, said “Wait here” and walked the last mile home to get our truck. I figured it was best to wait there.
Unless it was raining, we would sleep for about 4 hours and then get up and start working on outdoor projects. We had a poster in the kitchen listing (in letters huge enough to read across the room) our planned projects for the season. When completed, we’d cross them off and add new ones.
When it rained, we slept a little longer and then had a leisurely breakfast in front of the wood cookstove. I started to pray for rain.