Monday, March 24, 2008

Here Comes A Regular Part 2

I promised to continue with my tales from bartending at the Beacon Pub and I am a woman of her word, so here goes.

I guess I should start the beginning, which is how I came upon the Beacon. Actually my best friend Katie’s ex boyfriend first discovered it. Apparently he used to drink there underage (something that they are not lax about anymore, I can assure you). When Katie moved to Forest Park with her fiancé, she lived right around the corner from the Beacon and remembered it as a pretty cool place so we decided to check it out. I don’t remember the first time we went there, but it quickly became our Thursday night place. Katie and I had a regular girls night on Thursdays back then that usually took place at a diner, but when we moved it to the Beacon, we invited her fiancé and my boyfriend at the time and Katie’s fiancé’s friends. Eventually it became an unspoken thing that we would all meet up there.

We hung out in the back alcove of the bar by the dart machines. I actually got pretty good at darts for a while there and Katie and I totally dominated the jukebox. The bar was never too busy, which we liked just fine. Thursday nights was when Scott, the owner, worked, so we got to know him pretty well. We came in on the occasional Wednesday and Friday as well, so we also got to know Jme, a female bartender, who would eventually become one of my good friends.

After a few months, I considered the Beacon to be ‘my bar.’ I’d never had a bar before and never thought I’d be a bar person. I’d had a club in Madison during my goth days (and I drank there underage for years. I don’t know how easy this is to do in other parts of the country, but in the Midwest it’s pretty common), but I didn’t like any of the clubs in Chicago because they were too pretentious and expensive, so for the most part I just drank at home.

I was still pretty gothy looking when I started hanging out at the Beacon. I had black hair with varying multi-colored streaks. I dressed like the art school student I was, sorta punk, sorta goth, sorta arty, but overall just different. The younger crowd that comes into the Beacon is generally just local Forest Parkers or the kids that go to Concordia or Dominican, which are both religious schools, so I definitely stood out. I think my unique look plus my friendly nature and the fact that I was female (it may be sexist, but apparently boobs bring in more customers) led Scott to start asking me if I wanted a job.

“But my only experience with making drinks are the ones I make for myself,” I told him. “Don’t I need to go to bartending school or something.”

He waved off my concern with “No, I’d teach you what you needed to know. You wouldn’t be making anything fancy.”

He also told me that he generally found bartenders by approaching regulars. I privately pondered if this was the best method seeing as, um, if we were regulars, we might be drunks without the best work ethics. I guess the method worked for him more often than not, though.

I told him that I would think about it. At the time I was working at Columbia and teaching once a week at an elementary school, so I didn’t think I could handle all three jobs (though I would juggle three jobs later). But Scott kept bugging me and Jme did, too, and I was about to buy a house and needed to make more money than I was making at my work study job alone, so I started working at the Beacon in February 2004.

My training lasted a little over an hour. Scott showed me how to operate the cash register, how to pour a beer, how to change a keg, and a few other random things like how to make popcorn. I got sprayed with beer at one point, but I’d prepared for that by wearing an old t-shirt. What I was not prepared for was the fact that I was expected to prepare the food that was on the Beacon’s limited menu. I hadn’t realized that menu included anything other than pizza and fries, both of which I was comfortable making. I was disgusted to find out that it also included burgers and once a week was a pork chop day.

“Um, I did tell you I’m vegan, right?” I asked Scott as he demonstrated how to fire up the grill.

“Yeah.” He shrugged, seeming confused as to why I was bringing this up.

“Yeah, well I’ve never prepared meat in my life. I have no idea how long it is supposed to cook or whatever.”

“Oh.” Scott gave me a look like maybe I was a little weirder than he thought. Then he threw out a random number of minutes per side that I should cook the meat. I wrote it down with the rest of my notes like “Keg gas in 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock position when changing keg” and “Enter price, then code, then total.” I don’t remember what the random number of minutes was because it turned out to be wrong.

I was extremely anxious about the meat cooking. My personal ethics were in an uproar, but I needed the job. I consulted Katie, who was in cooking school and she told me how the meat was supposed to look, but I still doubted my abilities to judge if it was done. I told her, “Part of me doesn’t care if I food poison them, part of me feels like they deserve it for eating flesh.”

“Uhhh, I’m not so sure about that attitude,” Katie said. My mom had the same response and she agreed to be my guinea pig. She’d come in on my first day of work and help me cook a burger and then eat it to make sure it was ok. She’s a good mom.

She came, she ate lunch, she stuck around until my first customer came in. I’m not sure who that person was though I’d venture it was Marty or Mr. Howe. I didn’t kill anyone with my cooking though the first time I made a pork chop, I poured ketchup all over it instead of the chop sauce. I didn’t know. Scott’s vague instructions were that the chop sauce would be red stuff in a pitcher in the fridge. Why the hell was there ketchup in a pitcher in a fridge? And yeah, maybe I should have noticed the consistency, but it always stressed me out whenever I had to cook meat. After about a year, I avoided being scheduled on pork chop day and I pulled rank like Jme did and refused to make burgers for anyone but my favorite regulars.

I didn’t live down the pork chop/ketchup thing for months, though, especially if Tim was around. He’s the kind of guy that if he thinks something is hilarious, he’s gonna keep telling it over and over and over. It kinda made me want to throttle him, but Tim’s a good guy. All my regulars are. And I’ll tell you about them in the next installment…

I hope this installment thing is working for you. I’m trying to keep my blogs from getting too long, which they still seem to be in comparison to the others I read. It just goes to show why I’m a novelist and not a short story writer, I guess. I hope you are liking the tales from the Beacon. It’s kind of an experiment to take a topic or period of my life that I am thinking about or personally find semi-interesting and riff on it for a week or two. I guess it’s the “life” part of my life, words, & rock ‘n’ roll theme for my blog ‘cause I can’t just talk writing all the time, it would probably get pretty boring. I don’t know, lemme know what you think…


Annika said...

I am loving these posts! Don't pigeonhole yourself; write about whatever you want to. I am petitioning to have the awful advice to "write what you know" amended to "write what you love." And I am having so much fun learning what you were up to in the years we were not in touch!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks Annika! And that is a good way to amend it. And interesting you say that because I was planning to write tomorrow about how to expand "write what you know" by going out to learn more about people, so stay tuned...

keri mikulski :) said...

I love taking a peek into other people's lives. And I find it especially interesting to hear how people get to where they are now. :) Keep going. Can't wait to read the next. :)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks Keri!