For some reason earlier today NewMexiKen got to thinking about his very first day of work. It was Thanksgiving 1960. The place was the Cliff House restaurant in Tucson. At the time, the Cliff House was considered one of the best restaurants in town — great menu plus a wonderful view of the city from its foothill location on Oracle Road. The chef was known simply by his first name, Otto.
Thanksgiving was a very busy day at the Cliff House. I started at noon and got off sometime around 10:30. I was the dishwasher’s second assistant. The dishwasher, who on a regular shift worked just by himself, needed all the help he could get on Thanksgiving. He sprayed the loose residue off the plates and out of the cups and glasses and loaded the racks to go into the machine. The first assistant took the clean dishes out of the machine and got them back into circulation. My job was to clear the trays as the busboys brought them in, scraping the uneaten turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes off the plates into the garbage pail. For more than 10 hours. For $1 an hour.
I did well for my first day of work, being reprimanded only once — by Otto himself, no less. I was throwing out the uneaten dinner rolls instead of returning them to the bread warmer. In chefly like fashion he blew his top, but calmed down when he realized no one had told me differently (and I was a nice deferential kid whose mom was a waitress).
As the day went on into evening, however, this fine restaurant developed a mini-crisis. The Cliff House ran out of cranberries. Now there is one thing a restaurant must have on Thanksgiving and that is turkey. And there is one thing a restaurant must serve with turkey and that is cranberries (or cranberry sauce). And someone had miscalculated and none was left.
It was the dishwasher’s second assistant who saved the day. As the dirty dishes came in from the dining room I not only rescued the dinner rolls, I now also recycled the cranberries. From each plate I corralled the dark red glob and scraped it into a bowl. Periodically Otto would come over and switch out my trove with an empty new bowl. He’d take the cranberries I had reclaimed and scoop them (not so generously as earlier) onto some eager gourmand’s plate.
Amazingly I still love cranberries (especially cranberry relish).
First published seven years ago.