At a previous tech job, we were in a building with a convenience store/cafe that only ran from 9am to 4pm. This sucked because my hours were 3pm - midnight. Then I got a job where I worked days, but then the cafe went out of business. The manager told us it wasn't so much a money issue as a staffing issue. She owned a series of shops like this, and this particular one she couldn't get reliable employees, and it was too much of a hassle. So she closed it. So now we had to go down the road a little ways to get snacks.
When I started work here, my shift was midnight to noon, over a weekend, so I didn't go to the cafeteria very much. When I got to work, it was closed, and when I left, I wanted to just go home. Well, then my jobs changed, and I became a regular at this place. It was ... not the best. It wasn't bad, but it's not special, either. The staff was a manager named Jennifer, a chef named Larry, and a whole lot of Hispanic help, Rosa, Franchesca, Linda, and a few other people. But I grew accustomed to it. It was better than going out, losing your parking space, and having to deal with lunch traffic.
Larry was a character. He struck me as a guy who had an alcohol problem, although he never appeared to be drunk at work. He was a bit disheveled; his clothes were clean but rumpled. He spoke without much eye contact, and all his moves looked like a tired machine going through its paces. He would speak if spoken to, and did have interesting stories about his Louisiana heritage, including New Orleans and the Bayou. He loved to talk about food and French cooking. He was friendly enough, but always looked pained and stared off into the distance like he was watching some faraway memory. His slight smile would turn to a smirk when you mentioned some of New Orleans. "Cafe DuMonde," he said, "is the only place to get a good benignet." His food was always spicy, and while it wasn't bad, almost everything was the same. It's hard to pin down, because the dishes he made were different from day to day, but they all had the same ... flavor, almost. Well, they had character like him. Even his Chinese dishes had a Cajun flavor.
There was one girl named Rosa who always looked pissed off. She spoke enough English to argue "des now wha you say, you say you wan des!" After a while, she got your order right, unless it differed from the menu (like "no mayo, please"). She manned the grill, and looked like at any moment she would just say "fuck it!" and walk off. No eye contact, and an attitude like the fact you were there was just one more thing wrong with her life. You got used to her, and I was always friendly to her, but it was uncomfortable to see people not used to her go, "No, no... I asked for the fish sandwich, not a hamburger." I watched one guy speak to her in Spanish, and I almost laughed, because the look of "How DARE you" flashed across her eyes, like the guy dared to talk down to her in her own language.
Like I said, nothing special, and I got used to it. Well, a few weeks ago, the food radically changed. Larry was gone, and some bug-eyed guy with a mustache was in his place. Sometimes Larry went on vacation, but apparently, he was fired. All character that barely existed in this tenuous environment was gone. Suddenly everything was as vanilla and white bread as a Slim-fast TV dinner. And the prices went up. I used to get a decent meal there for $5, but now I pay $8 for less food. Bland food.
This just adds to the bleeding of character this company has gone though over the past few years. What used to be a pretty fun place to work has soured. People seem more angry, less caring. But one thing was certain: when Larry was gone, the cafeteria easily lost a third of its patrons. I spoke with Jennifer at our main campus, and she told me that they fired her and Larry, plus two coworkers to keep costs down. The chef there was a "chef-manager," and she told me that yes, it's true, people have really stopped eating there as much. She didn't have anything else to offer but, "Yeah, you're right. Sodexho made the decision."
I hope Larry went back to Louisiana. I picture him packing up his things, tossing them into an old station wagon, and driving down Interstate 59 through Tennessee and Alabama, facing the setting sun, knowing he was finally going back home. Back home to the Bayou.
We miss you, Larry. God speed.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000245.html