Lessons Learned From A Hawaiian Burger

Cascade Locks Oregon is a beautiful place.

A small border town in the northwest corner of Oregon, it is about an hour east from Portland along the Columbia River. It’s perched on the side of a hill with a panoramic view of the river and the beginnings of Washington State. I’ve been there twice. The most recent trip was a stopover at an overhanging restaurant called Char Burger. I stopped specifically to get an abomination of a burger. Not just any burger but a Hawaiian burger. It was a ½-pound burger with cheese, ham and, gulp, pineapple. I usually don’t order food with pineapple as a prominent feature but I was weak when I first ordered it. They say that you can’t ever go home but that doesn’t apply with greasy spoons. It was as good the second time around as the first.

My first trip to the area was for my friends’ Matt and Lauren’s wedding. I forget why I drove all the way from Reno NV to a Podunk town in Oregon considering Matt was from New York and Lauren grew up in Las Vegas but in the early parts of summer I found myself in one of the most gorgeous spots in the Northwest.

It was the first time I travelled more than 15 miles for a wedding. I was at that sweet spot in life where I was watching friends and family make the big transition to a “grown up” life. I was on the outside looking in as people that I have taken road trips, hosted house parties, gone to class and came of age with were getting married, starting families and getting real jobs. In terms of college, it was a transition where I went from being the young upstart to the old man on campus.

A large contingency of us from Reno had made the pilgrimage to Cascade Locks for Matt and Lauren’s wedding and we spent the night before the service drinking in a local pub. The best parts of any wedding are the days leading up the ceremony and the after-reception party and theirs was no different. We spent the night drinking local beers with everybody vying to hold court over the loud group of friends.

I was absolutely broke when I decided to make the trip. I think I had about $60 for five days and was counting on the kindness of friends to get me though the trip. I figured I could live off of wedding cake and 7-11 hot dogs for the trip. My poverty level made the night before all the more tragic when I woke up the next morning with a crippling hangover.

I bit the bullet at the brew pub and ordered a round of pitchers for all of my friends. I remember that the tab came to $21 and I gave the bartender two 20s to pay. While I delivered the pitchers to the table where my friends were sitting, I came back to get my change but the bartender told me there wasn’t any. I explained that I was going to tip but not the entire $19. He stood firm and told me that when I walked away the change then became his. I was dumbstruck, pissed and scared. I tried complaining to anyone who would listen but it fell on deaf ears. In one moment, my entire trip was put into jeopardy.

I was given assurances from friends that they would take care of me but it didn’t help. I took their pity beer and whiskey. Is there anything worse than pity cocktails? I guess pity hangovers. I woke up on the floor of someone motel room and was completely destroyed. Down to my last $7, dehydrated and fighting a throbbing headache, I knew I had to get straight, get dressed and go to the wedding with a molecule of dignity. Because I am from Nevada, the only way I know how to kick a hangover is to eat something disgustingly greasy and fried. Cascade Locks might be rich in beauty but it was lean in restaurants. The only place within walking distance was the Char Burger. It had a huge patio that over-looked the Bridge of the Gods but more than that, it smelt like burnt meat.

Scanning the menu through bloodshot eyes, I stumbled upon the aforementioned Hawaiian burger. The caloric nature of the burger didn’t scare me but the price did. In ordering it, I would be wiped out. I’d like to think it was character building in ordering it but in all manners of my life, I think with my stomach. Like Cortez burning his boats to motivate his men upon reaching the New World, I took the plunge and ordered the Hawaiian Burger.

We remember first kisses, our first car, our first pet and our first love. This burger was all of that plus more. It was like Pac-Man eating a power pellet because I was ready to watch some people get married. I showered, shaved and put on my St. Vincent suit. I might have looked like warmed over death but I felt great.

Two things occurred to me that trip. Well, probably three. The first is that friends can save your ass. I was able to borrow enough money to make it back to Reno. Two, Hawaiian burger are delicious and Char Burger in Cascade Locks is worth a ten hour drive to kick a hangover. Three, bartenders can be self-entitled jerks.

I make my living by tips. To earn tips, I work as hard as I can behind the bar to provide both a good experience and a fun evening. In return, I expect to get tipped.  Without gratuities, I can’t make bills and provide for my family. I started writing this blog to explain my difficulties that I have with people who get in my way of making a living. It has been a platform to openly complain about Utah bar life and any other trivial thing that pops into my mind. Some of them are good, some are mediocre with the vast majority are just bad.

Kind of like bartenders. I have good days tending the club and bad ones. There are some nights that I have so dialed in that I honestly believe I could pour drinks faster than anyone in the country and others where I am so distracted by something happening on the street that customers need to throw things at me to get my attention. Through it all, I try to be as honest and fair behind the bar as possible. The lesson from Cascade Falls 15 years ago hasn’t been lost on me. Money comes and goes but character isn’t some sort of commodity that can be horse-traded during a shift.

The reason you need to have your values in check is because there are more temptations behind the bar than most other jobs. Between stealing, getting drunk, access to drugs and cheating, you either need to be made of granite or be a Mormon to not fall into bad habits. I am chalkful of vices outside of the club but I feel like old man Mr. McFuddyduddy pouring drinks. With the exception of doing a shot with David Koechner, I’ve never had a drink while bartending. I might drip-dry a fifth of whiskey when I get home but I don’t drink while pouring.

I told this story to highlight that morality lessons can come from different places. Some people might get it from the Bible or their parents or teachers. I learned a valuable lesson on how to treat people from a crooked bartender in Cascade Locks Oregon. I also learned that Hawaiian burgers are delicious.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. For the record, pineapple has no business on a pizza.

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