Hot sand is a beach town’s greatest equalizer.
Regardless of your size, status, sex, race, or creed, the minute your feet hit the scalding mass of sand particles that reside on your beach walkway, you are instantly humbled to a whimpering child that is racing to the beach stand guy’s shaded area like he’s holding your “blanky.”
There is no way to “run that out” and make yourself look cool after that, especially since you are carrying a striped beach chair and enough equipment/refreshments to be stranded on an island if the mythical fault line on 72nd Street decides to rupture.
The breath of air and relaxation that I still get when I walk to the crest of the dunes and see the panoramic ocean creep into my view is the freshest and cleanest air that these lungs have breathed. I remember the first time I saw it, and it still moves me to this day in varying degrees. The first summer that I lived here I worked as a beach stand guy, and as you’d imagine, the job wasn’t quite brain surgery. Some mornings I would be awoken by kicks of sand to the face by folks that wanted an umbrella, and the occasional bout with heat stroke/dehydration was always exhilarating.
It was probably the best summer job ever.
Some of my first business deals in Ocean City went like this:
Them: “Hey buddy, can we get an umbrella and two chairs down by the water’s edge?”
Me: “Er….what the?…..oh, sure sure….just head on down and set up your stuff and I’ll be right behind you.”
Them: “Don’t fall asleep again like yesterday and make me walk back up here.”
Me: “You got it guys….I’ll be right behind you.” (Wipe sand and sleep from eyes, take a swig of water and proceed to slowly get up and follow to the water’s edge with umbrella and chairs dragging behind.)
The reason I mention my humble working beginnings in this town is because sitting at the beach stand on 70th Street in the summer of ‘99 was the first time that I really started watching people and beginning to form this observational type of writing that I do.
You can only read so many books before watching people on the beach is almost as comical as watching Seinfeld or seeing someone try to read a newspaper in even a slight breeze.
For a poor college student that could not afford cable in his beach house, sitting on the beach was like watching television. It was light and comical, and each took the place of some good genres of television. (please note, this was before reality television ruined actual television). Watching families interact (sitcoms), how cool people think they are when they are wearing sunglasses (MTV and VH1), the out-of-this-world paradise/carnival that the beach is to a small child (fantasy). For the mystery/game show fan in me, I always enjoyed playing my favorite game “real or fake” and “where’s creepy speedo guy” which was a bit like “where’s waldo” but a game that no one really wanted to win.
After leaving the beach stand biz for the restaurant biz, you realize that though you can be watching the same people, you are watching totally different animals at night in the restaurants than the ones on the beach that afternoon.
It’s the soap opera fix in your television repertoire.
If you’ve ever watched the Real World on MTV, they put a bunch of clashing personalities in a small isolated environment and give them copious amounts of booze and they watch the drama ensue. This is essentially the restaurant business.
In theory, it should be a good gig: you work six or seven hours of rather mundane work like folding silverware, carrying trays, or pouring drinks with the ingredients in the title (rum and coke, duh?), and you go out and have a good time with a bunch of cash in your pocket. You smile and wave at the people that you are serving and hope that they aren’t trying to “have it their way” like it’s Burger King, and that they aren’t just trying to get something for free (which everybody is somehow). Like any other industry, most people are cool and tolerable, but there are always a few that seem to pop up at the worst times, kind of like getting a crippling leg cramp during sex, and they ruin your night.
All of that is fine and totally situational, and anyone who has worked in the business for more than a summer has their Dalai Lama-like theories on how to survive it without stabbing someone with a spork, but the one thing that will garner much debate is the unofficial slogan for the entire industry: “The Customer Is Always Right.”
I would have to think that the unequivocal goal of pleasing the customer would differ slightly than just absolutely cowering to whatever they think, want or say. There are certain moments that the customer is most certainly wrong and lose all “customer is right” privileges. Here are a few that come to mind:
1. If you speak to the folks waiting on you in a way that you wouldn’t want your daughter or wife spoken to.
– If you and your golfing buddies feel like harassing a young co-ed waitress, management should have the right to call your wife or daughter and say the same things that you said to the help. It seems only fair. That, or you must work in a restaurant before being allowed to dine in one again.
2. If you run out on your tab.
– If you walk out on your tab, you should be either forced to wear a T-shirt that says, “I am too cheap to pay my bill” or be punished by being made to drink nothing but sloe gin fizzes.
You and your friends can add to the list, but I think you get the point.
I feel bad for owners of establishments sometimes, they have to walk that line between backing the people that work for them and make them money by providing good service, or back the people that spend the money in their establishment regardless of their behavior.
Where is the proper line, and can that line be seen clearly through eyes that are often blurred by the vices of the industry itself (from all parties)?
It’s like that Bob Dylan song, “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”
“you might be a businessman or a high degree thief, they may call you Doctor, or they might call you chief, but you gonna have to serve somebody.”
It’s the great equalizer of the business, just like the scalding hot sand that keeps us all honest.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.