I’m coming down off of a wild weekend, and it's going to take this ol’ body a long time to recover. But it’s not what you’re thinking … I worked my ass off during two 10-hour shifts in the service industry this past Friday and Saturday nights. I had a great time, but I am here to tell ya that I could not do it for a living. Shew!
Allow me to explain.
I’ve written in this space before about a new and fabulous girlfriend who is quickly becoming my true soul sister. This amazing chica, Meredith, is a co-owner of Wick’s Pizza and Pub here in Louisville.
The original Wick’s location in the Highlands opened more than 20 years ago. In the years since, the business has expanded to include several other restaurants. Today, there are four in Louisville and one nestled in downtown New Albany, Ind.
Wick’s is a pretty big operation, with employees in the neighborhood of 300, and a corporate office on River Road. Over the past six months or so, as I have gotten to know Meredith, I have become increasingly impressed with her as a businesswoman. Girl’s got mad skills. Seriously.
Anyhoo, about a month ago, Meredith and I were planning out our social calendars and talking about upcoming weekend activities, when she mentioned the annual Southern Indiana Harvest Homecoming festival. I knew it was a pretty big deal, but I had only been to one event associated with the festival, and that was years ago.
Meredith said that the New Albany Wick’s on State Street would be ridiculously busy, and that she could use some extra help during the final weekend festivities. She said that she sometimes asks people she trusts to lend a hand because there is a lot of cash coming in during the course of just a few evenings in October. I said that I would be happy to help.
Famous last words. I had no idea what I was signing up for.
First, I have to point out that I never worked in a restaurant or bar environment when I was in my 20s, unless you count the student center cafeteria during my freshman year at the University of Kentucky, or two months as a hostess at the Olive Garden in the early ’90s.
Harvest Homecoming is a two-week festival, but the meat of the party doesn’t get going until the second Thursday night. Meredith had that night covered, but she asked me to come in at 5 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday to work in the huge tent erected in the Wick’s parking lot.
I was assigned to sell beer tickets in the tent, along with a lovely woman I had met a few times before. She has a history with Wick’s and is also close with Meredith.
On Friday, the tent was crazy when I arrived at 5 p.m. because the Harvest Homecoming Beer Crawl had been going on all day. Wick’s was one of many stops for partying patrons, so let me just say that folks were already in a celebratory mood. On Saturday, the crowd was pretty thin until about 9 p.m., and then it swelled into an even larger wave of people than the night before.
Both nights at their peaks can only be described as organized chaos. The tent and the restaurant were wall-to-wall people. The inside and outside stages were rocking, the crowd was jamming and the draft beer was flowing. Beer tickets were selling at a fevered pace.
At first, when I found out that my fellow ticketer and I only had one cash drawer — one of us was going to make change while the other doled out tickets — I thought two people on the job was overkill. Boy was I wrong. It made the process MUCH faster and smoother to divide up the work, especially when we had 20 people coming at us at once.
I am proud to say that I stayed cool under pressure, smiled and thanked everyone who came to our table, and I loved doing it. But OHMYGOD did it wear me out. We didn’t stop selling tickets until last call, which was 2 a.m. both nights. That is WAY past this girl’s bedtime.
But I gotta say, I kinda feel like I missed out by choosing to work in retail instead of in a club or restaurant back in the day. There is something strangely appealing about the bar atmosphere. It’s a kind of team building that looks a hell of a lot like infantry soldiers fighting their way out a foxhole. Kill or be killed, for sure.
Along with the solidarity, there’s electricity in the air and adrenaline coursing through your veins. It’s intoxicating. Or maybe that was the beer fumes. But I digress.
I can also see the many frustrations native to this type of service work. Selling beer tickets is a far cry from waiting tables or bartending, I realize. But having to explain the same thing over and over does get old after a while. (“So how do I get a beer?” “Four dollars per ticket. One ticket is one beer. How many do you want?” times 1,000.) It’s loud, so you’re screaming, and people are drunk and slow on the uptake. There was only one person who was extremely rude to us, and it was the very last customer on our last night. Thank God.
I’m glad I wasn’t on security detail, checking armbands and maintaining some semblance of order. From dealing with the belligerent assholes to the clumsy girls who trip over their own feet and need first aid… those guys and girls had their work cut out for them.
And then there’s the side Meredith had to deal with. Random inspections from the fire marshal, police chief and the ABC caused a few headaches for her on Friday. But kickass business owner that she is, she handled it all with aplomb. Saturday was much more laid back. I even caught her enjoying herself a few times.
At the end of each night, I felt high from all the endorphins that enabled me to maintain such an insane pace. And just like any other high, there was an ensuing crash.
I was tired on Saturday, but still functional. By Sunday, I literally had to wear sunglasses in the house for about an hour after I rolled out of bed before I could open my eyes all the way.
That’s the closest feeling I’ve had to a hangover in four years. I DO NOT MISS IT. To quote one of my favorite movies, I’m too old for this shit. There’s a reason that most people in the restaurant industry are under age 30. Oy.
All in all, though, I really did have a good time, and I was thrilled to help my friend. I would have done it for free, but Meredith was kind enough to pay me for my time. She was a great boss for the two days I worked for her, and I would do it again in a heartbeat ... just not anytime soon. It may take me until next year’s Harvest Homecoming to recuperate.
I am not kidding. Oof.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.